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Families Suing Nursing Home in Death of 2 Patients : Courts: They contend neglect at Town and Country Manor prolonged suffering of an elderly man and woman. The Santa Ana facility says it provided proper care.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Two families are suing one of the county’s most respected nursing homes, contending that poor care by staff members caused a 70-year-old man and an 83-year-old woman prolonged suffering and painful deaths.

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In separate suits filed Tuesday in Orange County Superior Court, the families of George Zegalia and Dorothy Hagan are seeking damages from the Town and Country Manor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Santa Ana.

Zegalia, a diabetic with heart problems, developed serious bed sores and dehydration at the home and died June 12 because of the home’s inattention and “willful misconduct,” according to one suit.

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In the other lawsuit, filed by the same attorney, Sandra Hagan alleges her mother died from infections caused by massive, untreated bedsores.

“Dorothy spent the last months of her life . . . in extreme pain,” according to the suit.

The administrator of the 211-bed Town and Country Manor said Thursday that the home gave appropriate treatment to both patients and there is no basis to the suits.

“Both were very ill to begin with, and we provided the care following doctors’ orders,” said Dirk DeWolfe.

“People don’t come into a nursing home unless they’re ill. They come in with vascular problems and diabetes and they’re not going to get a whole lot better. Sometimes family members have expectations that can’t be realized.”

In response to complaints, state health inspectors visited the home and issued four citations alleging deficient care of the two patients. Two of the citations contend that Town and Country’s failings placed the patients in danger of serious harm or death, although inspectors do not accuse the facility of directly causing the deaths.

“We could not show that,” said Jacqueline Lincer, district administrator of the state Department of Health Services licensing office in Orange County.

Town and Country already has paid a $5,000 fine in the Zegalia case, which drew three citations. It will contest the single citation in the Hagan case in an April hearing, DeWolfe said. He cautioned that paying a citation saves time and money and it is not an admission of guilt.

Town and Country, which has been in business about two decades, had a good record with the state before these citations and has “always has enjoyed a good reputation,” Lincer said. She speculated that the home, like others in the county, is taking in sicker patients needing unprecedented levels of care.

Zegalia’s wife, Margaret, and daughter Kathleen allege in their lawsuit that the nursing home did not coordinate the patient’s insulin dosages with his meals, as is accepted practice, nor did staff members ensure that he had the right amount of nutrients and fluids. Ultimately, according to the suit, he became dehydrated, developed painful, infectious bedsores.

“George’s body was invaded with massive infections . . . which were unnoted and were easily addressable by available antibiotic medication,” according to the suit.

One of the state citations found that Zegalia was put on intravenous fluids for dehydration in early June, but the IV came out one day and there is no evidence that nurses were able to restart it over the next eight hours. He was transferred to an acute care hospital and died several days later.

State inspectors faulted the facility for failing to properly assess Zegalia’s condition and report changes to his doctors. Their report notes he lost 29 pounds during his stay of more than a year.

In her suit against Town and Country Manor, Sandra Hagan alleges her mother’s bedsores were allowed to become so infected that they could not be successfully treated, either with medicine or surgery.

Dorothy Hagan had been in Town and Country Manor since Dec. 30, 1992, shortly after she suffered a stroke. For the first year the care seemed good, Sandra Hagan said, but then she happened to take off one of her mother’s socks and found the bedsore.

“The last month of her life, April of 1994, was absolutely horrible,” said Sandra Hagan said Wednesday. “She suffered tremendously.”

According to the state inspection report, Hagan developed severe sores on her heels but Town and Country nurses did not see that these were promptly reported to her doctor and treated. The patient continued to deteriorate, developed an infection and died, according to the report.

DeWolfe said that many patients at Town and Country arrive with bedsores they developed elsewhere.


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