In early January, Californians will get a first look at whether state legislators have found the will and independence to prevent corrupt nursing home operators from buying up facilities throughout the state. That is when the Assembly Health Committee will hear AB 1502 (Muratsuchi), the CANHR sponsored bill to reform nursing home ownership in California.
The stakes are high for current and future nursing home residents in California. For decades, people living in nursing homes have been subjected to epidemic levels of elder abuse by unfit, unapproved and unaccountable chain operators. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has rolled out the welcome mat to unscrupulous operators, allowing anyone to buy and operate nursing homes in California, no matter how terrible their performance history may be.
AB 1502 would begin unrolling the welcome mat to bad actors by giving CDPH strong authority to disqualify unfit applicants, setting suitability standards for operators, requiring prior approval to operate a skilled nursing facility, sanctioning non-compliant operators and giving the public an opportunity to comment on pending change of ownership applications.
The bill would also close huge loopholes that allow most California nursing homes to change hands without any state approval process whatsoever. Entire nursing home chains can be bought and sold without state approval due to CDPH’s position that it has no authority to review ownership changes at the chain level. A recent example is the Providence Group becoming California’s largest nursing home chain in November 2021 when it bought the 58-facility Plum Healthcare chain without change of ownership review or approval by CDPH.
Originally, AB 1502 was intended to be the centerpiece of the PROTECT Plan, a 7-bill legislative package introduced in early 2021 aimed at reforming nursing home care in the state. Five of the PROTECT Plan bills were enacted and one of them was vetoed, but AB 1502 was sidelined shortly after introduction and has yet to be heard by any committee. To advance, it must pass out of the Assembly Health Committee by mid-January.
Although AB 1502 was initially sidelined, media stories on why it is desperately needed were not. Beginning in April 2021, a trio of nonprofit newsrooms published an ongoing series of exposes called “Unprotected,” that examine California’s failures on nursing home oversight. Their headlines help tell their story: California oversight of nursing homes called ‘befuddling,’ ‘broken’ (CalMatters); Immediate Jeopardy: Death and Neglect Inside a Troubled California Nursing Home Chain (LAist); ‘People are dying as we wait’: Bid to tighten California nursing home oversight sputters (CalMatters); Gov. Newsom Donates Contribution From Nursing Home Owner To Charity, After LAist Investigation (LAist); Licensing by clerical error: How the state’s mistake decided the course of two nursing homes (CalMatters); Despite Multiple Citations for Deficient Care, Government Sent More Than $400M To Troubled Nursing Home Chain (LAist); Owner of Troubled Nursing Homes Drops Appeal (LAist); Shlomo Rechnitz nursing home suit over COVID deaths reflects ‘broken state licensing’ (CalMatters) State Authorities Allowed Alleged Sexual Predator to Job-Hop Among San Diego Area Nursing Homes (KPBS); Nursing Homes In Dire Need of Regulation After Thousands Die From COVID-19, State Lawmakers Say (LAist); State health department blasted over nursing home oversight (CalMatters).
It is no mystery why California is the epicenter of nursing home ownership scandals. The government doles out over $10 billion annually to California nursing home owners, which they use to wield powerful influence at all levels of government.
AB 1502 is not the first legislative attempt to strengthen screening and suitability requirements for nursing home owners. Legislative proposals failed in 2016 and 2019 largely due to indifference and resistance by Administration officials and the Legislature.
Along with horrific tragedy and death, the pandemic has brought new awareness of the dangerous conditions in nursing homes and the urgent need for reform. All eyes are now on the Legislature and the Administration to see how they respond.
Please help by urging your state legislators to stand up for neglected nursing home residents by supporting AB 1502 and by encouraging others to do the same. You can find more information on AB 1502, including a fact sheet and a sample support letter, on CANHR’s AB 1502 webpage.