The owner of the San Luis Obispo assisted living center The Manse on Marsh knew the facility was not certified to accept residents suffering symptoms of dementia, a state prosecutor told a jury Thursday, but “he did it anyway” to “fill the beds.”
Christopher Skiff, 54, along with his former executive director, Gary Potts, 63, have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and elder abuse resulting in death related to the 2014 death of 65-year-old facility resident Mauricio Edgar Cardenas.
Cardenas died after he was struck by a car in December 2014 as he walked or jogged in the evening dark about 10 miles from the facility on Los Osos Valley Road.
The state alleges Skiff and Potts conspired to admit residents with dementia and related symptoms while also cutting down on staffing, knowing that Manse on Marsh was not licensed to care for diagnosed dementia patients.
The case was first filed in August 2017, and following a failed motion to have the case dismissed, Potts is now being tried separately from Skiff. The case is being prosecuted by the state Attorney General’s Office following an investigation by the agency’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.
Manse on Marsh is a state-licensed facility.
If convicted of both charges and attached sentencing enhancements, both Skiff and Potts could face a maximum of eight years in state prison, the Attorney General’s Office previously stated.
In his opening statements, Deputy Attorney General Mark Cumba told jurors that assisted living facilities can not accept residents with dementia unless they have an appropriate care plan filed with the state Department of Social Services.
“Defendant was the one and only licensee for the Manse,” Cumba said.
The prosecutor explained how Manse on Marsh was issued citations from the state in 2007 for having nine residents with dementia at the facility even though it did not have a care plan. It was again found in violation in 2008, with four residents who were living there with dementia. This time, the facility was told to apply for a dementia care plan, though it soon withdrew its request with the state to care for dementia patients, according to Cumba.
Cumba said he plans to call ex-Manse employees who will testify that Skiff was particularly involved in all aspects of the business.
In addition, Cumba said there was a “hot list” of prospective residents who had ailments that prevented them from living at the facility, but that Skiff would tell staff to “get it changed” and find ways to admit the people.
One of those ways, Cumba said, was by changing medical records to remove dementia as a primary diagnosis, which is what happened with Cardenas, Cumba said.
“It was the defendant who made the final decision of who can live (at the facility),” Cumba said. “It’s his business, he’s at the top.”
But in his opening statement, Robert Sanger, Skiff’s attorney, said he “didn’t do it.” He said that other agencies, such as the CHP and the state Department of Social Services did not find that a crime or other violation occurred related to Cardenas’ death.
“It’s a tragedy,” Sanger said.
Sanger described Cardenas as an independent “obsessive jogger,” who regularly wouldn’t listen to staff, who even attempted to get an ankle monitor for Cardenas.
Sanger argued that Cardenas did not have dementia, but rather mild cognitive impairment, residents whom the state’s Title 22 regulations allowed the facility to accept.
The attorney also said that as administrator it was Potts’ ultimate decision on who is accepted to the facility.
“I’m not throwing (Potts) under the bus because I don’t think he did anything wrong either,” Sanger said. “Mr. Potts was ultimately responsible for taking Mr. Cardenas in.”
After jury selection was completed Tuesday, The Manse on Marsh issued a statement saying Skiff is hoping for “a speedy trial to clear his name and restore his excellent reputation.”
Testimony resumes Friday.