County Pulse

Interim director appointed at Sundial; sale under negotiation

kcarlson@modbee.comNovember 2, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
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    E-mail: kcarlson@modbee.com

A new executive director took over Thursday at the 96-unit Sundial Palms Manor in Modesto, raising hopes that new management can turn things around.

Evelyn Mendez, an independent elder-care consultant, said Friday she’s working as an interim manager to ensure the safety and well-being of residents and do what’s needed to keep the facility operating. The state approved an agreement with the owners, Hilda and Mary Manuel, to give her authority to manage the McHenry Avenue facility, she said.

Attorney Orrin Grover, representing the owners, said they are talking with potential buyers to transfer ownership of Sundial Palms, and the property could change hands by month’s end. State officials did not return calls regarding the latest development.

Grover said Hilda Manuel suffers from kidney and liver disease and doesn’t have the stamina to supervise the facility.

“The staff has been working hard to make sure the residents are properly cared for,” the attorney said. “I know the staffing ratio this week has been beefed up and was adequate to care for residents.”

Family members have been vocal about the poor care, skimpy meals served to residents, and other Health and Safety Code violations detailed in the California Department of Social Services’ accusations against Hilda Manuel and Mary Julleah Manuel, the mother-daughter team that’s owned the elder-care facility for two years.

The department has taken legal action to revoke their licenses and ban them for life from running elder-care facilities. Hilda and Mary Manuel also have operated two Bay Area facilities. They are appealing the state action and waiting for an administrative hearing.

The state’s allegations against the owners documented sixteen violations at Sundial Palms under the Manuels. According to regulators, the facility was understaffed, with inspectors finding in November 2012 that only one caregiver was on duty for 45 memory-care patients.

The facility was cited for providing insufficient food for residents, having broken freezers and dirty utensils in the kitchen, and failing to provide modified meals for diabetic residents. During a period when a housekeeper was on leave, there was not enough staff to clean rooms and maintain sanitary conditions, the state claimed.

The Department of Social Services has been monitoring Sundial Palms to make sure 63 remaining residents are getting proper care. The center provides assisted-living services and residential care for seniors who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.

Other violations led to closure of the owners’ Valley Springs Manor in Castro Valley last week. The state is also seeking to revoke the license of an Oakland facility owned by Hilda Manuel and her daughter.

Mendez said her first priority was hiring to bring staffing levels up at Sundial Palms.

“We have new people coming in through the weekend. We’re hiring enough (caregivers and medical technicians) to cover all shifts,” she said.

Mendez said she’s working with a dietary specialist to create menus and order food to ensure the dietary needs of residents are met. Next week, she hopes to start reaching out to families to discuss concerns.

Ginger Harrison, whose father was a Sundial Palms resident for 18 months, said she thinks an ownership change is essential. Before she moved her father from the facility in September, she went to Sundial Palms about four times a week to make sure he was given medication and was getting enough food, she said.

“The employees really care about these people,” Harrison said. “The owners have not been there. They don’t care. They care about the dollar.”

Grover defended the owners. “I have represented Hilda for almost 12 years, and making sure residents are properly cared for is most important for her.” he said. “Hopefully, this transfer of ownership will go through and the new owners will be productive members of the community.”

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209)578-2321.

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