Brius faces new lawsuit amid state fines for understaffing Humboldt county facility

A Humboldt County woman is suing Brius Healthcare and its CEO Shlomo Rechnitz for elder abuse after she fell multiple times in a Brius-operated nursing home, fracturing her arm, neck and wrist.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month on behalf of Marie White, alleges that Rechnitz endangered the health of White and other residents by intentionally understaffing the Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center to boost profits.

White, according to the lawsuit was one of several patients referenced in a recent California Department of Public Health inspection that resulted in a $160,000 fine against the 99-bed nursing home in part for failing to provide adequate staffing to prevent falls. The report quoted an unnamed worker who said company officials increased staffing levels when state inspectors were present in an apparent effort to conceal the facility’s under-staffing.

In court papers, White’s attorney, Stephen Garcia of the firm Garcia, Artigliere, Medby & Faulkner, alleged that the home admitted White knowing she suffered from dementia and was prone to falling, but nevertheless failed to provide the care she needed.

White fractured her left arm last year after falling when walking unassisted to the bathroom. The nursing home “concealed” the injury and White’s subsequent 24-pound weight loss from her relatives, according the lawsuit.

White fell again on Jan. 26, 2017 while “left completely unattended” in the bathroom “striking her head on the toilet and sustaining a fractured neck and wrist,” Garcia wrote in court papers.

White was one of several patients who suffered preventable falls at the under-staffed facility, according to citations issued by state investigators on Feb. 28, 2017.

  • A resident suffered eight falls in less than four months, and had to be taken to a hospital for treatment.
  • A resident fell six times from May through December of 2016. In one instance, the resident was “found in the bathroom sitting on the floor wet with urine.”
  • A resident suffered six falls from August through October of 2016 including one that resulted in a broken nose.
  • A resident fell six times from May through November of 2016, including one fall that required stitches to close a head wound.

After interviewing several caregivers and residents, investigators from the California Department of Public Health determined that the facility had “failed to ensure adequate nursing staff to provide quality care.”

One caregiver told investigators that the facility “needed to have more staffing on the B Wing, because there were lots of confused residents who required more help and care.” Another caregiver said the facility had reduced staffing on the B Wing and that because of short staffing he “could not do things for the residents as he wanted to do (i.e brush their teeth, wash their hands, give a bed bath…)”

One resident told an investigator she sometimes had to wait up to 30 minutes for a staffer to help her go to the bathroom.

With the arrival of state investigators, however, staffing levels suddenly increased. A caregiver told investigators that she typically had 12 patients per shift, but had only eight residents that week “because the state was there.”

Investigators analyzed the “routine care tasks” performed by Certified Nursing Assistants during their work shifts, and learned that caregivers said they were assigned up to three times the amount of work that could possibly be completed during a shift.

However, the Brius nursing home administrator insisted there was no staffing problem, even though she acknowledged that one Certified Nursing Assistant had to care for more than 15 residents on a night shift. Questioned about the facility’s action plan for staffing, she told investigators there was no plan “because the facility did not have staffing problems.”

In court papers, Garcia insisted the home was under-staffed as part of Brius’ “plan to cut costs at the expense of the residents…” The under-staffing, he added, “was designed as a mechanism to reduce labor costs and … resulted in the wrongful withholding of required services to many residents of the facility, and most specifically, Marie White.”

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