A total of 130 patients have been affected by staff misconduct that includes chemical restraint, sexual or sexually-related abuse, physical or verbal abuse, as well as violations of privacy, according to a city investigation. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Patient’s attorney files claim against SF over Laguna Honda abuse: ‘He’s angry. He wants answers’

Scandal could lead to class action lawsuit against city

A middle-aged, disabled man who is among a number of patients impacted by the abuse scandal at Laguna Honda Hospital is angry and wants answers, according to his attorney who has filed a legal claim against The City.

“Having those answers is part of the healing process,” said the patient’s attorney, Sara Peters, with the law firm Walkup, Melodia, Kelly and Schoenberger.

Peters said that her client, who suffered a traumatic injury when young, was “incredulous” that the people who were supposed to care for him would do this to him. Laguna Honda is a 780-bed skilled nursing facility run by the Department of Public Health.

They learned that staff had taken a photo of him receiving an enema and shared the photo with other staff via text messages that included “inappropriate and sexualized jokes,” she said.

“He was being turned into a joke by them and he didn’t even know it,” Peters said.

She said his “close-knit” family learned about the photographs of patients in a March 15 letter from the hospital and they followed up, asking the hospital to tell them more. Eventually they were shown the photo. Later they learned other photos existed as well.

Given the other reported abuse of patients uncovered in The City’s investigation, such as life-threatening drugging, they don’t know the full breadth of what he may have suffered, but hope to find out more through the legal process, Peters said.

“He’s participating. He’s angry. He wants answers,” Peters said, and “he’s using this process to try and get those answers.”

The claim does not cite a specific dollar amount sought for damages.

Another claim was filed against The City by a patient without legal representation.

The claims were obtained by the San Francisco Examiner from the City Attorney’s Office through a public records request. The name of the patient is redacted in both claims for privacy reasons.

In this other claim, the patient wrote: “Picture was found of me naked in bed. I had scars open and I was exposed with my private parts showing. Staff were laughing and making fun of me. It was an invasion of my privacy and I want to be financially compensated.”

The claim cites physical and mental distress, aggravation, pain and suffering, and seeks $10 million in damages.

Peters said that the fact that only her patient and one other have filed claims to date doesn’t surprise her.

She said the March 15 letter from Laguna Honda notifying the patient’s family of the existence of possible photos taken of him by staff “actually read as being pretty benign.”

A copy of the letter shows the subject title as “Notice of Data Breach.”

“A Laguna Honda Hospital staff member took photographs of [redacted] without his consent and shared the photographs with another hospital staff member using their personal cell phones,” the letter reads.

It also states: “This incident involved pictures of in one or more of the following circumstances: sitting in a chair, lying in a bed, of an injury or wound, or during a medical procedure.”

Peters has added on to the initial claim she filed against The City for her patient with a supplemental claim to allow for a possible class action lawsuit on behalf of all the impacted patients.

She noted that since Laguna Honda is a government agency, those impacted have six months to file claims. Her intention was to ensure that those impacted don’t miss the deadline. “It’s a tough deadline to meet,” she said.

Claims are a precursor to a lawsuit.

City officials said last week that their investigation into the abuse has found 130 patients impacted. About 30 patients were “victims of abuse, which includes chemical restraint, sexual or sexually-related abuse, physical or verbal abuse.” Another 25 patients were photographed or visible in the background of photographs without consent, violating their privacy. And another 75 other patients had their names disclosed in recordings.

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