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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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State Lets Nursing Homes Slide, Group Says

(CN) - California's Department of Public Health endangers the elderly and disabled by ignoring state mandates for monitoring nursing homes, an advocacy group claims in court.

California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform sued the California Department of Public Health and three of its top officials, in Superior Court.

"Owners and investors in the nursing home industry have purposely and increasingly created more complexity and layers in their corporate and ownership structure so that they can avoid scrutiny and responsibility," the nonprofit claims in its complaint.

The California Legislature has been dealing with these dodges since the 1990s, the group claims. It enacted Health and Safety Code § 1267.5 to provide the public and the state Department of Public Health with information about the ownership, control and management of such facilities.

This information is critical for the department to deny or revoke an operating license for a nursing home if the owners or operators endanger residents.

Under the law, the Department of Public Health must request and review information and give written approval for acquisition of an interest of 5 percent or more in any corporation or partnership licensed to operate a skilled nursing facility or intermediate care facility, or in any management company under contract with a licensee of a skilled nursing facility or intermediate care facility, according to the complaint.

"The disclosure and review of this information to the department is critical to ensuring that the corporations and individuals running and controlling these facilities - to which we have entrusted the care of elderly and disabled individuals - receive the scrutiny due someone who seeks to care for vulnerable populations. It is to ensure that those seeking to control or profit from nursing homes or intermediate care facilities do not have criminal, ethical or regulatory violations in their past or present," the complaint states.

The plaintiffs claim the defendants - including Director of Public Health Dr. Ron Chapman, Deputy Director of the Center for Healthcare Quality Debby Rogers, and the department's chief of field operations of licensing and certification Scott Vivona - have refused to enforce the law.

"The department has instead taken the position that it must only investigate and approve changes in the ownership structure at the licensee level or one level above, thereby creating an enormous loophole for all multi-layer nursing home organizations," the complaint states. "This interpretation permits and even encourages large skilled nursing chains to create multiple levels of ownership and control, allowing them to buy or sell entire enterprise without reporting the change of beneficial interest, so long as the selling entity has two or more levels above the licensee."

The plaintiffs claim that the 30 pages of exhibits attached to the complaint show that the state's files on nursing home ownership are often incomplete, disorganized and not easily accessible to the public.

Records are collected in a haphazard fashion that does not ensure accuracy or make reliable information accessible, according to the complaint.

"Relevant information is disorganized and scattered throughout the files, often interpolated with unrelated and/or outdated records," the complaint states. "The department relies heavily on incomplete, outdated, or inappropriate forms. Public files often contain inconsistent or contradictory ownership information, even for facilities with common ownership."

The plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief to force the defendants to abide by the letter of the law.

They are represented by Kathryn Stebner.

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