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A Santa Rosa elder care facility is named in a federal class-action lawsuit accusing its operators of chronic understaffing and failing to meet the basic needs of residents who pay fees up to $10,000 a month.

Brookdale Fountaingrove, one of 89 facilities statewide owned by Brookdale Senior Living Inc., is accused of putting profits ahead of promises to care for people suffering dementia and physical disabilities.

The 70-page suit filed last week in U.S. District Court in San Francisco alleges elder financial abuse, fraud and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

It seeks the establishment of a class including some of Brookdale’s 5,000 residents across the state, a court order forcing the company to make changes and unspecified monetary damages.

“Residents and their families have been heartbroken by the treatment they have encountered at Brookdale,” attorney Gay Crosthwait Grunfeld said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the Nashville-based company, Heather Hunter, said in an email the claims are without merit. Hunter said she could not discuss specifics but promised Brookdale would mount a vigorous defense.

Brookdale is the latest of Sonoma County’s 22 skilled nursing and 180 residential care facilities to come under fire.

Prosecutors this spring filed criminal charges against operators of Bishop’s Care Home in Rohnert Park. The complaint alleges neglect caused the death of Marie Giordano, 77, of Santa Rosa in January 2016.

Lawyers for the family are suing the residential care facility for $1 million. Among the allegations are that Bishop’s kept Giordano, charging her family $4,800 a month, despite being unable to properly care for her medical needs.

“They are not allowed to have people with serious pressure ulcers, but keep them anyway so they keep getting money every month,” said Giordano family lawyer Jeremy Fietz.

And earlier this month, the operator of Sonoma Serenity Home was arrested on suspicion of being under the influence of drugs. The arrest happened after a family member paid a visit and found an unattended 93-year-old resident sitting naked on a toilet, according to a family member.

Formal charges are pending the outcome of toxicology tests.

“People think because they are paying big money, they are getting good quality care,” said Crista Chelemedos, executive director of Senior Advocacy Services, an elder care watchdog. “But those two things do not equate.”

The Brookdale suit was brought by the families of four residents, including Mary-Catherine Jones, 78, and Helen Carlson, 93, both residents of the Fountaingrove facility. The women suffer cognitive deficiencies and Carlson is in a wheelchair, Grunfeld said.

Two other plaintiffs are residents of Brookdale’s San Ramon location.

Heirs of Jones, a resident since 2013, allege she paid hundreds of dollars a month extra to have medications administered and to get help with bathing and laundry. However, the suit said the services were not always provided. In one instance, staff members failed to give new blood pressure pills, leading to a citation from state regulators. In another, she was given too much of an anti-anxiety medication, causing her to sleep through lunch and lose five pounds, the suit said.

Carlson, a resident since 2011, also paid hundreds for specialized care including help using the bathroom. But her family alleges she was often neglected. Last year, they claim they were not notified when she was taken to an emergency room after a fall.

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Source: Sonoma Clean Power

Many of the complaints stem from what the suit claims is systematic understaffing. Calls from body-worn emergency pendants do not get prompt replies, leaving residents to call 911 for routine help, it says.

In a 12-month period ending in May, residents at Brookdale’s Windsor facility called Rincon Valley and Windsor firefighters 83 times for help with things like assisting a person to get back into a bed or chair, the suit said.

At the Fountaingrove facility, a resident was left in her wheelchair all night because staff members failed to put her in bed and did not check up on her, the suit said.

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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