Patient sues SF over abuse at Laguna Honda Hospital

One of the patients affected by the abuse scandal at Laguna Honda Hospital filed a lawsuit Monday in San Francisco...

One of the patients affected by the abuse scandal at Laguna Honda Hospital filed a lawsuit Monday in San Francisco Superior Court seeking damages.

The lawsuit does not name the patient but it is filed “under the pseudonym John Doe to prevent more embarrassment, humiliation, and harassment, than he has already suffered as alleged herein.”

The lawsuit appears to be the first filed against The City following revelations last year that abuse including life-threatening drugging, kicking, nude photos and privacy violations occurred at the hospital. The scandal impacted 130 patients over a three-year period that ended in January 2019, according to health department officials.

“The Defendants took explicit photographs of Plaintiff’s genital and anal areas for a non-medical purpose, then disseminated those photographs for a non-medical purpose, exposing Plaintiff to intentional embarrassment and ridicule,” said the lawsuit filed by attorneys Sara Peters and Khaldoun Baghdadi with the law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly & Schoenberger. “This behavior demonstrates a culture of abuse, and a lack of patient dignity, that is unacceptable at an institution entrusted to care for the elderly and disabled.”

The lawsuit alleges violations of state laws including the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, California Health and Safety Code and the California Patient’s Bill of Rights.

Peters said in an email that they also plan to file a class action lawsuit “to preserve the rights of the other affected patients.”

The patient, who is described as “an adult paraplegic,” was notified of the abuse by hospital officials in February 2019 and a month later requested additional information about what occurred. The City “temporarily shared” with the patient a photo of the abuse.

“The photo, taken without his knowledge or consent, depicted Plaintiff receiving an enema at Laguna Honda Hospital,” the lawsuit said. “The photo was taken on a staff member’s personal phone and was text messaged to numerous other staff members for the purpose of making inappropriate and sexualized jokes.”

The patient “was caused to and did suffer fear, anxiety, humiliation, physical pain and discomfort, and emotional distress,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also criticized how city officials have handled the matter.

“Plaintiff attempted to gain additional information about the abuse perpetrated upon him by Defendants, but Defendants have obfuscated or otherwise refused to give a full account of Plaintiff’s abuse, such that the full extent of that abuse is yet unknown,” the lawsuit said. “Defendants have even failed, despite repeated requests, to provide Plaintiff with a copy of the single photograph that was temporarily shared.”

A Department of Public Health spokesperson declined to comment.

City Attorney spokesperson John Cote said, “We’ll review the lawsuit once we’ve been served with it and respond accordingly in court.”

Laguna Honda Hospital, a skilled-nursing facility located at 375 Laguna Honda Blvd., is operated by the Department of Public Health. Last fiscal year, the hospital cost $263 million to operate and served 1,107 patients.

Margaret Rykowski took over as Laguna Honda’s acting CEO following The City’s public announcement of the abuse in June 2019.

“This year also brought the troubling discovery of patient abuse by some staff members,” Rykowski wrote in the hospital’s annual report for fiscal year 2018-2019, which was heard by the Health Commission last month. “Once detected, we informed our patients and their families, regulators and the San Francisco community. As a result, we have worked diligently to improve specific processes related to reporting of conduct, medication management, our quality structure, culture and staff supervision.”

She continued, “We still have work to do, but we are confident we have implemented the appropriate measures to prevent this from occurring at our organization in the future.”

The report also said that employee satisfaction at the hospital was low, which was measured in a survey asking staff if they would recommend working there.

“Although the hospital did not meet its goals of increasing employee satisfaction (67 percent compared to 82 percent baseline), the anonymous responses from employees are now packaged in a secured online portal that offers transparent data analysis and visuals for managers and supervisors to review,” the report said. “In addition, the results of the survey are being used in education workshops for departments across the hospital, with key themes identified as opportunities for improvement.”

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