The fight to keep Laguna Honda afloat continues.
In a Thursday afternoon hearing, members of the Board of Supervisors listened to an update from the interim CEO of the troubled hospital, Roland Pickens, about the four-month closure and transfer plan put together by the hospital after the federal government earlier this year moved to curtail its Medicaid funding.
The plan, originally meant to be completed in 18 months, was rejected by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — which wanted a faster closure or transfer process, according to Pickens.
In April, that federal department moved to revoke funding for the 780-bed hospital, citing myriad violations. To continue receiving some $20 million a month in the interim, Laguna Honda was mandated to devise a closure plan that involves transferring its patients — many of whom are elderly and frail.
If Laguna Honda stays on track with the four-month plan, it may get an additional two months of funding, pushing the potential closure date to November.
But patient advocates and family members have been pressing to stop transferring patients while the hospital works on its recertification.
So far, 40 patients have been transferred to other skilled nursing facilities: one in San Francisco, four in Alameda and 35 in San Mateo County. Four residents died shortly thereafter, with transfer trauma as a suspected cause. Still, more than 600 residents are scheduled to be transferred or discharged.
“Can we expect 50 more deaths at low-quality nursing homes receiving Laguna Honda patients?” former Laguna Honda geriatrician Dr. Teresa Palmer asked the city’s Health Commission earlier this week.
In addition to the trauma of moving frail patients, concerns been raised that the facilities where patients are being referred to are worse than Laguna Honda. But due to 120 beds being cut from Laguna Honda — recertification or no — at least 60 more patients will have to be moved to other open facilities. These include Burlingame Skilled Nursing, managed by Brius Healthcare. The owner, Shlomo Rechnitz, faced a lawsuit last year alleging that one of his 83 nursing homes in California was responsible for covid-related deaths of some 24 elderly people.
“Brius is Motel 6 and Laguna Honda is the Four Seasons,” said Joseph Urban, whose mother-in-law is a patient at Laguna Honda. He visited the South Bay facility shortly after being told his mother-in-law would be staying there and said it is not up to par, with scratched-up furniture and holes in the wall. He also said that he was wary when he saw that so many rooms were available at Burlingame.
As a result, Urban, along with other residents, have been notified of rights to appeal the transfer or discharge and laws that state a patient’s right to stay at the facility. This was covered in a town hall led by Tony Chicotel, staff attorney at the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
Urban and others were notified of the discharge two months ago in an informal letter from Laguna Honda.
“These other facilities are horrendous; you wouldn’t want to send your worst enemy there,” noted Donna D’Eufemia, whose 76-year-old brother was slated to transfer to Burlingame and to another facility in San Mateo. “It’s just inhumane.”
Patients being transferred or slated to transfer to a facility with bad reviews — not to mention being 30 miles away — also caused strife with the Board of Supervisors in Thursday’s meeting.
“To be turning folks out of [Laguna Honda] to far less careful institutions is abominable and awful,” stated Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. “What is happening here is absolutely wrong.”
Meanwhile, the staff of Laguna Honda is currently working with consultants to get its recertification, which Pickens expects will happen.
Until then, however, residents and advocates are digging in their heels to keep patients at Laguna Honda.
“We’re playing hardball.” Urban said.