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State responds to Brius nursing home closure concerns

Original source:

Eureka Times-Standard
Will Houston

The California Department of Public Health told the Times-Standard this week that some concerns raised about Brius Healthcare Services’ and its associated companies’ would not have stopped it from approving the closure plans in September.

Originally planning to close three of its Eureka nursing homes due to reported staffing and Medi-Cal reimbursement issues, Brius announced last week it would only be closing its Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center at the end of the year. Regardless of the change of plan, concerns raised by the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and National Union of Healthcare Workers remain intact.

“(The Department of Public Health) seems to have reversed its role,” California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform advocate Michael Connors said Wednesday. “It’s supposed to protect the rights of nursing home residents, not the financial interests of nursing home operators.”

The National Union of Healthcare Workers has stated Brius’ closure of the Eureka home would violate a lease agreement the company signed in 2011 with Skilled Healthcare Group, now Genesis Healthcare, which owns the five nursing home properties in Humboldt County. A company spokesman for Brius dismissed the claims as a “smear campaign.”

Responding to a portion of questions from the Times-Standard, Department of Public Health spokesman Ronald Owens stated their department regulates licenses, not leases.

“CDPH has no regulatory authority over who owns the real property or its transfer,” Owens wrote in an email to the Times-Standard this week.

The Times-Standard has previously asked the department specifically about the lease violation allegations and is awaiting a response. Attempts to contact Genesis Healthcare were not immediately returned on Wednesday.

Another concern raised by the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform was whether Rockport Healthcare Services, which oversees the administrative functions of the five Humboldt County nursing homes, ever had the authority to petition the state to close the nursing homes.

Rockport Healthcare Services is currently not the managing company of the five nursing homes, but had applied to be in November 2014, according to Owens. The application is still under review by the department.

“CDPH was aware of Rockport’s pending application to become an approved management company when the department reviewed and approved the closure plans for the three Eureka facilities,” Owens stated. “Closure plans are submitted to the department by the licensee, and the approval of the management company does not factor into the evaluation and approval of a closure plan.”

The licensees in this case were the individual nursing homes — Eureka, Seaview and Pacific rehabilitation and wellness centers.

Connors said Rockport had directly sent a revised closure plan to the state in September, which he said shows the company had a direct role in the nursing home closures despite not being the approved management company. In this way, Connors said the department has “turned its back” on the nursing home residents.

“The residents of these facilities shouldn’t have ever had to face this crisis,” Connors said Wednesday. “The law requires Department of Public Health approval before an entity can manage a nursing home, not years after. It’s appalling the Department of Public Health has allowed Rockport to manage these nursing homes without its approval.”

For the local Medi-Cal provider and health maintenance organization Partnership HealthPlan of California, some of its concerns about the nursing home closure were alleviated Nov. 9.

The week before Brius announced it would only be closing Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center, it sent a letter to Partnership HealthPlan stating it would be cancelling its Medi-Cal contracts for all five of its nursing homes. The move caused concern for patient access as over half of the patients in the nursing homes are Medi-Cal patients covered under Partnership HealthPlan.

But according to Partnership and North Coast Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), Rockport and Brius rescinded the cancellation letters Nov. 9.

“That means that PHC members, current and future, will have access to long-term care through Rockport, ending concerns over a crisis if all three closures proceeded,” Partnership HealthPlan wrote in a statement last week.

Both McGuire and Partnership said cancelling the contract would require Brius and Partnership to come up with an agreed upon reimbursement rate for each Medi-Cal patient admitted to the nursing home, which could prevent the patient from accessing the facility if there was no agreed rate. However, the highest reimbursement rate Brius could get without a contract would still be lower than the rate provided in the current contracts, Partnership spokesman Robert Layne said in a previous interview with the Times-Standard.

McGuire, who has been openly critical of Rockport’s and Brius’ closure plans, called Rockport’s decision to rescind their contract cancellations a “confusing turn of events,” but was pleased by their decision.

“We continue to encourage Rockport to work with the community and the state in a collaborative manner and stop acting like a school yard bully,” McGuire said in a Tuesday statement.

Multiple attempts to contact Rockport on Wednesday were not returned.

Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center is set to close by the end of this year. No patients will need to be relocated outside of the county, according to a statement last week by Brius owner and CEO Shlomo Rechnitz, but will instead be transferred to one of the four remaining Brius nursing homes in the county. Pacific Rehabilitation and Wellness Center staff will also be guaranteed jobs at the remaining Brius facilities, according to Rockport.