Laguna Honda Hospital, seen here in 1956, was founded some 166 years ago as an almshouse for geriatric pioneers. In recent years, however, younger, more ambulatory and oft-mentally ill and/or substance addicted patients have been placed here — leading to the site's present existential crisis. Photo courtesy of OpenSFHistory.org

Pleas from families and advocates to halt patient transfers out of Laguna Honda Hospital have been heard.

On Thursday, the San Francisco Department of Public Health tweeted that transfers would be put on hold, but for how long is yet to be determined. 

For the past month, advocates and families for the patients have urged the federal government and city officials to halt the transfers. To date, 57 patients have been transferred from the embattled hospital. At least five patients have been confirmed to have died shortly after being moved from the hospital; “transfer trauma” is a suspected culprit. 

Multiple sources have told Mission Local that the call to cease the transfers came from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and the California Department of Public Health. 

“This is a relief, and part of the solution,” Teresa Palmer, a geriatrician and former Laguna Honda physician, wrote in an email to Mission Local.

The hospital’s federal funding was slated for revocation by the federal government, citing various mishaps and health violations; these included failure to wear gloves, and improper hand washing. Also cited were longstanding problems with security and drug use in the hospital. 

In a four-month closure plan hammered out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid and Laguna Honda, more than 600 patients were to be moved out of the hospital, either to homes, homeless shelters or other skilled nursing facilities. Some are reported to be worse environments for patients than Laguna Honda.

The Board of Supervisors approve the resolutions to stop Laguna Honda patient transfers.

In a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, two resolutions introduced by Supervisor Myrna Melgar were approved addressing the transfers at Laguna Honda. One was to urge Secretary Xavier Becerra to impede and halt the transfer process of patients immediately. The other was for Gov. Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency at the hospital.

“It is a human rights atrocity,” said Melgar in the Tuesday meeting. “Is this a way we treat people with dignity in San Francisco and California?”

Every supervisor supported the resolutions.

“This is a crisis of the highest order,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen.“This is outrageous.”

While the transfers have been paused, the hospital must still work on being recertified, which interim CEO Roland Pickens said would be possible during a hearing updating the process of the closure plan last week.

Additionally, if Laguna Honda follows through on its four-month closure plan, federal funding may be extended for an additional two months, pushing the hospital’s closure date from September to November. By that time, hopefully, the hospital will be able to recertify, thereby doing away with the need to transfer out its patients. 

“If the closure plan is not followed as directed, there is a chance that reimbursement will be pulled, which means Laguna Honda will close. There will be no chance to even recertify if that happens,” said Wilmie Hathaway, Chief Medical Officer at Laguna Honda, in the same meeting.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure described the situation at Laguna Honda as “unacceptable” in a statement shared with Mission Local.

In response to the recent patient deaths, a federal on-site facilitator was installed this week to assess the remaining transfers and discharges for patients, which prompted this pause. Brooks-LaSure also noted that the federal body has “notified Laguna Honda that all transfers placed to date should be re-assessed to ensure patient safety.” She stated that the closure plan imposed on Laguna Honda was “required by statute” to shutter the facility after consistently violating health mandates for six months.

“It is our priority that, regardless of income, people have access to safe, high-quality care conditions,” Brooks-LaSure wrote.

While the city, families and advocates see this reprieve as a win, advocates stress that the race is still not over.

“We must remain active,”  Palmer said. A town hall discussing the matter is slated for Aug. 3.

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Intern Reporter. William moved to the Bay Area from Nashville to pursue a Masters in Journalism from UC Berkeley. He's covered police reform in Oakland and also investigates correctional officer misconduct at the Investigative Reporting Program. You'll mostly see him behind a camera. Follow him on Twitter @WilliamJenk_

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  1. Mission Local..Good job on reporting this whole travesty ..your previous article (s) are great too. Lots of important information like the fact that laguna Honda gets treated exactly the same as a 10 bed facility when they issue a violation which doesn’t really make sense of you are trying to see if an institution is functioning well or not

  2. Once again the City and its politicians are playing hide and pretend it doesn’t exist. This time it’s with Peoples FAMILIES that have existed, some for decades at Laguna Honda being cared for by Family. My MIL, Peggy Branch R.N. (Dec.) was a 7th Floor Men’s Ward Head Nurse for 20+ years at ‘LH’ which she referred to as “Home on the Hill” because that’s what it was for her patients, Home. Many were Quadriplegics and amputees with no families . Most old men but some young guys and all treated with dignity and care. The City looks at the Gold Mine of Property and Revenue and forgets that it was started as the place for many of Our City’s indigent residents’ last Hope for Quality Care. Moving patients, causing upheaval how’s that working to solve a “problem” ? The problem started when the City started using LH as its dumping ground for homeless drug addicts and mental health transplants from other states and counties. It was and is a City and County job and workers should be held accountable for Health Code and Drug Enforcement procedures for all employees. Clean it UP not OUT!

  3. Worse comes to worse, can’t California pick up the tab for the months needed to recertify?

    And it would be great to hear what the city and state can do, plan to do, to ensure recertification.

    I am certain Laguna Honda has experts on this plan, but maybe this time, get some additional eyes on it, and some folks directly speaking to Mayor Breed?

    (In the meantime, I am pleased that my tweets on this were evidently so persuasive)

  4. Where the HECK is the Mayor?? This is a crisis!!!! Laguna Honda Hospital is an essential institution for our city and San Franciscans.

  5. That’s an 8.77% death rate, at minimum, 5 deaths and 57 transfers.

    At 600 transfers, 52.62 or 53 people would be dead not long after transfer.

    In San Francisco, it’s one thing for people to die on the street or overdosed in SROs with overworked staff, and a whole other to die not long after transit from Laguna Honda.

    As a result of one death and myriad of abuses at the hospital over the years, it is going to cost 53 more lives thrown on the pile.

    What the fuck?

    This is the one of the largest skilled nursing facility in the United States, you might as well put federal oversight and a consent decree than attempt an ill-fated transfer that was never going to work.

    1. Sir or madam — 

      I think it’s even worse than that. My understanding is that the people transferred so far were able to volunteer for it or are at least among the heartier patients. With this sort of death rate for them, it’s uncomfortable to think about how less hearty patients will fare.

      Best,

      JE

      1. Actually my impression is they transferred(actually discharged) folks who really were unable to object or didn’t know their rights. It looks line there might be as many as 7 desths now.
        That us why CMS has someone there now looking at folks who were already discharged & has stopped new discharges.
        Once you are a nursing home resident you have rights.
        If Laguna Honda management doesn’t “get” it we will lose the facility. I hear good things anout the consultants the city has hired: but if management & sfdph doesn’t listen and learn….

        1. Doctor — 

          I think we can both be right. Some of these people may not have been in a position to think through the offer and say no. But I am told they are (were, sadly) some of the more cognizant and strong patients. In short, the proportion of deaths if this keeps going figures to rise, not lower or flatline.

          JE

      2. I’d be floored if the federal agencies didn’t ring alarm bells with this obvious of a death slope into exponential territory.

        Thanks for pointing that out.

  6. AYUNTAMIENTO VIRTUAL Para los residentes, familias, amigos y defensores de Laguna Honda
    ¡Conoce sus derechos!
    California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), Legal Assistance to the Elderly (LAE), Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) y Disability Rights California (DRC) organizarán un ayuntamiento virtual del Hospital Laguna Honda para educar y apoyar a los residentes de Laguna Honda, sus familias y amigos. En este momento de gran incertidumbre para los residentes de Laguna Honda y con la situación en constante cambio, queremos que conozca sus derechos con respecto a la propuesta de alta de los residentes y comparta información actualizada.
    Interpretación en español disponible durante el evento.
    Este evento de Zoom se llevará a cabo el miércoles 3 de agosto de 1:00 pm a 2:30 pm.
    Visite a https://tinyurl.com/lagunahondatownhall02 para registrarse!
    La inscripción es gratuita y garantizará que su espacio de asistencia esté disponible.

  7. SECOND VIRTUAL TOWN HALL For Laguna Honda Residents, Families, Friends and Advocates
    Know Your Rights!
    California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), Legal Assistance to the Elderly (LAE), Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal) and Disability Rights California (DRC) will host our second virtual Laguna Honda Hospital town hall to educate and support Laguna Honda residents, families and friends. You can watch the first town hall on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2Pn_JKnH84. We appreciate the great interest and participation in our first Laguna Honda town hall. In this time of great uncertainty for Laguna Honda residents and with the situation constantly changing, we want you to know your rights regarding the proposed discharge of the residents and share updated information.
    We invite Laguna Honda residents, their families, friends, and advocates to join this online event.
    This Zoom event will be held Wednesday, August 3rd from 1:00 pm to 2:30 pm
    Please visit https://tinyurl.com/lagunahondatownhall02 to register!
    Registration is free

  8. How can London Breed present in public and not get pelted with rotten produce from all sides after this appalling performance at Laguna Honda?

    It is not like this was a sudden development or that there were not always proximate networks of power all of the way to the top to work on this.

    1. Campers,

      In 2003 Prez Bush signed:

      Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act of 2003 (known as MMA)

      There is always trailing or ‘enabling’ legislation meant to execute the law as intended.

      It was here in a closed and secret meeting that CMS was granted power to close any institution for pretty much anything real or imaginary.

      There are even notes regarding these secret sessions recently made public wherein congregees pledge that designated portions of these meetings not be published in the Congressional Record.

      In the end, this is a land grab and the remedy is for Biden to stop all such actions with an Executive Order then take whatever action is necessary to remove remnants of Bush’s moves to allow for the eviction of poor people or students or tenants.

      Keep in mind that this is only one property and that the transfer of prime government property to the Oligarchs of the planet proceeds on every level.

      It’s all been about Real Estate since the first Hunter/Gatherers killed others for survival.

      Now ?

      They do it for fast cars and boats and estates.

      Change the enabling legislation.

      Probably won’t even need Act of Congress.

      Go Niners !!

      h.