Photo: North Carolina State University Center for Universal Design

Two additional plaintiffs have joined a lawsuit claiming that Brookdale Senior Living did not accommodate California residents’ disabilities and that understaffing led to their activities of daily living needs not being met.

Three law firms in California filed their original complaint in July with four plaintiffs, planning to ask that it be certified as a class action. They said at the time that it could be the first class-action lawsuit against an assisted living operator to be brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Potential damages could exceed $45 million, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs told McKnight’s Senior Living, because the lawsuit is seeking a minimum of $9,000 for each affected resident, and more than 5,000 residents of Brookdale communities in California could become part of the class.

A spokeswoman for Brentwood, TN-based Brookdale told McKnight’s Senior Living in July that the company will defend itself “vigorously” against the legal action, which it believes does not have merit.

The residents named in the original lawsuit — Patricia Eidler, Stacia Stiner, Mary-Catherine Jones and Helen Carlson — lived at either Brookdale San Ramon, an assisted living community in San Ramon, CA, or Brookdale Fountaingrove, a continuing care retirement community in Santa Rosa, CA. The lawsuit applies only to assisted living.

Since the original filing July 13, two additional plaintiffs have joined the lawsuit through an Aug. 25 amended filing.

One of them, Bonita Hager, is a wheelchair and walker user who had moved into Brookdale San Ramon in 2013 when it was operated by Merrill Gardens, according to a copy of the amended complaint obtained by McKnight’s Senior Living. The assisted living community subsequently was purchased by Emeritus Senior Living, which merged with Brookdale in 2014.

According to the lawsuit, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and closet features in Hager’s room, and a ramp and parking lot on the community grounds, do not accommodate her wheelchair, meaning she must rely more on staff for assistance. “Compounding this problem is Brookdale’s understaffing, which means that Ms. Hager must wait to accomplish most of her activities of daily living, if at all,” the complaint states. “This puts Ms. Hager in humiliating, frustrating and hazardous situations on a daily basis.”

Additionally, according to the lawsuit, the community has instituted a policy wherein staff members will not help transfer wheelchair users to seats on the community shuttle bus, nor will staff members push residents’ wheelchairs on community outings, so Hager is unable to participate in them.

The other new plaintiff is Lawrence Quinlan, who uses a wheelchair. He stayed at Brookdale Sunwest in Hemet, CA, for short-term respite several times between 2013 and 2015 and lived there full-time from late 2015 to this past April, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint alleges that Brookdale raised the rate it was charging for personal care services provided to Quinlan — such as assistance with laundry, dressing and showering — even though he “smelled horrible and wore dirty clothing” and his wheelchair pad was found to be “soaked with urine and the plastic was breaking down as a result.”

Brookdale said that Quinlan, who had mild dementia and lived in the assisted living part of the community, resisted taking a shower and changing his clothing; but staff members rarely would call his granddaughter as she requested so that she could try to convince him to cooperate, according to the lawsuit.

In addition to having Brookdale address the issues alleged in the complaint, the legal action also seeks to prevent Brookdale from charging monthly fees that are based on residents’ personal care plans “until Brookdale implements staffing policies and procedures that enable it to deliver those services on a consistent basis.” These fees are in addition to the base rate charged to each resident.