Judge orders assisted living communities to meet staffing requirements

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Judge orders assisted living communities to meet staffing requirements
Judge orders assisted living communities to meet staffing requirements

A North Carolina judge has ruled that three assisted living communities at the center of a lawsuit must maintain minimum staffing ratios set by the state as the case against them proceeds. Although the case has been moved from state to federal court, plaintiffs' attorneys maintain that the order remains enforceable.

As McKnight's Senior Living previously reported, attorneys representing former residents sued the owner of Franklin Manor Assisted Living Center in Youngsville, NC, Gabriel Manor Assisted Living Center in Clayton, NC, and The Crossings at Steele Creek in Charlotte, NC, in April, maintaining that understaffing at the communities led to “residents [who were] left to sit for hours, even days, in their own waste, not bathed for weeks, locked in or out of their rooms, not provided with food or housekeeping services, and not timely provided with medications, if they were provided their medications at all.” The three communities are owned by Saber Healthcare Group, which is based in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford Heights.

Plaintiffs' attorneys at Guggenheim Law are hoping to have the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of two former residents of one of the communities, certified as a class action for the hundreds of people who have been residents of the company's Tar Heel state memory care units since 2012.

In a May 27 order served to all parties to the lawsuit on June 1, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald W. Stephens granted the law firm's request for a preliminary injunction, enjoining the company from understaffing the facilities. The judge said that it was likely that the three communities would not be in compliance with the state's minimum staffing requirements otherwise, which likely would “produce injury” and “irreparable harm” to residents. Stephens also stayed his order, however, because the case was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina at Saber's request.

“Although plaintiffs' counsel believes that this [move] was a strategic tactic by Saber to avoid the state court preliminary injunction order, the law still requires Saber to comply with the terms of the judge's order,” Drew Hathaway, an attorney with Guggenheim Law, told McKnight's Senior Living. “If Saber violates the terms of the order, plaintiffs' counsel intends to ask a federal judge to hold Saber in contempt.”

Guggenheim believes that Stephen's order marks the first time that a preliminary injunction like this one has been entered, Hathaway said. “Securing a preliminary injunction is quite extraordinary in a case like this, because the court must determine that the Saber residents are likely to prevail on the merits of the case and also find that the injunction is needed to prevent irreparable harm to the current Saber residents,” he said.

Gregory Nicoluzakis, Saber's general counsel, told McKnight's Senior Living that the company does not comment on pending litigation. He previously said that the company disputes the allegations made in the lawsuit.

According to Saber's website, the company was formed in 2001 and has more than 10,002 licensed beds in 111 assisted living, skilled nursing or combination facilities in North Carolina and five other states: Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

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