Clovis News

Calif. nursing home operator punished

Nursing home operator Skilled Healthcare, which owns two homes in the central San Joaquin Valley, has been ordered to pay more than $671 million for failing to provide adequate staffing at its assisted-living facilities.

A Humboldt County jury returned the verdict Tuesday in the class-action lawsuit against the Foothill Ranch-based company, more than seven months after the civil trial began.

The lawsuit alleges that the company violated a California statute that mandates 3.2 nursing hours per patient per day.

The complaint covers the period from 2003-09 and represents about 32,000 patients at 22 California facilities, including Willow Creek Healthcare Center in Clovis and Valley Healthcare Center in Fresno, as well as five in Humboldt County.

Skilled Healthcare said the jury imposed $613 million in statutory damages and $58 million in damages for restitution. The jury will decide the extent of punitive damages next week.

"This is a really strong statement to Skilled Healthcare that they have to follow the law," said plaintiff's attorney Michael Thamer. "They need to know that they are going to be held responsible."

Skilled Healthcare Chairman and CEO Boyd Hendrickson said in a statement that the company is "deeply disappointed" in the verdict and believes its nursing homes are appropriately staffed.

"We strongly disagree with the outcome of this legal matter, and we intend to vigorously challenge it," he said. The judge will decide later whether to issue an injunction that would require Skilled Healthcare to keep staffing levels in compliance with the law.

Skilled Healthcare is one of the country's largest nursing home chains, operating 78 nursing facilities in seven states and employing about 14,000 people.

Walter Simon, 78, of Fresno, who was one of three named plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said Wednesday he thinks the jury verdict "will send a message to people about having more help on hand." Simon, a retired postal clerk, was a resident for about three months in 2007 at Valley Healthcare on Tulare Avenue.

Simon was too ill to testify at the civil trial in Eureka. An attorney notified him Tuesday of the verdict, he said.

"It's a relief, yes, but it's not over yet," Simon said. "They've got punitive damages yet to go and it starts next week. I hope they get fined."

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