Faulty care found running rampant in county nursing homes 

It was one local family’s nightmare come to life.

A female patient at Canaan Health Center in Menlo Park reported being raped, and security cameras showed a nursing home employee coming out of her room at the time of the incident, prosecuting Deputy District Attorney Melissa McKowan said.

Worse, the employee, Alfredo B. Roque, 50 — now facing multiple counts of rape, sodomy and molestation of the mentally and physically handicapped patient — is thought to have done the same thing at at least one other facility in the county. However, the alleged victim in that case suffered from dementia and blindness, she couldn’t identify her assailant and there was no evidence to prosecute, leaving Roque with no criminal record, McKowan said.

While arguably the most egregious example, the alleged rape at Canaan is only one of many violations at local senior care facilities resulting in state fines uncovered by The Examiner during a recent review of state records. In fact, eight of the county’s 18 licensed nursing homes have been fined by the state in the last eight months for major violations ranging from rape and physical abuse to improper medication of patients.

Seton Medical Center Coastside, in Moss Beach, for example, was fined $20,000 last September when a new nurse gave an 82-year-old the wrong type of insulin. The same month, Millbrae Serra Convalescent was fined $18,000 when nursing staff failed to treat a urinary tract infection of an 85-year-old woman for more than two weeks, state records show. A settlement later reduced that fine to $1,000 and a lesser citation.

A half-dozen more minor citations and fines of $1,000 were given to facilities for allowing "inappropriate touching" between residents, failing to prevent a patient from walking away and "roughly" handling senior patients, according to records.

In the case of the alleged rape at Canaan, police arrested Roque two days after the alleged incident on Aug. 8, 2006, said McKowan, who requested that the 54-year-old victim’s name not be used to protect her privacy. He is scheduled for a pretrial hearing March 27.

Canaan’s administrator, Nana Cochavile, who was not in charge at the time of the incident, said she couldn’t comment on the case. The facility was fined $10,000, but has appealed the decision, Brooks said.

Facilities that fight citations frequently win reduced fines, officials said. Those that choose not to fight a citation through an appeal are allowed to pay 65 percent of the fine by state law, Brooks said.

Such lenient oversight, along with limited state resources for inspections and follow-ups on complaints, is precisely why so many local facilities seem to be falling down on the job, said Tippy Irwin, executive director of the Ombudsman Program of San Mateo County, which investigates nursing home and other senior care facility complaints.

"A $1,000 fine is not deterring them at all," Irwin said.

The citations, issued by the Licensing and Certification division of the state Health Department, also don’t take into account numeroushealth and fire code violations uncovered by The Examiner — such as unrefrigerated food being served to residents or failing ensuring that residents have the required walkers and other devices to prevent accidents.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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