Understaffed Brius Facilities Request Exemption to California’s New Staffing Rules

Dozens of Brius nursing homes, including several that have been fined for understaffing, are asking to be exempted from a new California regulation requiring them to spend more time directly caring for patients.

The new rules, which went into effect last July, but still have not been enforced, require nursing homes to provide at least 3.5 hours of direct care per resident per day — up from 3.2 hours of care previously.

State records show that Brius homes across California are seeking waivers to avoid the new staffing rule claiming either that it’s unnecessary or that there are too few available workers to implement the requirement. In many cases, Brius, the state’s largest nursing home operator, sought waivers based on both criteria. State officials have not yet ruled on the waiver requests.

One home where Brius has sought a waiver is the 99-bed Eureka Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, which was fined $160,000 by the California Department of Public Health in 2017 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 understaffing.

In Marin County, Brius sought a waiver for the San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Centre even though the facility was fined $15,000 for understaffing.

In nearby Novato, Brius is seeking a waiver for its Novato Healthcare Center, even though state investigators found that the 181-bed facility was “woefully understaffed” in a 2018 report. Residents were forced to go weeks without shower and sit in the own excrement for hours waiting for assistance, according to the report.

Patient advocates say low pay is the primary reason nursing homes struggle to find workers.

“If they paid them better, they’d have plenty of staff,” even in remote parts of California, Suzi Fregeau, long-term care program manager in Humboldt and Del Norte counties, told Kaiser Health News. The mean hourly wage for certified nursing assistants in California was $16.13 in 2017, according to federal labor data.

The California Department of Public Health, which oversees nursing homes, is expected to announce in later this month which — if any — facilities it will exempt from the new regulations, according to Kaiser Health News. But some patient advocates don’t like the nursing homes’ balking.

 “We’re appalled by the waiver system. Mike Connors of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, told the publication. “It’s sending the worst possible message to California nursing homes that it’s OK to staff at levels that endanger residents.”