SENIOR POWER: Nursing Homes

By Helen Rippier Wheeler
Wednesday March 31, 2010 - 01:40:00 PM

There it was, on the March 22 TV news. Reportage of events associated with the Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (2929 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley) once again brought nursing homes and caretakers, and thereby, elder abuse, into the news. Briefly. 

Attorney General Jerry Brown's office had charged 51-year old Concepcion "Connie" Pinco Giron with theft, elder abuse, false imprisonment and other charges. The former Elmwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center assistant administrator allegedly stole $50,000+ from 6 elderly patients and kidnapped one of them so she could cash the woman's pension and Social Security checks. Brown's office had received a complaint about her. The Department of Justice also found that she had conned a patient’s son into paying her $600 a month to keep his mother at Elmwood.l She faces one count each of kidnapping to commit another crime, false imprisonment and elder abuse, and 6 counts of theft from elder or dependent adults by a caretaker.  

CalQualityCare provides free ratings of such long term care providers as nursing homes, home health care agencies, and assisted living facilities. Medicare compares nursing homes and rehabilitation centers. 

Elmwood is a for profit-corporation owned by Shattuck Health Care, Inc.. Certified in 2005, it was rated “below average.” It participates in Medicare and Medicaid (California’s Medi-Cal), with 74 beds, and it reports the presence of a Resident Council.  

When was the last Ombudspersons’ visit, and what did they do about conditions? Did they consult the Resident Council?  

I was stunned by the conditions at Elmwood when I visited an old old friend, an SSI recipient who rented a small “studio” in HUD-subsidized senior/disabled housing. She had been transferred to Elmwood after what is referred to by some as the hospital three-days.  

I just walked in the back door and roamed around. No one stopped me or challenged my presence. It was very noisy. The doors were all open, TVs blaring, people yelling. Most of the patients appeared to be elderly. Trays with left-over food lined the corridors on portable shelves. Two chatting staff members rejected my attempt to get information.  

I found my friend in a tiny room containing 2 beds crammed together. She confided that she was nauseous at night and “afraid” she might vomit— there was no way “without bothering them.” An attendant who responded 50 minutes after I pushed the button snarled “it’s in her night stand,” which was not within reach of the bed. During another visit, an ‘occupational therapist’ insisted my friend get into a wheelchair: as she drew back the sheet, fresh blood was visible.  

At my next visit, I found my friend’s bed empty and stripped. I waylaid a staff member who failed to ask, minimally, whether I was a family member. He didn’t know where my-friend-the-patient was! She died 2 weeks later.  

When a so-called low-income senior is hospitalized, where s/he goes after the three-day hospital stay is pretty much up to the surgeon or other physician, who may or may not record a recommendation on the chart. Another human factor is whether there is a family member.  

Fraud and exploitation by staff are inevitable precursors to abuse of patients, senior citizens especially, in nursing homes and hospitals.  

The Resource Center on Aging at the University of California Berkeley reports that one-third of Americans now pass through a nursing home before they die. “Although many individuals aged 65 and over will be admitted for short stays for rehabilitation or skilled nursing needs, 55% of those admitted may stay for at least 1 year, and 21% may stay 5 years or longer.” About one-fifth of Americans die in a nursing home.  


For your consideration:  



When: Monday, April 12, 2010  

What: Registration begins for May-August Albany Senior Center Summer Trips  

Where: Albany Senior Center, 846 Masonic Ave., Albany 94706  

For more info: (510) 524-9122; 


When: Friday, April 23, 2010 

What: “Caregiving and wellness; Forum on healthy aging II”  

Where: West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline St., Oakland 94607  

Details: Free. Registration required. By phone or online  

For more info: (925) 284.7942 



Helen Rippier Wheeler can be reached at