Neawanna by the Sea under new management

ERICK BENGEL — EO Media Group ¬ Neawanna by the Sea, on North Wahanna Road in Seaside, was the site of a protest Wednesday, when seven of its former employees claimed that they were wrongly terminated after reporting the business' illegal activities.

SEASIDE — Neawanna by the Sea, a retirement and assisted-living facility in Seaside, is trying to improve its operation after an unfavorable 2014.

After a September inspection by the state Office of Licensing and Regulatory Oversight revealed some deficiencies, the office restricted Neawanna’s ability to admit new residents because of its ongoing failure to be in compliance with the Oregon administrative rules for residential care and assisted living facilities.

It was the third state inspection in 2014 — following others in February and July — to show a lack of “substantive compliance” on Neawanna’s part.

“Because things were not heading in the right direction, (the restriction) is an effort to say, ‘You need to circle the wagons and not bring new people into the community and focus on getting your service back into compliance,’” said Cory Oace, manager of the community-based care licensing unit that oversees Neawanna.

These deficiencies are not all that unusual, though, Oace said.

Though Neawanna may lose its license if its lingering deficiencies are unresolved by the next unannounced inspection, the business is in no greater danger of losing its license than many of the nearly 500 community care facilities in Oregon.

“They’re all at risk of losing their license at any time,” Oace said. “We have not made any decision to — or expressed any attempt to — remove (Neawanna’s) license to operate.”

Such a decision would depend on the severity of the deficiency, Oace said. All of the deficiencies noted in the 2014 surveys were documented as isolated incidents, and very few were determined to have actually caused harm to a resident.

In response to the September findings, however, Neawanna hired the Portland-based Frontier Management shortly thereafter as its new management company, replacing Westmont Living, based in La Jolla, Calif.

Frontier was “asked to step in and help move Neawanna forward,” said a Frontier employee who wished to remain anonymous.

The “drastic” change “shows a good faith effort on the part of the provider to come into compliance,” Oace said. “We’re encouraged and hope that they’re headed in the right direction.”

The deficiencies recorded in Neawanna’s inspections appear to be small-scale lapses largely relating to how the facility tracks its patients’ conditions and administers their medications.

But they reflect the general allegations of seven of Neawanna’s ex-employees who claim, in sworn affidavits with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, that they witnessed Neawanna occasionally mistreating its residents.

Neawanna, along with Westmont Living, remains embroiled in a U.S. District Court case against its former employees, who allege in a civil suit that the business engaged in wage theft, discriminated against its workers based on age, race and sex, and may have unlawfully terminated them for blowing the whistle on its practices.

In 2014, state Adult Protective Services investigated six separate complaints against Neawanna while the facility was under Westmont Living’s management.

Three of the complaints were deemed unsubstantiated; that is, no wrongdoing appears to have occurred.

One of the substantiated complaints — a failure to administer ordered medication — resulted in exposing a resident to potential harm. Another — a failure to follow a care plan — prevented a resident from receiving needed lotion on a sore.

And the sixth — a failure to provide a resident with prescribed narcotic medications when the resident moved to another facility — had caused the resident unreasonable discomfort for several days. “This failure is a violation of resident rights, is considered neglect of care and constitutes abuse,” according to the findings.

However, that number of complaints is “not uncommon,” Oace said, which “is not to say that the goal isn’t zero.” “We have lots of facilities that have more, we have lots that have less.”

The plaintiffs in the civil suit — Wesley Cordova, a former cook; Elodia Gonzalez, a former caregiver; Lynzee Johnson, a former medical technician; Kylee Lunsford, a former medical technician; Amy Patterson, a former medical technician; Matthew Perry, a former dishwasher; and Michealyn Schroeder, a former resident services director — also claim in their affidavits that Neawanna ignored unsanitary conditions, created a hostile work environment and allowed sexual harassment to occur.

They have retained lawyer Michael Ross, of Slater Ross Attorneys in Portland. Slater is handling the plaintiffs’ allegations as a single claim against Neawanna and Westmont Living. David Silke, of the Seattle-based Gordon & Rees LLP, represents the defendants.

The seven are still seeking economic damages, liquidated damages, noneconomic damages of $100,000 per plaintiff, equitable relief, pre- and post-judgement interest and costs, disbursements and attorney fees.

Attempts by the EO Media Group to reach Westmont Living were unsuccessful.