NURSING HOMES: Reform Advocates Blast Gov. Davis for Taking Horizon West Exec on Official Trip
In a move that has "outraged senior citizen and nursing home reform advocates," Gov. Gray Davis invited Horizon West president Ellen Kuykendall on his recent overseas trade mission, the Los Angeles Times reports. Horizon West, operator of 30 nursing homes statewide, has received at least 36 "A" citations -- a penalty carrying a $10,000 fine -- over the last five years for problems ranging from patient abuse to deaths from drug overdoses. In February, the Roseville Convalescent Hospital received an "AA" citation -- the toughest penalty the state issues which carries a $25,000 fine -- after a resident choked to death on her food. In April, the Montclair Manor Convalescent Hospital, another Horizon West-affiliate, received a "AA" citation for the death of a diabetic resident who had gone without food for two days. In addition, Horizon West paid $4 million in February to settle a Medicare fraud claim. Notably, Kuykendall's trip invitation came on the heels of Davis' veto of legislation that would have reformed California nursing homes and stiffened penalties against problematic facilities. Senior advocates were "outraged" over Kuykendall's inclusion. Carole Herman, president of the Sacramento-based Foundation Aiding the Elderly -- an organization which filed a 1997 suit against Horizon alleging poor patient care -- said, "It's outrageous. Gray Davis was touting himself to be about the elderly ... and now this? It made me sick to my stomach." Davis' Communications Director Phil Trounstine said that Kuykendall was the invited guest and business associate of Davis campaign contributor and nursing home developer Martin Harmon. Trounstine continued, "On balance, these are people and companies that have made a positive contribution to California's economy. Do we stand behind the business practice of every business entity in which they're engaged? No." However, critics argue that the governor, whose administration is responsible for regulating nursing homes, should know who he takes with him on an official trip.
Senior advocates also argue that the Kuykendall controversy shows the "dangers of honoring contributors with prestigious invitations." Harmon, whose Auburn Manor Holding Corp. is landlord for many of Horizon West's nursing homes, contributed $12,500 to the Davis campaign last year and paid $10,000 in June to co-sponsor the governor's golf fund-raiser. However, the governor's office contends that Kuykendall and Harmon paid for their own travel expenses and only accompanied the governor on the United Kingdom leg of his trip. In addition, Trounstine said that neither Kuykendall or Harmon had any conversations about