Wednesday, January 19, 2011

'Grannycam' video spurs state to shut Fair Oaks care home in Sacramento

Shortly after his grandmother moved into a residential care home in Fair Oaks, Sean Suh installed a small camera beside her bed to make sure the staff knew someone was watching.

But often when he visited, he said, he would find the "Grannycam" unplugged.

Suh decided to find a new place for Kyong Hui Duncan, a Korean immigrant and beloved matriarch who had become too frail to live on her own. But by the time he found one, Duncan, 73, was dead from a constellation of problems that her grandson said were inflicted upon her at Fair Oaks Residential Elderly Care.

A short video clip captured by Suh's "Grannycam" that shows a staffer violently shaking Duncan in her wheelchair now plays a key role in the state's decision to shut down the care home. The clip, which Suh discovered only after Duncan's death, is also at the center of a civil lawsuit the family filed Thursday that charges abuse, neglect and wrongful death.

"I have nightmares about it," Suh said of the videotaped image. "It's very hard for me to function, knowing she went through that."

Following an investigation spurred by Suh's complaint, the California Department of Social Services on Thursday ordered the care home's operators, Myung S. Kim and Jay J. Kim, to cease operations by the end of the business day. The state is moving to permanently revoke the home's license.

Such emergency actions are rare, said Wendy York, a Sacramento lawyer who represents the family and whose specialty is elder abuse. "In 15 years of prosecuting homes, I have not seen the state suspend a facility," York said.

The Fair Oaks home is licensed to care for 15 residents, and all had managed to find other accommodations by Thursday afternoon, said the facility's lawyer, Jeff Kravitz.

Kravitz said the home's operators reject all the allegations against them.

"We're disputing everything," he said. "All of the residents enjoyed staying there."

He said the Kims will appeal the suspension and hope to resume operating in the near future.

The state's suspension order accuses the home of violating the personal rights of residents. One of the concerns the state cites stems from the "Grannycam" clip, which shows staff members moving Duncan from the floor to her wheelchair, then dumping the chair backward with Duncan in it and shaking it. Among other allegations: that staff members improperly restrained Duncan and failed to quickly attend to her after she had fallen.

Once, the state alleges, family members arrived to find Duncan, crying and unattended, positioned upside down in her wheelchair. The order also cites instances in which Duncan suffered mysterious bruises and infections that went untreated.

Duncan's autopsy report showed potentially toxic levels of narcotics in her system, at least one of which her doctor had never prescribed, according to the document. The lawsuit charges that she suffered injuries, infection and "lethal doses of drugs," all of which contributed to her death.

The state also accuses the home of fire code violations, failing to dispose of contaminated needles, using prescription medicines that had expired and forging prescriptions.

Suh said he chose the Fair Oaks facility after informing administrators that he intended to install a camera. "I wanted to let them know I would be making sure that my grandmother got the utmost care and had the highest quality of life," he said.

The camera, he said, collected DVD images but was not connected to a computer. He said he looked at all the videotaped material shortly after his grandmother died.

Suh said his grandmother was a strong, determined woman who fled North Korea in the midst of war. A single parent to Suh's mother, she launched a successful restaurant business in Guam, at one point employing 300 people, he said. She later ran a coffee shop and a market in Southern California.

"She came to this country without knowing English, without knowing the culture, and she lived the American dream," even putting her grandson through college, said Suh, a teacher of people with disabilities. Duncan was "full of life, someone who entered a room and everyone knew she was there," he said.

After she retired, Suh moved his grandmother to the Sacramento area, where she lived in her own home until October 2009, he said. Her family began worrying about her welfare when she began falling, but she wanted to maintain her independence. So rather than move in with relatives she agreed to go to the Fair Oaks home, in part because the operators shared her ethnic background, Suh said.

Suh said he started searching for another residential home after she began suffering unexplained gashes and bruises and seemed to be "drugged" when he visited.

"I found a new place, and then I got the call that she had passed away," Suh said. "I guess I was just a couple of days too late."

Read more:'Grannycam' video spurs state to shut Fair Oaks care home - Sacramento News - Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

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