"I don't we busted them, but I think we got their attention," he says.
Thamer has been doing elder abuse cases and litigating against nursing homes for 12 years. Although he frequently made significant recoveries on behalf of nursing home residents who received poor care or suffered personal injury, he noticed something disturbing.
"It takes 45 minutes to shower a resident, and we had people that got one or two showers a month—and these are people that are incontinent. I could go on and on""You get some compensation for your client, but then the nursing home continues on with the same conduct. For other families and residents nothing much changes."
This most recent suit originated when a number of residents and families approached Thamer with complaints about a group of nursing homes that were corporately tied together as the Skilled Healthcare Group. Patients, families and even ex-employees reported a pattern of understaffing that caused "insults and indignities" to occur on a regular basis.
"It takes 45 minutes to shower a resident, and we had people that got one or two showers a month—and these are people that are incontinent. I could go on and on," says Thamer. "Yes, I would say I am motivated by outrage. I absolutely am."
Due to staffing shortages, others went without meals or were isolated from the group because there was no time to change their clothes when they were soiled. California law says patients and residents of nursing homes have a legal right to reside in place with adequate staff. Every violation carries a fine of $500.
The cases couldn't be pursed as a class action—the injuries are too varied. Pursed as individual cases, the suits would too expensive and inconsequential. And the nursing home standards rarely changed.
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And it isn't over yet. Thamer and the other lawyers are seeking a court-supervised injunction against Skilled Healthcare Group that will compel the facilities to ensure that there are enough staff on hand to adequately care for residents. "We want to get the injunction in place as fast as we can. That's a goal we have had from the beginning."
Michael Thamer holds a BS in Social Ecology from the University of California, Irvine and a JD from the University of Santa Clara Law School. He is also a former public defender. He specializes in tort law and elder abuse.