Senior living community not cited, but two years later, executives charged in resident's death

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The Manse on Marsh resident Mauricio Cardenas died after being hit by a car while jogging.
The Manse on Marsh resident Mauricio Cardenas died after being hit by a car while jogging.

The owner and former administrator of a California senior living community have been charged with elder abuse and involuntary manslaughter, felonies, more than two years after a resident reported to have dementia died after being hit by a car while jogging.

The state attorney general's office filed charges July 19 related to the Dec. 21, 2014, incident in which 65-year-old resident Mauricio Cardenas died.

The complaint alleges that Christopher Skiff, owner of The Manse on Marsh, an independent living and assisted living community in San Luis Obispo, CA, and Gary Potts, the community's administrator at the time of Cardenas' death, “willfully caused and permitted him to be placed in a situation in which his health was endangered, and reasonably knew and reasonably should have known that victim … was an elder or dependent adult.”

Cardenas, however, “was cleared by his physician to leave the property unassisted, and he did so frequently without prior incident,” a Manse on Marsh spokesman said in a statement to McKnight's Senior Living, adding that those at the residential care facility for the elderly were “deeply saddened by the tragic death” of the resident.

“The California State Department of Social Services' review of what happened and all the relevant paperwork exonerated us of any wrongdoing,” the spokesman added.

An evaluator with the Social Services Department had made an unannounced visit to the community on Dec. 29, 2014, which was eight days after Cardenas' death. He met with Potts and the community's medical director, interviewed staff and residents and reviewed records, according to a copy of his report provided by Manse on Marsh.

According to the evaluator, Cardenas “did have permission from his physician and family to be away from the facility unassisted. It does not appear that anything could have been done differently to prevent this unfortunate accident. Manse staff were forthcoming and provided requested documents. No further action nor any citations are observed at this time.”

The Manse on Marsh spokesman said that the community provided the state Justice Department with “voluminous records” a few months later and heard nothing more from the state until the charges were filed last week.

The day after the evaluator's visit, however, the Justice Department's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse received a letter alleging that Potts had accepted Cardenas as a resident knowing that he had a primary diagnosis of dementia and that The Manse on Marsh did not have a waiver entitling it to house such residents. At Potts' request, according to the writer of the letter, Cardenas' primary care physician revised a state-mandated medical report known as Form 602, crossing out the primary diagnosis of dementia before the form was resubmitted, so that Cardenas could move in.

The letter-writer alleged that Cardenas moved to The Manse on Marsh from an independent living community and had a history of “negative behaviors” including “uncooperative attitude, alcohol abuse & unexpected absences form [sic] the building, etc.” Such behaviors continued after he moved into his new residence, and Cardenas refused to take his medications or wear a tracking device, according to the letter.

The letter was included in a January 2015 field report by the bureau, which in turn was included as part of the legal complaint filed July 19. The letter-writer is not named in the report.

California Highway Patrol investigators said during their initial investigation that the driver of the vehicle that hit Cardenas was not at fault, according to the bureau report.

Skiff and Potts each face two- to four-year sentences on each charge, although enhancements on the elder abuse charge potentially could increase the sentence on that charge to up to 12 years.

“The Manse on Marsh has honorably served hundreds of families in San Luis Obispo since its founding 17 years ago by the owner and has never been charged with criminal wrongdoing,” the spokesman said. “The Manse on Marsh is the only seniors community in San Luis Obispo county to have been rated ‘best' in independent polls by the county newspaper, The Tribune,” he added.

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