After California Department of Social Services officials shut down Valley Manor Residential Care, an assisted living facility in Castro Valley, on October 24, elderly and disabled residents were left to fend for themselves when most of the staff abandoned the facility. Only the cook, the janitor and one or two care workers stayed to attend to 14 patients out of a sense of responsibility, according to investigators for the Alameda County Sheriff.
Valley Manor’s current operators, Herminigilda “Hilda” N. Manuel and Mary Julleah N. Manuel, bear responsibility for the subpar care of residents. In closing the facility last week, state officials erred by not making adequate provisions for the patients, especially as Valley Manor had a history of violations going back for some years. What’s being called a “bungled” closure of a facility is a cautionary tale for anyone with loved ones in such places, highlighting the need for oversight to provide care for elderly and disabled individuals.
On Saturday, the workers called 911. All the residents (some amputees, some bedridden, some with mental health issues) were taken via ambulance to other facilities; none suffered any additional medical issues, despite living in “deplorable” conditions and without enough people to care for them.
A History of Violations
The state Department of Social Services had good reasons to close the facility. Even when fully staffed, Valley Manor had been cited for unsanitary conditions, insufficiently trained staff who did not always give patients their medication, a failure to perform background checks on workers and not taking patients to the hospital after they had been injured in falls.
Valley Manor is located on a residential street and neighbors say that, as of six months ago, fire trucks and ambulances came by almost daily. Neighbors had previously petitioned the state to revoke Valley Manor’s license when, some ten years ago, mentally ill residents were seen “harassing passers-by, flashing teenage girls and women, littering, and loitering outside the single-story building.” After this, the state reduced the number of beds from 44 to 33 and mentally ill residents were no longer allowed.
The current operators, the Manuels, became certified to be administrators for elderly care facilities in 2007. Problems still continued at Valley Manor: in 2008, the Department of Social Services recorded “dozens” of violations there and at two other facilities operated by the Manuels in Modesto and Oakland. These ran the gamut from fire code violations to letting a patient with dementia wander from the facility, to filthy conditions in the kitchen and elsewhere, to moving patients to other facilities without notifying their families.
In other words, you have to wonder why the state did not step in sooner and shut down Valley Manor.
The Manuels have not been answering the door at their home in San Leandro. The sheriff says that a criminal investigation is underway and that the possibility of elder abuse is being considered.
Jean Pong, who says she has been paying Valley Manor $3,000 a month to care for her mentally ill sister, adds that the facility and workers “should be held accountable. I mean, you just can’t vacate and leave your residents without proper care.”
The Department of Social Services has acknowledged that it was “responsible for overseeing operations and monitoring the shutdown.” A spokesman, Michael Weston, said that
“The department worked with Alameda County adult protective services and law enforcement, but the licensee is ultimately responsible for ensuring that there is adequate staff for the care and supervision of the residents. What happened was not the plans that were put in place and the agreement we had with the licensee. Clearly something went wrong and, as far as whether the department was at fault, we’re going to look into whether there was more that could have been done.”
The Department of Social Services notes that it was unable to provide care for Valley Manor’s residents. The workers were apparently to find placements for patients and clearly did not. Is this how we care for the most vulnerable, by letting them slip between the cracks and assuming that someone else will provide care?
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