Olive Ridge Post Acute Care, a skilled nursing center in Oroville, was cited fifteen times for violations of state and federal law regarding resident evictions when it illegally closed down an entire unit and forced most of the residents to move to new facilities. The unit closure was particularly egregious because all fourteen relocated residents were severely cognitively impaired and especially vulnerable to disorienting transfer trauma.
Following an increasingly popular model of nursing home care, Olive Ridge moved out long-term residents who were perceived as difficult to manage to increase the available beds for short-term rehabilitation residents who pay more for their care. The facility failed to follow myriad laws in place to protect residents from unsafe, unplanned evictions. Most notably, the facility completely failed to follow the facility closure rules of Health and Safety Code Section 1336, which requires notice to the Department of Public Health and a written relocation plan to ensure resident safety.
Facility staff failed to timely notify residents of their transfer and did not provide any required preparation or orientation to minimize the impact of their move. Some residents were placed in facilities more than 150 miles away from their family and legal representatives after just a few days’ notice. One family member was told if she disputed the transfer, the facility would forcibly transfer her loved one anyway “because the bed was already accepted.” Family members reported their loved ones as “very depressed” at their new facilities and asking why they “couldn’t go back home.” The abrupt closure was found to have caused confusion, anxiety, and fear in the families of the residents and probable emotional trauma to each of the residents.
While the issuance of fifteen citations against Olive Ridge certainly makes a quantitative statement of wrongdoing, the sum of the fines totaled only $15,000. So for a maximum $15,000, the facility was able to successfully close down a locked unit to clear the way for more profitable residents in less than seven weeks without following any of the laws to protect residents from unsafe discharges. In cost-benefit terms, Olive Ridge may have profited from its illegal conduct. If the Department of Public Health really wants to ensure this reprehensible conduct is not repeated at other facilities, it should consider meting out penalties that actually provide financial disincentives for breaking the law or refer the matter to the Attorney General or local District Attorney to seek injunctive relief.