The Watsonville Post-Acute Center.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
COVID South County

Watsonville nursing home sued by family of resident who died during COVID-19 outbreak

The family of a 94-year-old man who died last month at the Watsonville Post-Acute Center has filed an elder-abuse and wrongful-death lawsuit alleging the facility was “both understaffed and inadequately trained in infectious disease prevention and control.”

Donald Wickham, 94, who suffered from dementia, died Oct. 20 from COVID-19 complications, according to David Spini, the family’s lawyer. Wickham had been living at the facility for at least a year and was one of 15 residents of the Watsonville Post-Acute Center who died after contracting the virus.

A majority of the facility’s residents — 50 out of 74 — tested positive for COVID-19 since mid-September, according to the Nov. 11 lawsuit, which was announced by the family on Monday.

The suit alleges that in the two years prior to the coronavirus outbreak, Watsonville Post-Acute had been investigated by the California Department of Public Health six different times where its infection control procedures were found lacking. In a 2019 report, health inspectors found, among other issues, incidents of improper hand hygiene among staff at the nursing center.

No one at Watsonville Post-Acute or Cambridge Health Care Services, which operates the facility, was immediately available for comment.

Given its previous health citations and the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, Watsonville Post-Acute and its operators “failed to act reasonably to ensure the safety and well being of its residents,” the lawsuit states. “And these failures represent an extreme departure from what a reasonably careful skilled nursing facility would and should have done.”

Operators of the Watsonville facility slashed the center’s staffing, ignored the need for infection control measures and prioritized “revenue rather than resident well-being,” the suit also alleges.

Spini said he was unaware of other lawsuits filed against the center at this time.

Watsonville Post-Acute is a 95-bed skilled nursing facility located at 525 Auto Center Drive in Watsonville.