ROSEVILLE, Calif — Gene Rogers, 83, had dementia and was unable to get around on his own. His round-the-clock care became too much for his wife, Kathryn, to handle by herself. So, the couple’s children sold their parents’ home in Carlsbad, Calif., and placed Gene in Meadow Oaks of Roseville, a senior living community, on Dec 30, 2017.
Gene was a Marine and a veteran of the Korean War. He loved golfing and stock car racing. He spent decades working for AT&T while supporting a family of five. His family says while his dementia affected his ability to get around, he was still smart and enjoyed life.
Their son, Jeff, says the family expected his father’s care to be long term. They chose Meadow Oaks because they were impressed by what they saw when they went to visit. They were also happy the price was well below the $10,000-a-month price tags they saw in the San Diego area. At first, the family was very satisfied. However, Jeff says things quickly changed.
“I noticed his care would start going downhill,” Jeff explained. “You could see he had food stains on his clothes. We'd go there a few times on the weekends and he would be outside on the patio. It was warm. He'd seem groggy and he was slurring his speech a little bit.”
Jeff says the family repeatedly asked the facility not to leave Gene outside unattended, but it kept happening.
“His nephew came in from Oklahoma,” Jeff said. “We found him, again, outside on the patio. Again, he seemed like he was a little bit groggy. We brought him back in and again asked the staff, ‘Hey, you know, I think you guys are leaving him out here too long.'”
ABC10 reached out to Westmont Living, the La Jolla-based company that operates Meadow Oaks. They issued a statement saying, "This case is in litigation, and it is neither fair nor proper to respond to allegations during this process. We understand that some counsel may want to litigate this matter in the press, or in the court of public opinion, but we believe this is an improper attempt to pre-dispose a potential jury pool."
The next week, Rogers was left outside for an uncertain amount of time and had to be rushed to the hospital. He would not return home.
Jeff said on June 30, 2018, he received a calm call from Meadow Oaks letting him know his father was being taken to the hospital to get checked out. He says there was no urgency in the caller’s voice, so he didn’t worry about it. Then a second call came from the hospital.
“They said, 'Hey, your dad came here almost dead. He was in critical condition. His skin temperature was almost 104 degrees. They had to start life-saving procedures immediately'," Jeff recalled.
Rogers’ family raced to the hospital. They were horrified at what they saw. They say Gene’s arms blackened as if he was lacking circulation.
“We were looking at his legs and his legs were beet red because he had his shorts on and he actually had blisters from being in the sun,” Jeff explained.
The family was told there was little hope for Gene. He had lost his ability to swallow and his condition deteriorated. The hospital advised he spend his remaining days in hospice. Gene died 14 days later.
The Rogers family reached out to Carole Herman for help. Herman runs the Sacramento-based non-profit Foundation Aiding the Elderly (FATE). Herman filed a complaint with the California Department of Social Services Community Care Licensing Division, who conducted an investigation.
The California Department of Social Services investigation report states "staff failed to provide adequate care and supervision…which posed an immediate health and safety risk to resident in care." It also says "R1 (Gene) had been sitting outside for 1 hours, 45 minutes or longer when temperatures were increasing and reached 93 [degrees] by 12 p.m. when emergency services were called."
The department substantiated the complaint and planned to assess a penalty of $500, but increased it instead to $1,000 because the facility was cited for having repeated the same violation within 12 months.
The department says the case is still active and is being reviewed to determine if a civil penalty will be assessed. Herman says that fine could be up to $15,000, the maximum allowed under state law.
Gene's family alleges he had been left outside much longer than 1 hour and 45 minutes. The wrongful death lawsuit states "Meadow Oaks staff pushed [Gene] out onto the patio and left him there for literally hours, forgetting about him altogether. Hours later when a staff member found him, he was unresponsive."
The Rogers family hopes its position is bolstered by the ambulance report from June 30, 2018. The report reads: "Per staff PT (patient) was placed outside in wheelchair for a few hours. SNF (skilled nursing facility) forgot about PT."
Jeff says when he tried to get information on what exactly happened that day, he was given an explanation that doesn’t make sense.
“I met with the director there,” Jeff said. “I said, ‘OK, tell me what happened.’ She was like reading from a script. 'Your father got himself outside like he often did.' And now I'm thinking alright, number one, that's not accurate. 'We offered him water and ice at regular intervals and then he got himself back inside and then he was found unresponsive.' And I'm like, 'OK, you can't get yourself back inside because the doors are locked.' And that’s when things were just not lining up.”
The California Department of Social Services investigation report also details interviews it conducted with employees at Meadow Oaks. Those say Gene was given water at regular intervals. The report states, "Time cards shows S2 (employee) was responsible for monitoring R1 (Gene) on 6/30/18. She stated in an interview that she (S2) gave R1 water to avoid dehydration several times."
The Rogers family insists Gene was unable to get anywhere on his own. They say he wasn’t even able to manipulate the wheels on his wheelchair. They say that this makes a response issued by the defendants in the lawsuit particularly upsetting.
"Plaintiff Claude (Gene) Rogers failed to exercise ordinary care on his own behalf for his own safety," the plaintiff's response says. "That negligence caused the injury and damages alleged in plaintiffs’ Complaint."
“We know he couldn't care for himself,” Jeff said. “That's why we placed you in his care [sic]. That's why we paid you almost $6,000 a month, because he couldn't care for himself. I don't know how they can put the fault back on him. It's insulting.”
The Rogers family continues to mourn for Gene. They say his shoes will be hard to fill.
"My dad was the patriarch,” explained Jeff. “He was the one that really looked after everything for many many years. He and my mom were married over 60 years, so you know when you have something like that yanked out of your life all of a sudden, there's going to be a lot of getting used to for a long time.”
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What do you do when you have a loved one who can't live at home anymore and needs an assisted care facility? The Foundation for Aiding the Elderly (FATE) has five steps folks should consider when making that decision.