2011-10-19 "Long-Term Heartbreak" letter by Francie Aguilera of Santa Rosa to the editor of "Northbay Bohemian" newspaper
Senior health care is big business in Sonoma County. Assisted living facilities charge from $3,000 to $7,000 a month for private rooms depending upon the level of care needed. Long-term care facilities fees start at a minimum of $7,000 a month for a room shared with two other occupants. Rates escalate as medical needs arise.
In Jan. 2010, I moved my mother to a long-term care facility in Sonoma. A general practitioner doctor began submitting monthly visit fees to Medicare. Another doctor also submitted a bill for cutting her nails.
At the beginning of 2011 my mother's health deteriorated and she became bedridden. At that time, I gave the LTC staff oral and written instructions regarding my mother's pre-paid mortuary and burial arrangements. On April 14, 2011, I was called by the LTC staff and told to come immediately because my mother was experiencing problems. When I arrived, my mother was having multiple seizures and they continued non-stop for four hours, during which time I repeatedly asked for a doctor. I was told by the LTC nurse that my mother's general practitioner only came "once a month" and was not available. I asked to see my mother's medical records and the file I saw showed my mother's general practitioner had not, in fact, physically seen her since Jan. 2011. By late afternoon, my mother's seizures had become so intense that I had to wedge a folded bath towel between her right shoulder and her skull.
On April 21, I received a call from the LTC facility at 6:05am telling me that my mother had just died. I had medical power of attorney and gave the nurse a phone number to reach my mother's mortuary. The nurse, however, told me they only contracted with a mortuary in Sonoma. After several calls to hospice for assistance, I drove to the LTC facility. When I arrived, I discovered that my mother's body had been illegally taken to the Sonoma mortuary.
Since my mother's passing, I have successfully lodged complaints with the California Department of Public Health and the State Department of Consumer Affairs. Extensive investigations by both agencies corroborated every one of my allegations.
Following her death I began receiving my mother's Medicare statements for services from her assigned physicians. The general practitioner had billed Medicare for February, March and April 2011 visits even though paperwork at the LTC facility did not substantiate his claims. The other doctor submitted his bill for a pedicure given to my mother two days prior to her death when she was in a morphine-induced coma. I challenged these bills and Medicare is now launching an investigation.
I hope this inspires everyone to carefully scan their loved ones' medical statements through even the toughest times. Together, we can hopefully initiate improved health care at lower costs for our seniors.