Guilty Verdict for Emeritus in Wrongful Death Suit

Seattle-based Emeritus Corp. was found guilty of wrongful death and elder abuse on Tuesday in relation to its care of a former resident who died shortly after leaving an Emeritus-run senior living community in California.

Joan Boice was an 82-year-old who passed away three months after moving into a nursing home in 2008, following her stay at Emeritus at Emerald Hills in Auburn, Calif. By the time she moved, reports the Sacramento Bee, Boice, who had Alzheimer’s disease, had at least four major pressure ulcers believed to have been a significant factor in causing her death.

The jury on the case voted unanimously against the company on 12 out of 15 questions on the two jury forms, including voting 12-0 that Emeritus employees failed to use reasonable care in providing for Boice’s hygienic, mental health, and safety needs.

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The jurors also unanimously voted that this failure resulted in substantial harm to Boice, and that Emeritus’ officers and directors knew “about the unfitness of their employees and [acted] with conscious disregard of the rights and safety of others.”

Finally, the jurors voted 12-0 that the Boice suit proves “that an employee, officer, director, or a managing agent acted with recklessness, malice, oppression, and fraud.”

“Today Emeritus received an adverse verdict in Sacramento Superior Court…we are deeply disappointed in this verdict,” Karen Lucas, a spokesperson for Emeritus, told the Sacramento Bee  outside the courtroom in a statement shared with SHN. “At Emeritus, we are passionate about providing outstanding care to our seniors. With 30,000 employees caring for 50,000 residents every day, Emeritus has extremely strict policies that are designed to ensure this high quality. We also have very robust customer service systems to assure residents’ and families’ needs are being met.”

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The plaintiffs’ attorney, Lesley Ann Clement, argued during the case that “understaffing and lack of training represented a corporate strategy on Emeritus’ part to cut costs while it was stringing under a $2.1 billion debt” associated with a real estate acquisition campaign that has expanded the company’s portfolio to operate 483 assisted living communities in 45 states, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Emeritus’ lawyers countered that Boice had “already reached an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s by the time she arrived at Emerald Hills,” says the article. The company’s expert witness, a doctor, argued that the woman was already in terminal decline, and there was nothing that could have prevented that.

Additionally, since 2008, Emeritus has seen its increased staff training programs and improvement initiatives positively impact care quality, as the Emerald Hills community just received a deficiency-free survey from the state, according to Lucas.

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“At Emeritus, our residents are like family to us,” the statement said. “We are a company of caregivers and employees who work tirelessly every day to make a wonderful, positive difference in the lives of our residents and their families.”

Damages are now being discussed. Starting Wednesday, Clement will argue a case before Superior Court Judge Judy Holzer Hersher regarding punitive damages in the second phase of Boice v. Emeritus.

Read more coverage at the Sacramento Bee.

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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