Feb 222013
 

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris fails to prosecute elder abuse against nursing homes

In March 2012, Attorney General Kamala Harris, the chief law enforcement officer for the people of California, and her Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA) reopened a closed criminal investigation and belatedly charged two licensed nurses, Donna Darlene Palmer and Rebecca LeAn Smith, with felony elder abuse four years after the March 2008 death of a 77-year-old woman, Johnnie Esco, in nursing home El Dorado Care Center in Placerville, California. However, Attorney General Harris and BMFEA, which is headed by its director, Mark Geiger, and its chief of prosecutions, Mark Zahner, filed elder abuse charges against the nurses, but not the nursing home, only after The Sacramento Bee’s embarrassing September 2011 exposé on the the Esco case, on the widespread falsification of patient records in California nursing homes, and on the case’s rejection by the BMFEA and El Dorado County district attorney. The Sacramento Bee’s March 16, 2012 “Nurses Face Felony Charges in Death of Cameron Park Man’s Wife,” by Marjie Lundstrom, chronicled the four-year crusade of the victim’s 81-year-old widower, Don Esco, who “made hundreds of phone calls and personal visits to local, state and federal authorities to get someone held accountable.” (Photo (right) credit: Office of Attorney General)

Attorney General Kamala Harris filed felony elder abuse and manslaughter charges against Sacramento elder caregiver

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris’ Department of Justice (DOJ) filed felony elder abuse and involuntary manslaughter charges last week against the owner of a Sacramento, California, elder care home, alleging that an 88-year-old resident died last year from severely infected, neglected bed sores, The Sacramento Bee reported. (See the February 12, 2013 “Sacramento Elder-Care Facility Operator Faces Manslaughter Charge” and the February 13, 2013 “Sacramento Caregiver Arrested in Death of 88-Year-Old,” by Sacramento Bee investigative reporter Marjie Lundstrom.)

According to a felony arrest warrant issued on February 11, 2013, by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Laurel D. White, DOJ’s law enforcement division is charging 52-year-old Silvia Cata—the owner of residential care facility Super Home Care, at 341 Bowman Avenue in Sacramento, California—with violations of Penal Code § 368(b)(1) and Penal Code § 192(b). (See Special Agent Tina Khang’s February 11, 2013 31-page declaration in support of the arrest warrant.) Penal Code § 368(b)(1) refers to “willfully caus[ing] or permit[ting] elder/dependent adult abuse,” and Penal Code § 192(b) refers to “involuntary manslaughter – non vehicular,” the warrant states. Judge White set Cata’s bail at $300,000.

In lieu of bail, Cata was in custody at the Sacramento County Jail, The Bee said.

Elder abuse expert says disparity in AG Harris’ elder abuse prosecutions is biased against small-fry criminals, spares corporate-owned nursing homes

Elder Abuse Exposed.com member Marc B. Hankin, a Beverly Hills attorney who drafted California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Civil Protection Act, wonders why Ms. Cata was in custody and why Judge White set bail so high. “In our legal system, law enforcement officers don’t have the authority to incarcerate a criminal suspect until a jury has convicted the person in a court of law and unless the person is a flight risk. Incarceration severely hampers a defendant’s ability to work effectively with his or her lawyer and prove innocence,” Hankin said. “In DOJ’s 2001 and 2006 exceedingly rare corporate prosecutions against Sun Healthcare Group and Pleasant Care, respectively, nobody went to jail because these large nursing home chains could employ expensive lawyers who could have kept DOJ prosecutors in their offices late at night if the prosecutors had tried to put those corporate defendants in jail. It appears from The Bee’s articles that Cata probably can’t afford private counsel for a protracted legal battle and may have to rely on a grotesquely overloaded public defender and plea to some crime to get out of jail.”

Elderly victim died from sepsis due to neglected bed sores, says Justice Department’s go-to medical consultant, Dr. Kathryn Locatell

In support of the arrest warrant, the Justice Department said the elderly victim, Georgia Holzmeister, who had lived at Cata’s elder care home since 2007, suffered great bodily injury and died on June 23, 2012, of sepsis (a severe, systemic infection that can lead to organ failure and death) due to necrotic, stage IV pressure ulcers on the victim’s buttocks. DOJ also said that Holzmeister, who suffered from dementia, died only as a result of her caregiver’s (Cata’s) “deliberate and complete reckless disregard for performing the essential duties.”

The DOJ based its decision to prosecute Cata partly on the review of Holzmeister’s medical records by DOJ’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse (BMFEA) medical consultant and geriatrician Kathryn L. Locatell, M.D., according to court documents filed by DOJ. Dr. Locatell, who works for BMFEA’s Operation Guardians program (email), which sometimes does surprise inspections of neglectful nursing homes, found that Holzmeister’s neglected pressure sores “must have been present for weeks, if not longer” and caused the victim’s sepsis and death, The Bee reported in its February 13, 2013 article.

Deputy Attorney General Steve Muni, who has worked for the BMFEA in Sacramento since about August 2003, believes that Attorney General Harris’ criminal prosecution of Silvia Cata is “the first time the [California] Department of Justice has pursued a manslaughter case against a caregiver in connection with an elderly resident’s death,” The Bee said.

DOJ’s first-ever manslaughter case against elder caregiver follows AG Harris’ plan last year to crack down on elder abuse

After pointing out California Governor Jerry Brown’s dismal record as an elder abuse prosecutor while he was attorney general from 2007 to 2011, The Bee’s articles last week on the Cata prosecution referred to Attorney General Harris’ announcement in November 2012 that she would start cracking down on criminal elder abuse in nursing homes. The Bee covered Harris’ announcement in Marjie Lundstrom’s November 3, 2012 “California Attorney General’s Office to Ramp Up Elder-Abuse Investigations,” which said Harris was planning to aggressively investigate nursing home abuse and build criminal cases against administrators and employees in profit-obsessed nursing homes plagued by systemic elder abuse.

AG Harris’ bogus elder abuse “crackdown” is sham, publicity stunt, says Elder Abuse Exposed.com

Elder Abuse Exposed.com responded to Ms. Lundstrom’s November 3, 2012 article on its blog in the November 19, 2012 “Bogus ‘Crackdown’ on Elder Abuse by California Attorney General Kamala Harris.” In its November 19, 2012 article, Elder Abuse Exposed.com said, “Kamala Harris’ new campaign to ‘crack down’ on nursing home elder abuse, heralded by the Nov. 3, 2012 Sacramento Bee, is nothing but a sham and publicity stunt that will not likely lead to Harris’ first-ever criminal prosecution and conviction of a wealthy, politically connected nursing home.”

Elder Abuse Exposed.com’s statement about Attorney General Harris’ announcement is turning out to be true. Just like California’s previous attorney general, Governor Jerry Brown, Attorney General Harris has an equally dismal record as an elder abuse prosecutor and has also never prosecuted and convicted even one nursing home chain or owner for elder abuse.

AG Kamala Harris files elder abuse charges against “low-hanging fruit,” not wealthy nursing home owners

In fact, Kamala Harris has a history of filing criminal elder abuse charges against a very limited number of lower-level employees, but not wealthy, politically connected nursing home owners, but usually after media coverage of the initial failure to prosecute embarrasses the attorney general. For instance, in March 2012, Kamala Harris’ BMFEA reopened a closed criminal investigation and belatedly charged two licensed nurses, Donna Darlene Palmer and Rebecca LeAn Smith, with felony elder abuse four years after the March 2008 death of a 77-year-old woman, Johnnie Esco, in nursing home El Dorado Care Center in Placerville, California. However, Harris’ BMFEA, which is headed by its director, Mark Geiger, and its chief of prosecutions, Mark L. Zahner, filed elder abuse charges against the nurses, but not the nursing home owner, only after The Sacramento Bee’s embarrassing September 2011 exposé on the Esco case, on the widespread falsification of patient records in California nursing homes, and on the case’s rejection by the BMFEA and El Dorado County district attorney. The Sacramento Bee’s March 16, 2012 “Nurses Face Felony Charges in Death of Cameron Park Man’s Wife,” by Marjie Lundstrom, chronicled the four-year crusade of the victim’s 81-year-old widower, Don Esco, who “made hundreds of phone calls and personal visits to local, state and federal authorities to get someone held accountable.”

Defendant in AG Kamala Harris’ first-ever manslaughter case against elder caregiver is vulnerable small fry

Although Attorney General Harris proudly announced in a February 15, 2013 press release that she “charged a Sacramento-area residential care provider with manslaughter for negligence that directly led to a patient’s death,” a review of her and DOJ’s very first elder abuse and manslaughter prosecution against a victim’s caregiver reveals that Kamala Harris is continuing her predictable pattern of enforcing criminal elder abuse laws against only a very small number of non-wealthy, vulnerable small fries. In the Justice Department’s case against Silvia Cata, The Bee revealed the following about the defendant:

  • Silvia Cata owns, not a large nursing home or nursing home chain, but instead a small single-family house serving as a mom-and-pop-operated residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE).
  • Silvia Cata, her husband, and her daughter are the elder care home’s only providers.
  • Although Silvia Cata has a license to provide care to a maximum of six residents, Cata told investigators she usually takes care of only two to three residents at a time.
  • Silvia Cata was still in custody at the Sacramento County Jail in lieu of $300,000 bail.

DOJ relies on its medical consultant, Dr. Kathryn Locatell, to write reports justifying criminal prosecutions against non-wealthy easy pickings

The Justice Department’s case against its easy picking, Silvia Cata, also reveals that the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse is continuing to rely on its go-to medical consultant, Dr. Kathryn Locatell, to review elder abuse victims’ medical records and then prepare forensic medical reports supporting those limited instances when the DOJ decides, for whatever reason, to file criminal charges against a small-fry perpetrator. For instance, in the DOJ’s case against Silvia Cata, DOJ may have decided to prosecute Cata because she is not a wealthy, politically connected corporation with an army of defense attorneys and because Kamala Harris presumably believes what she said about Cata in an email to The Bee. According to The Bee’s February 13, 2013 article, Harris’ email said that “the owner of this facility was trusted with the care of vulnerable patients and she abused that trust in a shocking way” and that “our state’s most vulnerable citizens deserve and need our protection.” Accordingly, the DOJ relied on Dr. Locatell to review Georgia Holzmeister’s medical records and prepare a forensic medical report stating that Silvia Cata’s criminal negligence caused the victim’s pressure sores that were present for some weeks and caused the victim’s deadly sepsis.

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  7 Responses to “CA AG Elder Abuse “Crackdown” Hits Small Fry, Not Nursing Home Owners”

  1.  

    Let’s all ask ourself “why” is the state charging small owned facilities for neglect and skilled nursing homes can get away with murder. Is the state trying to close down all small owned facilities? If this woman is being charged with manslaughter, then the state licensing department should be charged along with her! This resident died in 2012, and yet the licensing department let this woman operate her facility for another 6 months or so? If this woman was such a threat to her residents, then why leave the other residents in her care? I want to hear the story of all the other families that had their loved ones in Silvia’s care. What is their opinion? What’s the real truth to this story besides what the papers say? What has this country come down to? What happened to innocent until proven guilty? My opinion is this, the state, the media and the Sac Bee can’t wait to get a story and publish it even if they don’t have the correct information about someone. It’s all about publicity even at the cost of a human being. Let’s not believe everything we hear and only half of what we see! I want to hear the other side of the story!!!

  2.  

    Oh, I’m so glad I found this site. I’ve been wanting to vent for so long on this. Each time I hear or read about how Silvia Cata did not care for Ms. Holzmeister, etc. etc., my stomach turns and my blood boils. Silvia Cata cared for my grandmother for over 4 years, and at that time my grandmother never looked so good. Although she had the early onset of dementia, Silvia always took care to make sure grandma had lotion on her skin, took her outside to smell the flowers and see the other residents walking and socializing. Grandma even gained weight due to Silvia’s nutritious meals. I was there one time and noticed that grandma had a hard time swallowing, so Silvia took the time to puree all of her meals so she could drink them through a straw.

    We (my mom and dad) would visit grandma regularly with my young son and each time we were treated as family. Silvia would offer us drinks, have us sit and visit with grandma and the other residents if they were available. Silvia would always see if her grandsons, who lived close by could come visit to give my son someone to play with while we were visiting grandma. Silvia and her husband John would regularly give us fruit or vegetables from the garden when we left. We always felt welcome, anytime we stopped by. While there, Ms. Holzmeister, the person who recently passed away, always wanted her family to come visit. They were never there when we were visiting, and we’re not sure they ever visited.

    Silvia’s care facility was always spotless. She was always working on cleaning. This was something I always aspired to with a small child, but was always impressed that Silvia could care for the seniors in her care as well as take care of her family as well. Amazing woman!!!

    I could go on and on about how I feel an injustice is being done here due to politics and someone’s aspirations to advance politically, but I think I should stop now.

    My family and other people who were cared for by Silvia herself have written letters to her and her defense, but so far there has been no action. I’m hopeful that all good will prevail.

  3.  

    The Sacramento Bee just reported on March 15, 2013 that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) has offered a plea deal to defendant Silvia Cata. Also, The Bee reported, “Deputy Attorney General Steven Muni warned [Cata’s attorney, Johnny] Griffin [III,] and Cata, who is still in custody, that if a deal isn’t struck at the next court date, the offer would ‘never ever be renewed.’” (See “Plea Deal Offered in Elder-Care Case” by Marjie Lundstrom at http://www.sacbee.com/2013/03/15/5264684/plea-deal-offered-in-elder-care.html.)

    We’ve said that the disparity in Attorney General Kamala Harris’ elder abuse prosecutions is biased against small-fry criminals and spares corporate-owned nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

    When the Silvia Cata story first broke, we were wondering why Ms. Cata was in custody and why Judge Laurel D. White set bail so high. In our legal system, law enforcement officers don’t have the authority to incarcerate a criminal suspect until a jury has convicted the person in a court of law and unless the person is a flight risk. Incarceration severely hampers a defendant’s ability to work effectively with his or her lawyer and prove innocence.

    In then-Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s, not Attorney General Harris’, 2001 and 2006 exceedingly rare corporate prosecutions against Sun Healthcare Group and Pleasant Care, respectively, nobody went to jail because these large nursing home chains could employ expensive lawyers who could have kept DOJ prosecutors, like Steve Muni and DOJ’s chief elder abuse prosecutor, Mark Zahner, in their offices late at night if the prosecutors had tried to put those corporate defendants in jail.

    We said in our article above that Cata probably couldn’t afford private counsel for a protracted legal battle and may have to plea to some crime to get out of jail. Well, it looks as if we were right!

    But extorting a plea deal from an incarcerated, non-wealthy, small fry is not impressive at all! Prosecuting and convicting the principal wrongdoers and institutional elder abusers (the wealthy, politically connected nursing home corporations) are impressive and require true prosecutorial skills.

    Please ponder the following about the California Department of Justice:

    In the past almost seven years, while Mark Zahner has been DOJ’s chief elder abuse prosecutor, Mr. Zahner and DOJ have still not prosecuted and convicted even one corporate-owned nursing home operator or chain under Penal Code § 368 for elder abuse.

    The California DOJ has never prosecuted and convicted even one corporate-owned nursing home operator or chain under Penal Code § 192(b) for manslaughter.

    Since Kamala Harris became attorney general in 2011, she has still not prosecuted and convicted even one corporate-owned nursing home operator or chain under Penal Code § 368 for elder abuse or under Penal Code § 192(b) for manslaughter.

  4.  

    I have been waiting for a good day to comment, and now it’s finally here! I’m outraged and angry at the system in California! I am an administrator to a facility in Sacramento, and Silvia’s story has made me look at the state in disgust! The state has and is always treating small facilities unfair and inappropriate. When are administrators and owners of RCFEs gonna speak out and stand up for their rights? Or do we as administrators have rights in the state of California? I have so many questions and so little answers on behalf of our judicial system and how they treat people in this country! I believe this case with Silvia is all political. I think ALL facility owners should protest and stand up for their rights against the state and the licensing department! When is the state gonna pay for their mistakes? How many people out there hear what I’m saying????????

    •  

      Thanks for taking the time to comment about this story!

      Please be sure to see our Contact the Media page to let others in the news media know how “this case with Silvia is all political.” Please also tell others you know in your business to leave their comments here and with the listed news media contacts.

  5.  

    Ok, so I’m also an administrator and licensee to my facility and agree with all the comments above!!! I’m so angry at how the state is handling the Cata case! We as owners of small facilities always get mistreated by the state licensing department, and no one takes action. How can we change the laws for administrator rights? I’ve had several LPAs come out and cite my facility for reasons that didn’t make sense! If someone would look up all the facilities in Sacramento and check on all the things a facility was cited for…well….there would be no end. We all get cited all the time. It’s like the state can’t wait to walk into a facility and find something wrong. Ridiculous if you ask me! I’ve seen firsthand how mean and unfair the licensing department treats small facilities. I say it’s time for all the small facilities owners to speak out!

  6.  

    Fully documented information is an excellent way to convince people to move over to your point of view. Thank you for presenting a wonderful point of view in this article.

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