State health officials notified California’s largest nursing home owner Wednesday it was approving the company’s controversial plan to close three facilities in Humboldt County, despite emotional pleas from residents, family members and lawmakers.
After rejecting the initial plan earlier this month, the California Department of Public Heath came back this week and told the management company for nursing home magnate Shlomo Rechnitz that his closure and relocation plans could move forward.
The state also rejected a plea by the state’s elder-care ombudsman to seek a court-ordered receiver to step in and take over the facilities.
Joe Rodrigues, California’s long-term care ombudsman, and a local colleague had lodged a formal complaint with the department, saying the closures would have a “catastrophic impact” and that frail residents could suffer or even die from being uprooted and moved to faraway places.
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In a letter also dated Wednesday, the department told Rodriguez it had investigated the complaint but found no conditions in the homes that would allow the state to petition the court to appoint a receiver.
If Rechnitz and his management company, Rockport Healthcare Services, proceed with the closures, the remote county on California’s North Coast would lose 258 of its 446 freestanding skilled nursing beds – nearly a 60 percent reduction.
Michael Connors, an elder-care advocate who has monitored the situation, called the actions by the Department of Public Health “awful” and “disgraceful.”
“It has essentially abandoned its duty to protect these residents from the trauma many of them are likely to experience when they are evicted from these nursing homes,” said Connors of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for the nursing home company, stressed that closing the three facilities is not ironclad.
“Closure has always been, and remains, a last option and we are continuing to work with all stakeholders to develop an alternate solution that will solve the severe staffing crisis at our facilities,” he said.
The company maintains it has struggled to recruit and retain adequate staff in the region, and that five homes owned by Rechnitz in Humboldt County – a virtual monopoly – lost $5 million in the last eight months.
Friedman said the company will work with the state to ensure a “seamless transition” if the buildings ultimately are closed.