Nursing center indicted in patient death

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GLENDALE — The Montrose-based Valley Skilled Nursing and Wellness Centre
was named in a grand jury indictment for abuse and neglect after a patient killed himself by discharging a handheld fire extinguisher down his throat, officials said.

State Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Monday announced indictments against the facility and its former administrator, Phyllis Paver, claiming they were complicit in attempts by the 34-year-old patient, Charles Morrill, to kill himself three times before the fire extinguisher incident on Feb. 28, 2009.

Paver and the facility face one felony count each of dependent adult abuse and neglect.

Calls to Paver’s home phone went unanswered Tuesday, and facility personnel declined multiple requests for an interview.

The indictment stemmed from a California Department of Public Health investigation into the skilled nursing facility.

Glendale police logged numerous calls for patient walkouts, 911 hang ups, theft accusations and assaults at the facility, Sgt. Tom Lorenz said.

“It was a high-maintenance facility for us,” he said. “They were failing to operate in a manner they should have.”

Paver allegedly knew that Morrill was suicidal and that he had previously attempted to kill himself, according to the attorney general’s office.

Still, in January 2009 she allowed Morrill to live at the facility on the 2600 block of Honolulu Avenue, which is not capable of caring for patients who suffer from mental illness, according to the attorney general’s office.

The facility’s staff also allegedly lacked the training to care for patients like Morrill.

Morrill tried to kill himself on Feb. 3, 2009, when he purposely wheeled himself outside the facility and into traffic, according to the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, which obtained details about the facility’s actions from the state Department of Public Health.

He attempted to commit suicide again eight days later, when he discharged a fire extinguisher in his mouth and told responders “I put the hose in my mouth to kill me.” He tried it again less than three weeks later on Feb. 22, according to the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

Morrill was hospitalized for both attempts involving the fire extinguisher and was allowed to return to the facility, according to the state attorney general’s office.

Seven days later, he died as result of asphyxiation from his third attempt with the fire extinguisher, officials said.

Public health officials imposed a $100,000 penalty in 2009 and issued an AA citation to Verdugo Valley Skilled Nursing and Wellness Centre for Morrill’s death, said Ralph Montano, a spokesman for the department.

The AA citation is handed down by the public health department to facilities that have committed the most egregious actions, he added.

The facility appealed the fine, eventually reaching a $45,000 settlement with the state, Montano said.

The center has remained open during the criminal investigation, but if convicted, it would lose federal funding and its license, according to the attorney general’s office.