Nursing assistant wins large settlement

A former certified nursing assistant who charged a Paradise nursing home with a wide range of wrongdoing has secured a settlement of nearly half a million dollars.

The $480,000 settlement was agreed to on June 14, related Joe Earley, the attorney for Charles Campos, who had filed the lawsuit against Paradise Health Care that ultimately came down to charges including wrongful termination, sexual harassment, negligent supervision, retaliation and defamation.

Campos alleged in the suit that he was fired after he reported he was being harassed by a female worker and witnessed improper patient care. Also named in the suit was the director of nurses, Rita League, who the suit states “requested plaintiff to engage in conduct which plaintiff knew to be illegal and/or unethical” and reduced his duties when he refused.

In claiming violations of state codes, the suit states that Campos observed a variety of patient abuses. One women suffocated after being fed uncrushed pills, the suit stated; a man who was suffering respiratory distress didn’t get his lungs properly suctioned when needed; another woman was denied padded bed rails and her leg was fractured as a result and the injury not immediately reported or treated; and a patient’s hands were tied while medication was forced into his mouth against doctor’s orders.

Earley said the resolution to the complex case, which was filed three years ago, both vindicates his client and shines light on problems in society’s care structure for the elderly.

Mark Tratten, the Sacramento attorney who was representing the care facility, said the settlement was not made because the Paradise Health Care was in the wrong but rather due to complex insurance laws that could have paved the way for the awarding of hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney fees if Campos had won even a small judgment in a jury trial.

“Every element of the case was denied,” Tratten said. But when Paradise Health Care’s insurance companies agreed to pay for a settlement but not a potential jury award and attorney fees, he said, “it was out of our hands.”

An earlier go in the courts ended in a mistrial in October 2000.

But while the case focused on Campos’ wrongful-termination claims, Earley said it’s really about patient care.

When care homes for the elderly are driven by profits, Earley said, it opens the door for abuses to patients. “It’s unacceptable and just plain deadly,” he said. “We’re in a crisis where we’re reacting to the aging culture rather than being proactive.”

Public documents obtained by the News & Review at the state Department of Health Services’ Chico office report 11 substantiated complaints (out of 21 made) at Paradise Health Care between March 1994 and October 2000, including several for violations of patient care rules. Fines were levied for a total of more than $35,000—much of which the facility has appealed.

But Tratten said Paradise Health Care has a “good reputation. This is a very highly regulated field. They wouldn’t be in business if they abused and neglected patients.”

He characterized Campos as a poor worker who was rightfully terminated and then filed groundless claims.

As for the plantiff’s case, Tratten said, "When you get down to it, it’s just about the money. If it was about principle, he wouldn’t have settled."