The state of California on Monday filed a lawsuit against Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BKD), accusing the company of submitting false nursing home staffing data to the federal government and improperly handling resident discharges.
California attorney general Xavier Becerra — President Biden’s pick to serve as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services — is the highest-ranking member of a coalition of district and city attorneys that brought the lawsuit.
“We are holding Brookdale accountable for artificially increasing its profits by cutting corners when transferring or discharging its patients. It lured individuals to its facilities through false promises about providing the highest quality care,” Becerra said in a statement. “Choosing a skilled nursing facility is no simple task. Seniors, people with disabilities and their families rely heavily on accurate data to make that decision. Californians have been directly impacted by Brookdale’s behavior. We will ensure that they face consequences for violating the public’s trust.”
The lawsuit covers 10 skilled nursing facilities in California operated by the Brentwood, Tenn.-based Brookdale, better known as a giant in the assisted and independent living sectors than a nursing home heavyweight.
Becerra and the other attorneys accused Brookdale of submitting artificially inflated nursing staffing data to CMS in order to achieve higher ratings on the overall five-star scale. The lawsuit also alleges that the operator did not follow the proper family and ombudsman notification process when handling resident discharges, a decision that Becerra and the other attorneys asserted was intended to boost profits.
“When companies fail to comply with these rules, they create environments that subject the most vulnerable among us to unnecessary victimization, stress, and even physical harm,” Kern County district attorney Cynthia Zimmer said in a statement. “This case seeks accountability for offenders and is a reminder to all skilled nursing facilities of the importance of following rules designed to ensure the protection of vulnerable residents.”
A spokesperson for Brookdale told SNN, along with our sister publication Senior Housing News, that the company was aware of the lawsuit and other similar actions filed or threatened against other operators of skilled nursing facilities.
“We categorically deny that Brookdale engaged in intentional or fraudulent conduct,” the spokesperson said via e-mail. “We are disappointed in the allegations against the skilled nursing industry. Publicizing unproven allegations is reckless and undermines the public’s confidence in a service necessary to the care of elderly individuals, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Brookdale is dedicated to providing quality care to our residents and patients, and we take our mission of enriching the lives of those we serve seriously,” the spokesperson concluded.
The news came after the New York Times this past weekend published a lengthy investigation into the CMS five-star system, alleging that operators have intentionally misled the government and the public with inaccurate self-reported data in an attempt to boost their ratings.
Brookdale operates 726 senior living communities across 43 states, according to its most recent annual report. That total includes 563 assisted living and memory care campuses, 68 independent living developments, and 20 continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs); the remaining 75 consist of communities managed for third parties.
Brookdale’s skilled nursing operations fall largely under the CCRC segment, the company noted in the annual report — a segment that the provider has been looking to step away from in recent years.
“Such initiatives include exiting substantially all our entry fee CCRC business in 2020 (which also significantly reduced the number of skilled nursing facilities we operate) and continuing to optimize our management services business,” Brookdale observed in the report.
Becerra’s nomination to lead HHS has faced opposition from Senate Republicans, who have objected to his background as a prosecutor and his stance on reproductive rights, though CBS News last week reported that his confirmation is likely.