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"Santa Cruz nonprofit wins fight for nursing home patient rights"

Santa Cruz

Sentinel staff writer
April 27, 2007

When two residents at a nursing home in Santa Cruz got eviction notices last March, they decided to fight them.

They called Linda Robinson of Advocacy Inc., a Santa Cruz nonprofit, to help them file appeals with the state Department of Health Services. Then they waited and waited, wondering when they would get a hearing.

"It was very stressful," said Robinson, who has worked as an advocate for nursing home patients for 10 years. "I felt bad because I didn’t have any information"

A little more than a year later, the issue is being resolved to Robinson’s satisfaction. Nursing home residents who appeal their eviction will be given the opportunity for a hearing, according to an April 11 memo signed by Kathleen Billingsley, deputy director of the state health department.

Mike Connors, an advocate with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, credited Robinson and the staff at Advocacy Inc. for speaking up for patients.

"We saw this as a very important victory," Connors said, adding that the problem was not bad policy but that the state had ignored its policy of hearing eviction appeals.

The April 11 memo affects nearly 900 nursing home patients in Santa Cruz County as well as 1,400 nursing homes statewide with more than 133,000 beds.

"In a year, dozens, maybe hundreds, of [eviction] notices are sent," Connors said. "They get issued way too often in my experience. Patients have the right to be protected from arbitrary transfers"

In the cases of the two Santa Cruz nursing home patients, employees in the division of licensing and certification had determined the eviction notice was invalid and did not forward the appeal to the unit for a hearing by an administrative law judge. Neither the patients nor Robinson was informed of this.

"Nobody knew," Robinson said. "Their right to an appeal was violated"

She brought the situation to the attention of state officials.

Weeks, and months, went by.

A year after the incident, she saw a March 2 memo from the state health department memo ordering employees in district offices to refer appeals to the appeals unit.

But Robinson’s relief was short–lived.

State health department spokeswoman Leah Brooks said the memo was merely a "draft"

Robinson was disappointed.

Then last Friday, at a meeting in Sacramento, Billingsley, the health department’s deputy director, told consumer advocates that the state’s policy is to give nursing home residents an opportunity to appeal an eviction notice – even when the notice is rescinded.

Billingsley’s April 11 memo to district managers covered policy and procedures for appealing eviction notices. It also said staff must receive training to make sure policy and procedures are followed.

The department has been under scrutiny. Senate Bill 1312, which mandates unannounced inspections at nursing homes at least every two years, takes effect in July.

Last year, a lawsuit was filed, complaining about a backlog of nursing–home complaints. This month, a state auditor, reporting on 17,000 complaints filed over two years, said the department had not completed about 60 percent of its investigations in a timely fashion.

Billingsley said the findings were outdated and that the department is on track to handle 96 percent of complaints on time.

The next time a nursing home patient appeals an eviction, Robinson expects the appeal to be referred to the proper office.

"I have this expectation procedures are going to be followed and residents’ rights are going to be honored," she said.