A recently filed lawsuit alleges Roseville Point Health & Wellness Center knowingly understaffed to save money.
This case is among 15 class action lawsuits alleging purposeful understaffing at 15 nursing homes around California filed by elder abuse law firm Garcia, Artigliere & Medby and The Arns Law Firm, which represents workers and their families.
Aside from the 98-bed Roseville facility, the 14 other facilities are mainly located in Southern California and the Bay Area.
The Roseville lawsuit, filed on behalf of petitioner Diane Bechtold, a resident at the center, alleges the understaffing is “chronic and intentional” and an “effort to pocket unearned profit.”
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The lawsuits name a number of defendants, including Shlomo Rechnitz, California’s largest nursing home owner, and Rockport Administrative Services LLC, a consulting company with a number of Rechnitz’s facilities as clients.
“This violation of each resident’s rights was directed and implemented at the mandate of the managers and owners of the facilities, Rockport Administrative Services and Shlomo Rechnitz, and his multiple layers of affiliated companies,” the lawsuit claims.
According to Mark Johnson, from the firm Hooper, Lundy & Bookman PC, representing Rockport, the consulting company provides services to skilled nursing facilities “including oversight of compliance with applicable staffing requirements.”
“Importantly, none of the lawsuits allege any harm to the residents of facilities which Rockport serves,” Johnson said. “Roseville Point Healthcare and Wellness Center … is in full compliance with applicable staffing laws including the increased staffing levels required as of July 1, 2018. In fact, its compliance has been confirmed during standard annual audits conducted by the California Department of Public Health.”
The health department could not immediately provide information about compliance with staffing requirements at the center.
Documents sent by Johnson appear to show the California Department of Public Health reported the Roseville facility had zero days of non-compliance with required staffing levels in 2016. The health department could not immediately authenticate the documents.
Glaser Weil trial lawyer Jill Basinger, representing all of the defendants in the lawsuits except Rockport, claims the nursing facilities “not only maintain the state required 3.2 nursing hours per patient day, they even exceed them.”
Whereas previously, 3.2 nursing hours per patient day was the minimum numeric staffing ratio required in a skilled nursing facility under state law, as of July 1, 2018, the new minimum required ratio is 3.5.
The terminology “hours per patient day” refers to the amount of direct nursing care hours needed to care for a hospital or facility’s patients.
Adequate staffing is a right ensured to patients in a skilled nursing facility under California’s Patient’s Bill of Rights.
Furthermore, attorney Stephen Garcia, representing the complainants, explained state codes require that facilities caring for the sickest patients in need of additional care have a higher staffing minimum than other nursing homes.
The lawsuit is not about minimum numeric ratios, Garcia said, but rather it’s about “having sufficient staff to meet the significant needs of the actual patients.”
“Per documents submitted by these defendants to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, ... each and every one of the defendant facilities had taken in residents who were so sick and needy that they required to have as much as 4.1 nursing hours per patient day to properly care for them,” he explained.
Therefore, Garcia claims the minimum requirement referenced by Basinger is “irrelevant.”
The Roseville Point Health & Wellness Center has been the subject of media attention in the past. A source whose mother died while under care at the Roseville center during a 10-day stay told The Bee in 2014 she suspected questionable care practices may have contributed to her mother’s death.
And Rechnitz’s facilities have been at the center of numerous controversies over the past several years. According to a 2015 Bee report, his facilities “have become the target of police scrutiny, lawsuits, stiff regulatory fines and state and federal investigations that have uncovered numerous alleged violations.”
Nursing facilities audit
The California Department of Public Health is responsible for enforcing staffing requirements.
“A facility is expected and required to staff as is necessary to provide adequate care for any resident the facility admits,” an explanation from the department sent to The Bee states. “Meeting staffing standards is the responsibility of the facility.”
The health department conducts periodic inspections, unannounced staffing audits and investigations in response to reported complaints.
“There is an inherent risk to patient safety when any facility fails to staff as is necessary to provide adequate care for any resident or patient,” the department explains. “When a facility is or has been found to have one or more audit days fall below California’s staffing standard ... the facility is ineligible for quality assurance and supplemental payment disbursements and is at risk of having a penalty assessed.”
From October 2014 to January 2015, three of Rechnitz’s facilities were decertified, according to a Bee investigation from 2015. The action stripped the facilities of Medicare funding.
A decertification is rare. The Bee article reported only six of 1,200 California nursing homes were decertified from 2010 to 2015.
And a recent audit from the California State Auditor specifically criticized the Public Health Department for failing to perform proper and necessary oversight.
“Public Health has not performed all of the state inspections of nursing facilities that it is required to perform and has not issued citations for facilities’ noncompliance with federal and state requirements in a timely manner,” the audit states. “These oversight failures increase the risk that nursing facilities may not provide adequate care to some of the State’s most vulnerable residents.”
The health department has disputed the state’s conclusions, which, it says, suggest oversight efforts have been “ineffective.”
But the state auditor responded to the health department’s comments on the audit, maintaining its conclusion that effective state oversight is “absent,” which has allowed “substandard quality of care” to continue within California nursing facilities.
The audit also looked at the state’s three largest operators of private nursing homes. Included in the top three is Brius Healthcare Services, for which Rechnitz served as the managing shareholder.
According to the state audit, Brius received “more federal deficiencies and state citations compared to the rest of the industry.”
2014 class action
Basinger alleges the 15 lawsuits are “duplicative” of a 2014 class action lawsuit filed against Rechnitz. The petitioner in the 2014 case is also represented by Garcia.
Basinger accused Garcia of filing the most recent round of class action lawsuits because he is “desperately concerned he will lose” the 2014 case, which is ongoing.
“It is noteworthy that none of these “class action” lawsuits allege any harm to any resident in any facility,” Basinger said. “It is evident that Mr. Garcia is using the court system to attempt to harass, vex and annoy Mr. (Rechnitz).”
Johnson, whose firm represents Rockport, also accused Garcia of filing “the same cookie cutter lawsuit he has filed against many other facilities and companies” for his own “personal financial gain.”
“We are confident these shakedown lawsuits will fail,” Johnson said.
Garcia maintains the recently filed lawsuits are “distinct and different from the ongoing cases.”
The ongoing 2014 case alleges a violation of resident rights due to an “intentional misrepresentation of the quality of services and care provided by Mr. Rechnitz’s facilities,” according to the Garcia, Artigliere & Medby website.
The 2014 class action lawsuit also alleges Rechnitz’s facilities failed to employ adequate staffing.
According to a transcription of a deposition for the case last August, Garcia asked Rechnitz if he was told nursing facilities were padding nursing hours. Rechnitz denied this.
During the deposition, there were allegations about threats made to the children and job security of the petitioner’s attorney by the defense. Garcia explained this comment regarded an attempt by the defendant at intimidation.
“Our lawsuits are about ensuring the sufficiency of staffing in skilled nursing facilities to care for our elders, not personal attacks,” Garcia explained. “We prefer to keep our eye on the ball as it were and not allow such nonsense to deter us from our goal of ensuring proper care for our elders.”