Nursing Home Abuse ? or just a Strange Accident
How could 94-year-old 'slip out?' family asks
By J. Harry Jones
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
November 27, 2007
ESCONDIDO – A 94-year-old woman who wandered away from a nursing home early Thanksgiving morning and was then struck and killed by a car was wearing an alarm bracelet designed to alert staff if she left the building.
Police said the only door that would not have triggered the alarm was the front door of Palomar Heights Care Center in Escondido – an institution with a history of negligent care.
“Either she went out a door and set off an alarm that wasn't heard or she went out the front,” Escondido police Officer Mike Garcia said yesterday.
Maria Cobian's bewildered family is planning her funeral for tomorrow in Carlsbad, where she lived and worked for decades until entering the nursing home three years ago.
“We're still confused about how this happened,” Cobian's grandson, Jesus Cobian, 33, of Oceanside said yesterday. “We're upset and confused.”
Shortly after 12:30 a.m. Thursday, Cobian was hit by a car while walking in a traffic lane on Grand Avenue near Ohio Street, a few hundred yards from the nursing home.
Jesus Cobian said he and his father, Alberto Cobian, were told by a worker at the nursing home that night that there had been an emergency involving another patient and the staff had been distracted.
“We just don't understand how she could just slip out like that,” Jesus Cobian said. Just before the accident, one person had stopped and was about to help Cobian when she was struck by a Crown Victoria driven by a 58-year-old Escondido security guard.
Garcia said it was unlikely the driver of the car will be cited.
“Several other drivers who were in different lanes said they had been unable to see her until they were on top of her,” Garcia said. He said the driver of the car was not speeding and said he didn't see Cobian until it was too late.
“She was standing in the middle of the road. Unfortunately for both of them he hit her,” Garcia said.
Earlier that night, Cobian had tried to leave the building and set off an alarm. Garcia said employees told investigators that Cobian had been especially agitated that night about a bath she had been given.
Jesus Cobian described his grandmother as old but “pretty much aware of her surroundings but at the same time, not sometimes.”
He said she came to the United States from Mexico 45 years ago and spent decades living in Carlsbad and working in the flower fields there. She walked all over the city for years, Cobian recalled.
“She was a go-getter. If there was something she wanted she'd get it,” her grandson said. The funeral will be held at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, which she attended for many years.
The family has contacted a lawyer, Cobian said. The family was unaware of the problems the nursing home has had.
Last year, the same nursing home was hit with the most severe citation the California Department of Health Services can issue and was fined $100,000 after a 66-year-old patient died after being left alone while smoking a cigarette on a patio while connected to an oxygen machine. A state report said the man became “engulfed” in flames and burned for six minutes, suffering injuries to his face, torso, arms and legs.
The state concluded poor care led to the man's death.
The nursing home also was cited twice in 2004, when it was under previous ownership, with lesser violations.
The facility was called SunBridge Care & Rehabilitation before Dec. 10, 2004. In January 2004, a sting operation by the state attorney general resulted in the arrest of 12 SunBridge employees, who were accused of elder abuse of a resident. The felony charges were later dropped.
A Health Services spokesman said yesterday he did not know if a state investigation of the Cobian accident has begun.
Palomar Heights Care Center is not affiliated with the Palomar Pomerado Health district, which operates Palomar Medical Center.
After repeated phone calls to Palomar Heights went unreturned yesterday, the nursing home issued a statement late in the afternoon:
“The staff of Palomar Heights are grief stricken over this tragedy. Right now our prayers are for the family as they cope with their loss.”
A spokeswoman said no further comment would be forthcoming.