SAN FRANCISCO -- On August 28, 2015, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced that her office filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Montrose, California-based Verdugo Valley Skilled Nursing & Wellness Centre, LLC for failing to provide requisite nursing care to a burn victim resident, leading to his death.
“Families who entrust loved ones to the care of a nursing home rightfully expect residents will receive the care and attention they need and that nursing homes have a legal duty to provide,” said Attorney General Harris. “We have filed criminal charges because we allege Verdugo Valley and its employees violated that trust and their legal duties in a way that resulted in a senseless, tragic and unnecessary death. I thank the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse attorneys and agents working tirelessly to ensure these individuals are held accountable.”
The complaint filed by Attorney General Harris alleges that Verdugo Valley, LLC was grossly negligent in its care of James Populus, a resident with burns on 90 percent of his body from an arson fire two decades earlier. In the 14 months that Populus was in the care of Verdugo Valley, he was examined by a doctor far fewer times than required by law, despite the respiratory and other health needs of burn victims.
His declining health led to severe weight loss, sepsis, and pneumonia and on August 30, 2014, Populus died of multiple system failure due to sepsis. At the time of his death, Populus had infections throughout his body.
Charges of dependent adult abuse causing death have been filed against the facility’s director of nursing, Alexiuse San Mateo, who was responsible for Populus’s care at the facility and willfully permitted the patient’s death. Consuelo Policarpio, the supervising nurse, is charged with dependent adult abuse causing great bodily injury due to a delay in calling 911.
San Mateo faces 9 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine and Policarpio faces a maximum of 7 years in state prison and a $10,000 fine. Verdugo Valley, LLC faces a $10,000 fine and exclusion from any state or federally funded health care program.
The Declaration in Support of Arrest Warrant alleges that staff at Verdugo Valley delayed calling 911 and failed to document critical changes in their patient’s condition, in addition to making false entries in medical records.
In the 14 months that Populus was a patient at Verdugo Valley, 80 change of condition forms required signature by a treating physician, but all 80 forms were void of a doctor’s signature. The facility named the patient’s primary care doctor as his treating doctor from the hospital; however, this doctor did not have a relationship with Populus and never visited him at Verdugo Valley.
The case stems from an investigation conducted by the California Department of Justice’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.
"Special agents in DOJ's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse help to bring justice to some of the most vulnerable victims in the state, and/or their families," said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. "I hope this case sends a loud message to those who care for our senior citizens."