Clovis senior living facility named in elder abuse lawsuit: ‘Cruel treatment’ led to death

A senior assisted living facility in Clovis has been named in a lawsuit alleging elder abuse, assault, battery, negligence, and willful and reckless misconduct, among other allegations.

The lawsuit is a chilling account of Harley Matthews’ stay at Carmel Village in 2016 before his death, according to his daughter, Marlea Frazer.

“Elder abuse as a whole is such a huge problem that I’ve seen over and over again,” said her Fresno attorney, Jeremy Dobbins, “and this is just another example of a facility like this where it’s like they almost herd people in like cattle.”

Frazer is suing two companies listed as licensees of Carmel Village: Frontier Senior Living, LLC, a senior housing management company, and Clovis Shaw Associates, LLC, described in the complaint as “overseeing” Clovis assisted living facilities.

Carmel Village is now under new management, by a company called Generations – which is not named in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit states Matthews became a resident at Carmel Village at age 82, and stayed at the facility from April 2016 to November 2016. He was suffering from terminal stages of renal disease and multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in white blood cells; squamous cell carcinoma of the skin; and a “severe mental decline.”

An attorney for Frontier Management said the company strongly disagrees with allegations in the lawsuit and welcomes a thorough review of the case in court.

The complaint was filed for an unspecified amount in damages in Fresno Superior Court on Nov. 30 and amended April 2.

Alleged elder abuse

The lawsuit details a long list of alleged abuse and neglect that led to more health issues for Matthews, including:

Carmel Village staff pinched, confined and restrained Matthews in his room as punishment.

Staff failed to monitor him after dialysis treatment although staff knew he was taking blood-thinning medication that put him at greater risk;. he was found in his apartment bleeding profusely from his dialysis port in July.

Matthews frequently fell while walking unattended with his walker, and staff allowed him to wander off the premises unattended. Family said they once found him face-down on the ground during a visit to Carmel Village.

“He had fallen, was down for an unknown amount of time, scraped his head, and broke his glasses,” the lawsuit states.

Matthews overdosed on narcotics and sedation medication. At other times, staff failed to ensure he took his medication. Frazer frequently found loose pills all over his room. Staff gave Matthews other patients’ medication, and gave his medications to others.

Frazer found him “soaked in his urine on multiple occasions for hours and sometimes days,” wearing other patients’ underwear, with an unclean bathroom, towels and plugged toilet, which she believes worsened cysts on his body and led to frequent staph infections.

Matthews stated he was “starving all of the time” because staff forgot to bring him food when he was too weak to go to the cafeteria.

Frazer says that close to the end of her father’s stay at Carmel Village, she witnessed him fall asleep each time he tried to take a bite of food or speak. She was alarmed staff hadn’t previously notified her of her father’s weakening condition.

“Carmel Village allowed this decline with no notification to Frazer or to recommend a higher level of care,” the lawsuit states.

Matthews had a broken lock on his door and no working cable television in his room, although he was supposed to have this amenity. Electrical devices were removed from his room after he placed metal utensils in the microwave and burned an electrical socket.

Matthews often called his daughter crying, saying “he was scared of the Carmel Village staff and sometimes was so depressed over the way he was treated that he would tell Frazer that he wanted to kill himself.”

Frazer also said that she tried to kill herself during this time because of depression related to her father’s treatment. The lawsuit also alleges Carmel Village staff allowed Frazer’s brothers to manipulate their father to gain access to his money and medications, disregarding planning documents signed by Matthews years prior that granted his daughter legal power to make decisions on his behalf regarding health care, property, finances and personal affairs due to his declining mental health.

Alleged attack

Frazer decided in November 2016 that her father needed a higher level of care. She arranged to have him moved to inpatient hospice care after her father was assessed by a hospice nurse.

She notified Carmel Village of this decision, but when she tried to take her father out of the facility several days later, the lawsuit states, nurses unlawfully blocked Frazer and Matthews’ exit.

An alleged attack ensued in which staff “aggressively and violently pushed, pulled, grabbed and struck Frazer in an attempt to take control of Matthews and his wheelchair.”

Frazer was allegedly knocked to the ground and Matthews was allegedly hit on the head by Carmel Village staff where he recently had tumors removed.

Frazer was still healing from a spinal surgery, and said the incident exacerbated her injuries, caused new injuries, and resulted in multiple surgeries to repair her body.

Staff eventually separated Frazer and Matthews and allegedly held them apart in the facility against their will until Clovis police officers arrived, investigated, and ultimately escorted them out of the building and to inpatient hospice care.

“Matthews passed away at Pro-Hospice six days later,” the lawsuit states. “The attack at Carmel Village haunted Matthews in his final days as he expressed fear, anxiety, shock and anguish to Frazer.”

Frazer said Carmel Village’s cruel treatment of her father sped his demise, and that he became almost entirely blind and deaf while at the facility, along with increasingly confused, socially withdrawn, dizzy, and susceptible to falls.

Going forward

Dobbins said Frazer hopes her lawsuit becomes part of “putting a stop to this type of treatment.”

“If organizations are going to make millions operating these facilities, they need to take care of these residents,” Dobbins said.

The next court day will be July 2, Dobbins said.

Other allegations named in the lawsuit include intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, unfair business practice, intentional misrepresentation (fraud), and constructive fraud and breach of fiduciary duty.

Stephen Hunter, an attorney representing Frontier Management, provided the following statement:

“Unfortunately, laws designed to protect patient confidentiality and privacy prevent us from addressing specific facts through the media,” Hunter said. “We do however respectfully, yet strongly, disagree with the allegations in the lawsuit and welcome a thorough review of the merits of the case in court. We are proud of our reputation in the Clovis community and the quality of care we delivered.”

Terry Rose, president and chief operating officer of Generations, the new management company of Carmel Village, said none of the staff mentioned in the lawsuit currently work for the facility.

“We can’t comment on the internal investigations or cooperation that Frontier has provided with law enforcement,” Rose said. “I can say that our policy is always to cooperate fully with authorities, and perform internal investigations when there are any allegations of abuse.”

Rebecca Stayner, director of infrastructure at Generations, said that “under new leadership and new management, we’re very excited about our ability to cherish our employees and residents and live our mission of enhancing lives.”

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.