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Brookdale Senior Living Center settles California case over inflated ratings for $3.25 million

A California judge barred the largest chain of senior living centers in the United States from fudging the number of hours nurses care for residents in order to get better ratings.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (CN) — California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced a $3.25 million settlement Friday with Brookdale Senior Living over claims of negligence toward residents and the doctoring of records to pad the company’s bottom line.

According to a complaint that Bonta brought with Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, Brookdale didn’t provide timely notification and preparation when transferring or discharging residents, and inflated the number of hours its nurses spent caring for residents in its reports to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid. Though based in Tennessee, Brookdale has 10 facilities in California.

Brookdale did not admit to any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

“We strongly disagree with the characterizations made by the other parties in the case," a spokesperson for Brookdale said in a statement. "There are no findings Brookdale violated any laws or engaged in wrongdoing. Brookdale continues to deny any liability. ... Resolving this case for an amount equal to the continued cost of defense was in the best interests of our residents, and we are pleased to put this behind us.”

The complaint says Brookdale received an inflated quality score rating — a factor on which prospective residents and their families rely when deciding on a skilled nursing facility — because of false information it supplied to the state. Skilled nursing facilities are given a “star” score between one and five, much like many online shopping websites, to allow interested parties to gauge their performance relative to competitors. Given that families with the deepest pockets have the greatest leeway in selecting high-scoring facilities, gaming the system can lead to significant increases in revenue.

“Skilled nursing facilities should always provide their residents with the highest standard of care. Instead, Brookdale put seniors and people with disabilities at risk, and misled prospective residents and their families about the quality of its California facilities,” Bonta said in a statement. “My office is committed to protecting our most vulnerable communities. Today’s settlement will hold Brookdale accountable by making certain that its California locations are in full compliance with the law and provide truthful information for Californians to use when choosing a facility for themselves or their loved ones."

The state had accused Brookdale of discharging or transferring residents without providing them the required 30 days notice, endangering the residents’ health, and forcing their families to make alternative living arrangements on unreasonably short notice. Friday’s settlement also resolves claims that Brookdale reported false information to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid to increase the ratings of its facilities by wrongfully inflating the number of hours its nurses spent caring for residents.

In addition to ceasing its illegal practices, Brookdale will now be required to appoint a staff member to ensure compliance at its Kern County facility, as well as pay $2.4 million in civil penalties, including $550,000 in costs and $400,000 to the Kern County long-term care ombudsman.

“Residents of skilled nursing facilities are among the most vulnerable members of our community,” DA Zimmer said in a statement. “This judgment will make our vulnerable seniors safer by bringing a monitor into Brookdale’s facilities, providing more funding for Kern County’s long-term care ombudsman program, and sending a message to other skilled nursing facility operators — if you put profits ahead of the safety of your vulnerable residents, you will be held accountable.”

The district attorneys of Alameda, San Diego and Santa Cruz counties, as well as the Los Angeles city attorney, joined Bonta and Zimmer in the case. Kern County Superior Court Judge Thomas S. Clark presided.

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