updated 4/6/2007 8:59:30 PM ET 2007-04-07T00:59:30

Staffing was so inadequate at a California senior center that a rat crawled into an Alzheimer's patient's mouth and died there before staff noticed, a lawsuit claims.

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The lawsuit, filed Thursday on behalf of 90-year-old Sigmund Bock, alleges that administrators at the Paragon Gardens Assisted Living and Memory Care Community in Mission Viejo overbooked their facility to receive corporate bonuses, but cut back on staff to increase profits.

"The facility so literally ignored the needs of their residents ... as to allow vermin in the form of a rat to become lodged in the mouth of Sigmund Bock and die therein," the lawsuit alleges.

Melody Chatelle, a spokeswoman for Sunwest Management Inc., the Oregon-based company that operates Paragon, denied the allegations.

"We take care of our residents, and find this negative publicity to be a disheartening affront to our professional caregivers and most especially to our residents and their loved ones," she said.

Chatelle said that Bock was found holding a glue trap that had been placed in his room by a pest control company to catch a single field mouse. She said the dead field mouse was inside the trap when Bock picked it up.

Bock's attorney, Stephen Garcia, challenged that account. He said two traps were placed in Bock's room and both were laced with poison, not glue.

ER report said rat was in mouth
He said Paragon records show a staff person noticed Bock "playing with a rat in his room and eating candy ... with the rat" on the morning of March 18. A short time later, Garcia said, paramedics called to the scene noted "possible ingestion of rat poison" in their report and an emergency room file says that Bock was "found in room in care facility with dead rat in mouth."

Bock is now being treated at another facility, Garcia said. The lawsuit seeks unspecified punitive damages and attorney and court fees.

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of troubles for Paragon Gardens.

Last year, the state moved to revoke Paragon Gardens' license after a 71-year-old dementia patient wandered from the facility and was never found. The state Department of Social Services also claimed six clients were injured from improper care, according to spokesman Michael Weston. The company has appealed.

The state is also investigating Bock's case after receiving an anonymous report on March 23, Weston said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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