Felony Charges in Nursing Home Death Implicate California Department of Social Services

Last month, a California nursing home abuse case was delayed when the defendant requested extra time to weigh her options for a plea deal. The California Attorney General charged Sylvia Cata with involuntary manslaughter for the death of a dementia resident in her care. Do you have a loved one in a nursing home or a private care facility? This case raises questions about the level of oversight from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS).

History of the Case
Cata operated “Super Home Care” out of her own home since the mid-1990s. According to an article in the Sacramento Bee, Cata’s home was located on “a dead-end street in Sacramento’s Gardenland neighborhood, a residential enclave flanked by tire shops, lube and oil joints, and a check-cashing store on the corner.” This description doesn’t sound like an ideal site for an elder-care facility, and the CDSS suspected as much.

For most of the years that Cata’s business operated, the CDSS “expressed exasperation and dismay” with her work. As a result, Cata’s in-home operation underwent a number of complaint investigations, and it was also subject to “deficiency reports, citations, fines, and plans of correction.”

In fact, between 1996 and 2012, Cata received 40 citations for failing to follow California requirements for nursing home operation, according to a report from the Nursing Home Abuse Center. Of those 40 citations, 26 were Type A deficiencies, which are “the most serious violations under state regulations.” They’re issued when there are “direct and immediate risks to residents’ health, safety, or personal rights.” Yet, despite these serious citations, Super Home Care remained open and Cata kept her license until the 2012 death of a resident finally shut its doors.

Details of the Case
Cata’s involuntary manslaughter charge arises from the death of an 88-year-old resident in her care, Georgia Holzmeister. Holzmeister suffered from dementia, and she had been living at Super Home Care for more than five years. During the final days of her residency, Holzmeister developed a “Stage IV bedsore” during spring 2012. When Cata finally called emergency medical services that June, Holzmeister was unconscious. The patient was transported to the hospital where she received emergency treatment, but she never regained consciousness. Five days after being admitted to the hospital, Holzmeister passed away.

In February 2013, California’s attorney general charged Cata with involuntary manslaughter. The Sacramento Bee reported on the seriousness of the charge, indicating that this was “a first for state prosecutors in an elder-care case.” In addition to the involuntary manslaughter charge, the attorney general also charged Cata with “a second felony count of elder or dependent adult abuse, resulting in death.” With the latter charge, Cata could face up to 12 years in prison.

The attorney general issued felony charges based on Cata’s “deliberate and complete reckless disregard for performing the essential duties as Holzmeister’s caretaker.”

In addition to targeting Cata for her poor patient care, the attorney general and the state of California also hope to illuminate the ways in which the CDSS erred. Cata’s facility was classified as a “Residential Care Facility for the Elderly” (RCFE), meaning that it was licensed to house up to 6 residents and was regulated by the CDSS’s community care licensing division. Due to budget constraints, the community care licensing division tends to conduct approximately one unannounced inspection every five years, and it currently oversees approximately 7,500 RCFEs. Many advocates believe that Holzmeister’s death could have been prevented with better CDSS oversight.

If you have a loved one in a nursing facility, and you’re concerned about abuse, contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney today to discuss your case.

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