By Kati Weis

ARVADA, Colo. (CBS4) – A family is calling for the Almost Like Home assisted living center in Arvada to be shut down, after a state health department investigation revealed their loved one was neglected there. The facility cited with “deficient practice” for failing to protect Julia Gutierrez, 78, from neglect.

“I would have gotten her out of there sooner,” said Gutierrez’s daughter, Sylvia Torralba, of the newly released health department findings. “She could be alive today, and she’s not, and there’s nothing I can do about that.”

Julia Gutierrez (credit: CBS)

Gutierrez lived at the facility for two years. Other than suffering from dementia, her family says she was healthy, until the pandemic hit, and her family could no longer visit her. Within months, her family says Gutierrez lost 40 pounds, and when Torralba did visit her in October, she had a severe bedsore that required hospitalization.

Gutierrez had gone septic, needed to be fluid resuscitated, and parts of her bowel had died, which required a risky surgery doctors would not perform due to potential complications. Gutierrez died at home days later.

Now, a state health department investigation confirms the facility failed to call Gutierrez’s doctor in a timely fashion to get her the proper care she needed, which resulted in “harm.”

The investigation report also says Gutierrez was often left in a recliner “all day and all night,” even though the report found Gutierrez had a recorded propensity for bedsores throughout her two-year stay.

Further, the health department found in a 10-day period leading up to Gutierrez’s hospitalization, there was no evidence Gutierrez was offered fluids during multiple shifts.

A former employee spoke with CBS4 Investigates, on the condition their name not be revealed publicly, about how Gutierrez was treated at the facility.

(credit: Family of Julia Gutierrez)

“In all the times that I had worked in the house and when (Gutierrez) lived there, I had never seen her out of her chair, unless she was eating at the dinner table,” the former employee said. “Because we were almost all the time severely understaffed, that care for (Gutierrez) did not get done, because she was, and I quote, a lot of people said she was too heavy.”

The former employee alleged lifting Gutierrez was a two-person job, and because two people were often not available, Gutierrez would remain in her recliner.

The former employee also alleged caregivers at Almost Like Home are mostly young girls, some still in high school, who are given little training. The former employee also alleged caregivers often smoked weed and drank on the job.

The former employee claimed they tried to report those concerns to supervisors, but they were ignored or dismissed.

RELATED: State Health Dept. Investigating Second Alleged Neglect Case In Two Months At Almost Like Home

Other newly released health department investigations show Gutierrez was not the only resident to have been neglected at Almost Like Home. According to state records, another resident’s toe had to be amputated because of a “delay of treatment.”

The health department also found “repeated incidents” of residents drinking cleaning products that were left out, one resident even drinking bleach. According to the state reports, caregivers put the cleaning products in cups that resembled the cups for drinking water given to residents, residents who mostly suffer from dementia and Alzheimers.

“The residences’ failure created an immediate jeopardy for the residents residing in the three homes with unsecured chemicals,” the report reads.

In Gutierrez’s case, Almost Like Home was fined $1,000, and was required to develop a corrective action plan that must be approved by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The CDPHE says investigators will conduct a follow up inspection, unannounced, to see if the facility adheres to its procedural changes.

Torralba feels that reprimand is insufficient.

(credit: Family of Julia Gutierrez)

“A slap on the hand, change procedures, it’s not enough, they need to be shut down,” Torralba said. “What is enough? How bad does it have to get? Does somebody have to die? Somebody did.”

CBS4 Investigates asked the CDPHE what the threshold would be for a facility under its purview to be shut down, a spokesperson for the department said:

“The Health Facilities Division regulates these facilities. Facilities have the opportunity to correct areas of deficiency. If the facility is unable to correct the deficiencies, or if the deficiency is serious in nature, other remedies may be taken. Examples of these remedies are immediate conditions, installing temporary management companies, adding conditions to their license, and finally revocation of a license. Health Facilities will pursue all actions while also providing the facility due process. The Health Facilities Division strives to be fair to facilities while also using all of the regulatory tools in our toolkit when appropriate.”

Arvada Police closed its neglect investigation into Gutierrez’s death, saying:

“The Arvada Police Department would like to acknowledge the loss of Julia Gutierrez and the pain her family must feel. We have a dedicated elder abuse detective that is assigned to these types of cases. When the allegation of criminal neglect was brought to our attention, a thorough investigation was completed along with Jefferson County Human Services. All witnesses and staff members of Almost Like Home, which were directly involved with Julia Gutierrez’s care, were interviewed. Investigators, in this case, reviewed all documentation related to the care of Julia Gutierrez. There was no evidence to show criminal negligence on the part of Almost Like Home. The Arvada Police Department continues to work with Jefferson County Adult Protective services and our adult care community to investigate these challenging and complex cases.”

However, Arvada Police stresses if there are any other witnesses to Gutierrez’s case who would like to come forward, detectives would like to speak with them. They can be reached at 720-898-6563.

CBS4 Investigates reached out to Almost Like Home for a comment, but has not heard back.

Kati Weis