In the latest lawsuit filed against the South Pasadena Care Center, the family of the late Michael Steven Paz says he suffered “injuries and death” as a “direct result of the chronic understaffing” at the facility. It says the injuries were the result of “misconduct” on the part of SPCC’s owners, Elliot Zemel, Hana Feller and Yehunda Schmukler, who “were aware of the understaffing” because it was part of an alleged scheme to “manipulat[e] assets” and “maximiz[e] profits” at the 156-bed skilled nursing facility at 904 Mission St.
Paz died June 20, 2021 of cardiac arrest and renal disease at age 63.
Filed by Long Beach attorney Stephen Garcia, the lawsuit says SPCC owners and managers “were focused on unlawfully increasing the earnings… as opposed to providing the legally mandated minimum care” to elder and/or infirm residents. “The focus of these individuals on their own attainment of profit played a part in the under-funding” at SPCC “which led to the facility violating state and federal rules, laws and regulations and led to the injuries as alleged herein.”
The case was filed September 3 in the California Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles. The action also lists as defendants SPCC administrator Charles Brugh and director of nursing Elaine Santos, both of whom have been in their positions at the facility for less than 18 months.
It also alleges the defendants knew about “the rash, and truth, of lawsuits” against SPCC and other facilities, such as the Lakeview Terrace Skilled Nursing Facility in Los Angeles, owned by some of the same people. It says they knew of SPCC’s “customary practice of being issued deficiencies” by state health officials and “meaningfully disregarded the issues even though they knew the understaffing could, would and did lead to unnecessary injuries to residents” at SPCC, including those suffered by Paz.
According to court records, SPCC has been the subject of at least six other lawsuits in LA County over the past five years, three of which concerned employment matters.
The new lawsuit lists two causes of action — dependent adult abuse and negligent hiring and supervision, and seeks unspecified general, special, punitive and exemplary damages, along with legal and attorney costs.
SPCC co-owner Elliot Zemel, an investor, attorney and VP of Operations and Administrator at Temple Park Convalescent Hospital, did not respond to messages seeking comment by deadline.
According to ProPublica, in three separate surveys during 2020, the Department of Health & Human Services identified 17 deficiencies at SPCC, including one involving an infection. Another private source, the Nursing Home Database, reports SPCC has an overall rating of five stars, but gave it a staff rating of three out of five stars and an RN staffing rating of two out of five stars. “The most recent cycle score shows that the facility is worsening,” it said, adding it has been 17 months since the facility was last inspected.
Through a spokesman, South Pasadena Fire Chief Paul Riddle said he is “satisfied with the current measures in place” at SPCC and that “staff and administration are doing a good job.” He said the County Health Department has been doing inspections with no negative reports.
No official from the LA County Health Department’s Health Facilities Inspection Division could be reached by deadline.
The lawsuit goes on to list nearly a dozen “wrongful acts and omissions” pertaining to SPCC’s business practices, such as commingling funds, failing to maintain adequate corporate records, and diverting assets “to the detriment of creditors” and manipulating assets among entities so as to concentrate assets in one and liabilities in another. Noting that Zemel and Schmukler own other nursing facilities, it asserts that “through various schemes [they] direct expenditures of the facility to other companies so that they can unlawfully profit from the operation of the facility at the expense of the legally mandated care of the residents” at SPCC.
SPCC failed to provide Paz the medical and custodial care he required, including leaving him “in his urine and feces for extended periods,” failed to provide adequate personal hygiene or to reposition him to relieve pressure or provide “adequate nutrition and hydration.”
No one informed Paz’s family, doctors or attorneys about his “horrific pressure sores or what was being done to treat them. In an unfortunate effort to conceal this failure,” the suit alleges, SPCC “nurses simply concealed his conditions…and untruthfully stated that nothing was wrong.” As a result, he suffered from pressure sores and pneumonia” that was ignored due to “the inadequacy of facility staff in both number and training.”