Driving a car without a license in California can get you arrested and fined but running a nursing home without a license turns out to have surprisingly little impact on the for-profit chains flouting the law. Data from the California Department of Public Health show that between 2015 and 2020, 250 applications were submitted to change ownership of California’s 1200 nursing homes, and just 5% of applications were rejected. The only facilities to be denied a license were ones connected to ReNew Health Group, a chain we wrote about last month that is responsible for 128 violations in three years, including 14 categorized as “immediate jeopardy.”
Even though ReNew Health Group could not secure licenses to operate in California, the management team continues to carry on business as usual. That’s because, in California, any company can take over the operations of an existing facility without first getting approved by the State. Companies with abysmal track records, like ReNew, are not barred or disqualified from ownership; in fact, if regulators deny their applications, they can appeal the decision for years while at the same time running their facilities as if they had a valid license. Said one staff attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Tony Chicotel, “It doesn’t matter if you’re a bad provider in California. You can get in the building, you can be a squatter, and they can’t get you out. It’s a really bizarre, completely exploited process.”
The fact that nursing home operators can and do operate facilities in California without a license prompted KPCC, Southern California Public Radio, to investigate the human downside of the current situation. They found that more than 200 people died of COVID-19, a disproportionate number compared with the sample size. Investigators documented sub-standard care at facilities that continue to operate without a valid state license.
How can we solve the problem where unlicensed owners kill nursing home residents?
Fixing the obvious problem will require passage of Assembly Bill No 1502, introduced by Assembly Member Muratsuchi on February 19, 2021. If passed, the law would require prior written approval from the State Department of Public Health before an operator will be allowed to take over and manage an existing facility. It baffles us that a concept so simple should require the passage of a new law, but it’s clear that a major loophole has been exploited by unscrupulous operators, much to the detriment of nursing home residents.
This latest news is yet another example of government agencies and institutions lacking the ability to enforce regulations to protect seniors in California. We need stricter rules and regulations and more people on staff who are prepared to implement the law more quickly when human lives are at stake. It’s a wake-up call; let’s hope lawmakers do, indeed, wake up before more people needlessly die. We should not be facing such widespread issues with unlicensed nursing home owners killing nursing home residents.
Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting nursing home abuse, elder abuse and wrongful death cases in California. For further information, please contact Wendy York with York Law Firm.