A San Francisco wrongful death lawsuit has been filed against California’s transit agencies and Jewish Family and Children’s Services (“JFCS”). The suit was filed by the family of Kenneth Chin, a dementia patient and resident of an area facility who died about a year ago of hypothermia. On February 25, 2011, Chin, who was 73 years old at the time of his death, boarded his daily shuttle to another facility for his usual daytime activities, but when the shuttle returned that evening, Chin was not aboard. Employees at JFCS called the police, and a search team spent several days searching the surrounding area. It was more than a week before Chin’s body was found in Lincoln Park, less than one mile from the facility where he lived. An autopsy demonstrated that Chin had died from exposure to the cold.
The suit makes allegations that San Francisco elder care negligence by JFCS and the shuttle transit company were the direct causes of Chin’s death. The complaint points to several ways in which the transit company’s failure to act with reasonable care contributed to this tragedy. First, the driver of the shuttle bus on February 25 was a substitute driver who was unfamiliar with the patients and their routines. Second, the driver of the bus that day could not speak English very well, which means that he may not have fully understood his instructions for transporting the patients. Because he was responsible for driving patients who lacked the mental capacity to get around on their own, it was crucial that he know exactly where each patient needed to be. Sadly, whether due to a language barrier or due to some other form of negligence by transit employees, the instructions regarding where Chin needed to be dropped off at the end of the day did not get communicated clearly. As a result, Kenneth Chin was let off the shuttle in a part of town that, in spite of its proximity to his home, he did not recognize. He was left to wander around in the cold for days and eventually froze to death. The suit also accuses JFCS of neglect for failing to notify Chin’s family of his disappearance for a full three hours after the fact.
Chin’s case is just one of several San Francisco nursing home abuse cases that have been in the news over the past few months. Although this very serious issue is getting more media attention, the state has not yet done enough to combat the growing problem of elder neglect. Studies have shown that a growing number of reports of abuse or neglect have been filed against those charged with protecting and caring for the elderly and the disabled. Unfortunately, many of those reports receive nothing more than a cursory investigation before being dismissed. The workers against whom these reports are filed are often still working with other patients long after complaints have been received. It is becoming increasingly necessary for family members to turn to the court system to put additional pressure on these agencies and facilities. Hopefully, more families will do what the Chin family has done and do their part to help put a stop to patient neglect in California.
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