Tag Archives: Novato Healthcare Center

Brius accused of understaffing nursing homes at public hearing

California’s largest nursing home company could be facing a campaign to wrest control of its two Marin County homes after workers, residents and the families of residents testified that both homes are chronically understaffed and under-resourced.

“Given what we’ve heard, we feel they’re bad actors,” said Matt Myres, who chaired a Workers’ Rights Board hearing March 4 to look into the homes operated by Brius Healthcare.

The six-member board, convened by North Bay Jobs with Justice, issued several preliminary recommendations, including:

  • Increasing staffing
  • Raising caregiver wages to at least $15 an hour
  • Ensuring that caregivers have reliable schedules to reduce worker turnover

Final recommendations, expected to be released within a few weeks, will also consider how to go about bringing in a new operator for the nursing homes.

“We know that the community here needs the facilities for folks to receive good quality patient care,” Myres said. “But we also would like to see Brius’ license rescinded.”

WRB 2/4/18
Stanton Richardson talks about finding his father dangling from his bed at the understaffed Novato Healthcare Center.

Brius, which controls 1 in 14 nursing home beds across California, and 1 in 5 beds in Marin County, already finds itself squarely in the crosshairs of state officials.

The California State Auditor is reviewing the company’s dealings with dozens of other companies controlled by its owner, Shlomo Rechnitz. The California Department of Public Health has blocked Brius from taking over six nursing homes since 2014, citing its dismal patient care record. And former Attorney General Kamala Harris moved to block the company from taking over 19 additional homes, writing that Rechnitz was “a serial violator” of nursing home rules.

The situation is already dire in Marin County where Brius controls Novato Healthcare Center and San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center, whose employees are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers.

Both homes have been cited by state regulators for understaffing over the past year. During the hearing, residents and their loved ones said that both homes often rely on temporary caregivers who don’t have the same dedication as full-time staff.WRB 2/4/18


Ian Minto, the resident council president at the 181-bed Novato home, said he recently fell in the bathroom and needed more than an hour to pull himself up after no one responded to his cries for help.

When he later explained what had happened to a temporary nurse on duty, “She never looked up from her phone,” he said.

The actual employees do care about the patients,” Minto added. “They have a sense of humor. You can tell they are trying to do their best even though they are overworked and understaffed.”

He added, “I think things in Novato are only going to get better if management comes in touch with what employees need, which are better pay and benefits.”

Stanton Richardson testified that when he came to visit his father one afternoon, he found him tangled in his bed unable to help himself, while temporary staffers had neglected to check on him.

Richardson said the Novato facility, where annual staff turnover has topped 30 percent in recent years, was desperately in need of more caregivers earning enough money to keep them in their jobs.

“You may have two staff members caring for 15 to 20 people and they are overwhelmed,” he said. “I see it in their faces. They are very tired.”

Maria Martinez, a former nursing assistant at Brius’ home in San Rafael, said understaffing prevented her and other caregivers from giving patients the help they needed.

“A lot of times I had patients who were depressed and they were asking for their family, but I couldn’t sit down or hold their hands and talk to them because there was no time,” she said.

Martinez added that with 15 residents to care for, things inevitably fell through the cracks. “A lot of times we didn’t have time to brush their teeth … or wash their faces,” she said.

WRB 2/4/18

Bernice Dominguez, a housekeeper in Novato, testified that she sometimes was asked to check on patients even though she wasn’t credentialed to do that work. “It’s really very hard to listen to the cries of patients who need help,” said Dominguez, who makes $11.58 an hour after working at the facility for 15 years.

Rather than taking steps to keep long-term workers, Brius appears to be trying to oust them. The company recently changed workers’ schedules, preventing them from having the same days off every week. The constantly changing “floating” schedule makes it hard for people who have second jobs and families, said Benjamin Maldanado, a housekeeper in San Rafael.

“They not only broke their word to us,” Maldando said of Brius, “they are making us break our commitments to our families.”

The workers were supported by State Sen Mike McGuire, a Democrat from Healdsburg, who issued a statement saying that “Brius uses its patients as pawns” and that “quality is not part of its business model.”

Brius failed to present testimony at the hearing despite the panel’s invitation.

In speaking for the board, Myres said it was clear Brius needed to restore consistent schedules for its caregivers and boost their wages.

“Raising wages serves the interest of both care facilities since it would reduce employee turnover, prevent understaffing, save money by not having to retrain as many employees, and save on recruitment of new employees,” Myres said. “Most importantly it would improve patient care.”


Brius workers fight back against under-staffing

Caregivers at two Brius-operated nursing homes in Marin County sent a message to CEO Shlomo Rechnitz that he must stop under-staffing his homes and start treating his employees and patients with dignity.

More than 30 caregivers and their allies picketed Sunday outside the San Rafael Healthcare and Wellness Center. Patients and nearby residents thanked workers for taking a stand, and Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly manned the picket line along with representatives of the Marin Association of Public Employees.

San Rafael caregivers, who are represented by the National Union of Healthcare Workers, have gone more than three years without a contract. During that period state regulators have cited the facility for stocking expired food, admitting residents during a Norovirus outbreak and supplying so few towels and wash cloths that caregivers have had to dry patients with paper towels and bed linens.

Nevertheless, Brius’ recent “last, best and final offer” included cuts to dental benefits and no provisions to increase staffing levels. Caregivers earlier conducted a two-day strike to protest under-staffing that jeopardized patients’ safety and care. Brius management responded by locking out workers the following day.

NUHW-represented workers at the Novato Healthcare Center took their own stand against Brius’ chronic understaffing. With state regulators expected to inspect the facility last week, they informed management in mid-April that they would not work any voluntary overtime from April 29 to May 6.

A nursing home shouldn’t depend on its employees to work extra shifts simply to meet minimum staffing levels. But we’re told that Brius had to bring in at least 20 temporary certified nursing assistants just to keep the nursing home running without its workers completing overtime shifts.

Brius even offered $165 bonuses to work overtime shifts, but workers stood firm.

Brius ordered to reinstate illegally fired workers with backpay

A judge has ruled that Brius Healthcare Services violated federal law when it fired pro-union caregivers at its Marin County facilities just two days before a 2015 vote to unionize.

On April 20, Judge Amita Baman Tracy ordered the Brius-operated Novato Healthcare Center to reinstate five caregivers (a Licensed Vocational Nurse and four Certified Nursing Assistants) who were illegally fired. The judge also ordered Brius to pay them tens of thousands of dollars in back salary and benefits. Four of the five caregivers were active supporters of joining the National Union of Healthcare Workers (NUHW).

In her 31-page ruling, Tracy, an administrative law judge, found that two nursing home administrators did not give credible testimony about the events leading up to the firings. Tracy also found it “troubling” that the facility administrator discussed allegations against the workers with an anti-union consultant hired by Brius to defeat the unionization effort.

“This ruling is a victory for workers who put their heart and soul into caring for frail seniors even as they face cruel and retaliatory treatment by an employer that puts profit above the well-being of patients,” NUHW President Sal Rosselli said. “It’s time for management to finally honor its employees’ hard work and dedication with a contract that provides safe staffing and a living wage.”

The ruling is the latest black eye for Brius, which has faced increased scrutiny from federal and state authorities for widespread patient care violations. In 2014, then-California Attorney General Kamala Harris sought to block Brius from purchasing 19 nursing homes, calling Brius CEO Shlomo Rechnitz a “serial violator” of nursing home rules. Last year, the California Department of Public Health blocked Brius from permanently operating five additional homes, noting that the company had amassed 386 patient care violations over a three-year period.

Most of Brius’ approximately 80 nursing homes are not unionized, and Brius management made clear they didn’t want Novato’s caregivers to join NUHW, which also represents workers at a Brius facility in San Rafael, Calif.

Managers at the 181-bed Novato facility handed out anti-union fliers and forced employees into captive meetings with four anti-union consultants. In one case, a manager illegally interrogated a worker about his union leanings, the judge found.

The anti-union campaign climaxed shortly before the scheduled vote when Brius officials illegally fired five caregivers, including four who were vocal leaders of the unionization drive. After Brius fired them, NUHW filed an unfair labor practice complaint arguing that the firings were an illegal attempt to intimidate workers from voting to join the union.

In ruling for NUHW, Tracy found ample evidence that the firings were illegal and politically motivated.

In addition, Tracy found that the facility’s administrator, Darron Treude, and another manager, Teresa Gilman, did not give credible testimony. Treude “testified nervously, evasively, and provided vague and contradictory answers,” Tracy wrote. “Gilman’s testimony simply appeared implausible,” she added.

“It feels so good to know that we won, and that Brius will pay a big price for trying to ruin our careers and reputations just because we supported the union,” former Novato worker Angel Sabelino said. “I’m grateful that NUHW fought so hard for us and sent a message to Brius that they can’t get away with trying to silence their workers.”

Tracy ordered Brius to do the following:

1)    Offer employment to all five employees it wrongly terminated.

2)   Compensate them for pay and benefits they would have received had they not been fired in Oct. 2015.

3)   Remove any reference of the incident from the workers’ personnel files.

4)   Post a notice inside the Novato facility declaring that the National Labor Relations Board has found that Brius “violated federal law” and will “not interrogate you about your union sympathies” or “restrain, or coerce you in the exercise of your rights under … the National Labor Relations Act.”

Despite management’s illegal acts of intimidation, workers at the 181-bed facility voted to unionize in 2015 and are fighting to improve staffing levels and establish better pay and benefits so the facility can recruit and retain a stable, experienced workforce.

Download (PDF, 286KB)