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Family of woman who died near Sandy memory care facility sues state, facility for $10 million

Oregon’s long-term care ombudsman highlighted significant issues at the facility in a report released earlier this month
women stands amid flowers
Ki Soon “Harmony” Hyun during a visit to the International Rose Test Garden in Portland, Ore., in an undated photo provided by family. Hyun, 83, who had dementia, died after wandering from the Mt. Hood Senior Living care facility in Sandy, Ore., in December 2023, after the staff failed to lock and secure the doors. | COURTESY OF FAMILY
April 18, 2024

When Ki Soon Hyun’s family decided she needed a higher level of care than what her children, who she lived with at the time, could provide, they researched care facilities. They wanted to ensure their mother, an 83-year-old with dementia, was in a clean, safe and caring environment.

They toured Mt. Hood Senior Living home in Sandy, Ore., on more than one occasion. They emphasized to the staff that Hyun had started to wander and would get lost. They were assured the facility had layers of protection for residents.

On Dec. 23, 2023, Hyun’s family moved her to the facility where she would pay $7,000 to $9,000 per month.

That was the last time they would see Hyun alive.

Less than 24 hours later, she would go missing.

The employees of the facility did not call the family to alert them she had gone missing, nor did they call authorities until hours after she had been missing, according to the family. She was found dead from hypothermia on Christmas Day 2023, about 800 yards from the facility.

The family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Wednesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court, suing the state and facility administrators. The lawsuit seeks more than $10 million.

“This death didn’t have to happen and it has traumatized us to the core,” said Soo Hyun, her daughter, who said her mother’s greatest joy was being with her grandchildren.

The lawsuit comes after a scathing investigation by the Oregon long-term care ombudsman, which notes there were numerous “red flags” the state missed preceding Hyun’s death. The report found that “due to regulatory inactions and failures … (the) resident’s death and the additional harm and trauma that occurred to residents at this facility in the weeks following could have been prevented.” According to the report, employees at the Sandy facility failed to lock and secure doors, a requirement for licensed memory care communities.

Leading up to Hyun’s death, ODHS licensing staff were informed that the facility was both regularly understaffed and also without an administrator. The interim administrator emailed state licensing officials telling them she didn’t feel qualified for the role.

“I do not believe I have the credentials, training, or education to fill in as an interim, as I have only been a bookkeeper/Business Office Manager with a High School Diploma; no college education or formal medical training or work experience,” the interim leader wrote in November 2023.

Still, the state didn’t step in.

Alex Smith, another of Hyun’s daughters who spoke at a press conference announcing the lawsuit, said her mother’s death was not an isolated event.

Smith, who is a behavioral health nurse, said state leaders and the governor “must hold DHS accountable.” She advocated for more oversight and safety regulations and training for all long-term care facilities in the state.

She also echoed the call by the state’s long-term care ombudsman to independently audit ODHS’s licensing and regulatory role.

“Mom was my role model. She was the most kind, patient, warm, gentle and loving person that I know,” Smith said. “Our mom deserved better.”

A spokesman for the state’s Department of Human Services said they “feel deeply for families and their communities anytime there is a loss of life,” but they decline to comment on litigation.

A call to the attorney representing the care facility was not immediately returned.

This article was originally published by Oregon Public Broadcasting. It has been republished here with permission.