Florida nursing home tragedy should be “a call to action” in California

Despite their nursing home being immediately across the street from a hospital with a fully functioning air conditioning system, eight residents of Hollywood, Fla. died earlier this month from stifling heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out the facility’s power supply. Could a similar situation happen at one of California’s 1,200 skilled nursing facilities?

“Authorities are still investigating what happened in the Hollywood nursing home tragedy, but this appears to be more about neglect and poor judgment than natural disaster,” National Union of Healthcare Workers President Sal Rosselli said. “California has stronger nursing home regulations on the books than Florida, but the state often struggles to enforce the rules and like Florida we have nursing home operators more focused on profits than patient care.”

California’s largest nursing home operator, Brius Healthcare, for example, has repeatedly ignored state regulations. Former California Attorney General Kamala Harris labeled Brius owner Shlomo Rechnitz “a serial violator” of nursing home rules in a 2014 emergency motion she filed seeking to prevent Brius from taking over 19 nursing homes in Southern California. That same year, Brius, which operates about 80 nursing homes in California, was tagged with three times as many serious deficiencies per 1,000 beds as the statewide average, according to a Sacramento Bee investigation.

Last year, the California Department of Public Health rejected Brius’ bid to permanently operate five nursing homes, citing records that the company had been cited for 386 serious patient care violations over the previous three years. Nevertheless, the state has not stopped Brius from continuing to operate those five homes as well as the 19 homes in Southern California under provisional licenses.

A report earlier this year, first posted to Brius Watch, documented how in 2015 Brius nursing homes paid $67 million to 65 firms controlled by Rechnitz and his relatives in exchange for various services, including a design and construction firm operated by Rechnitz’s son-in-law. Another one of the firms operates a private jet used by Rechnitz and his family members.

“The tragic deaths of frail seniors in Florida should be a call to action for all of us here in California to make sure that nursing home operators are running safe facilities and that regulators punish them swiftly and strongly when they put lives in danger,” Rosselli said.