Lawsuit Alleges Growing Trend of Improper Discharges at CA SNFs
At 83 years old, California resident Gloria Single is shining a light on what she and her allies believe is a growing issue at skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) in the state: the illegal “dumping,” or eviction, of residents.
In March 2017, Single was evicted from Pioneer House in Sacramento, with no warning.
Pioneer House—a SNF operated by Long Beach, Calif.-based Retirement Housing Foundation (RHF)—sent Single to a local hospital for psychological evaluation. In court documents, Pioneer claims she went into an “aggressive outburst.” The hospital found nothing wrong with Single; however, Pioneer wouldn’t take her back.
Single’s son, Aubrey Jones, contested his mother’s eviction with the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), and Jones won his case, as reported in National Public Radio (NPR).
A Unique Scenario
However, instead of Single being readmitted, Jones was told via e-mail that the department that holds the hearings has “no authority to enforce its own rulings,” according to the NPR report.
“We filed a lawsuit against the state of California for them not enforcing these decisions, and the state of California fought the lawsuit,” Matthew Borden, partner and co-founder of San Francisco-based law firm BraunHagey & Borden LLP, told Skilled Nursing News. “The state has taken a position that it will never enforce the results of its own hearings.”
This unique scenario has caught the attention of local, and even national advocates, including the Washington, D.C.-based AARP, whose litigation team, alongside Borden, is suing Pioneer House and its parent company RHF on Single’s behalf. In the suit, Single is joined as a plaintiff by the public interest organization California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Association (CLTCOA).
According to their complaint filed in early October, “Nursing facilities, such as Pioneer House, routinely ignore State Readmission Orders because the State refuses to enforce them itself.”
The group is seeking a permanent injunction requiring Pioneer to readmit Single, stop dumping residents, and ultimately give proper discharge notices to residents, Borden explained.
“[The injunction is] kind of a requirement that if [nursing facilities] don’t do that, the court will hold you in contempt and there will be immediate and direct consequences as a opposed to what exists now,” he said.
A ‘Longer-Distance Plan’
What exists in the state now is far from what Borden, the AARP and CLTCOA have sought through their actions.
The group’s complaint further states that California nursing facilities have been “dumping” residents who use Medi-Cal — the state’s health plan for low-income residents — into hospitals and refusing to allow them to return in an effort to increase revenues and make space for more lucrative Medicare and private pay residents, according to an AARP press release.
In fact, more than 1,500 nursing home residents in California allege that they were discharged involuntarily—an increase of 73% since 2011, according to the NPR report.
“The problem is that no state agency will take responsibility for enforcing these orders,” Kelly Bagby of AARP Foundation Litigation said in a press release. “Resident dumping is a growing trend and a serious danger to seniors in California. Until the state does something, our only recourse is going to be filing suits like this.”
Borden explained that he will continue working alongside the AARP in seeking justice for involuntarily discharged patients like Single.
“AARP took on [her] case because it’s sort of our longer-distance plan to enforce these orders when we get them, and to show facilities that we’re going to do that until they stop dumping [residents],” Borden said.
Nursing home residents have numerous rights and protections under federal and state laws, including those concerning unfair transfers or discharges, according to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS).
Borden believes that these rights will help them as he and the AARP continue their work.
“[They] don’t care what agency [enforces] it; you can’t just have a hearing and it’s meaningless,” Borden said of CMS. “Now, we think that we have the impetus to go sue and get injunctions against any facilities in California that are engaged in dumping.”
Written by Carlo Calma