Jim Wood Introduces Bill to Strengthen Skilled Nursing Protections


Assemblyman Jim Wood. - GRANT SCOTT-GOFORTH
  • Grant Scott-Goforth
  • Assemblyman Jim Wood.
North Coast Assemblymember Jim Wood's announced today that he has introduced a bill to protect residents of skilled nursing facilities should a facility "have a change in license status or operation, such as closure." The legislation comes in response to last year's struggle to help patients in three local skilled nursing facilities owned by Brius Healthcare Services after the company threatened to close and transfer its patients out of the area.

The crisis, which would have displaced hundreds of Humboldt County's most vulnerable residents, lasted close to four months as Wood and other politicians negotiated with the company to avert the proposed closures, which appear to have been a bargaining ploy to increase reimbursement rates from the region's MediCal provider, Partnership Health Plan. The company eventually backed down and only closed one facility, but Wood refers to the four-month period of uncertainty as a "roller coaster ride of anxiety" for patients and families.

Assembly Bill 275, introduced this morning, includes several provisions that would potentially smooth out the twists and turns for future roller coaster rides, including:

- Requiring facilities to provide 90 days' notice to residents about closures and potential transfers. (Currently, only 30 days notice is required.)

- More stringent assessment of patients before they are transferred, including input from a physician and mental health professional. (Assessments of patients prior to transfer are already required.)

- Whenever two or more facilities propose to close on the same date, the facilities must be required to prepare a comprehensive community impact report.

That last provision is in direct response to Brius' outsized impact on rural Humboldt County, where it has a virtual monopoly on skilled nursing. (The press release, included below, refers to Rockport as the owner of the facilities, but Rockport is actually the administrative branch that operates the facilities locally.)

Suzi Fregeau, program coordinator for the Area 1 Agency on Aging's Long Term Care Omsbudsman program, said the legislation is welcome but echoes already-existing rules that have failed to protect residents from the whims of privately owned businesses like Brius.

"I would rather have licensing held accountable for enforcing rules that are already in place," said Fregeau.

From the office of Assemblymember Jim Wood:

Today, Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), introduced AB 275 that would provide additional protections to residents of skilled nursing facilities when those facilities have a change in license status or operation, such as closure. “Residents of skilled nursing facilities are among our most vulnerable citizens and they must be protected,” said Wood.

Last year, Rockport Healthcare Services, the owner of the only skilled nursing facilities in the Eureka area, announced that it was closing three of its five facilities. More than 100 residents were going to be displaced and moved far from their families. Despite an outpouring of support for the residents from the community, and many meetings with stakeholders, including the Department of Public Health, Partnership Health Plan, and Asm. Wood and Senator Mike McGuire, Rockport did not change its plans. “It’s very likely, however, that the community’s efforts, the media coverage and the many meetings held may have caused them to reconsider as they subsequently decided to close only one facility,” said Wood.

“During those many months,” said Wood, “residents and their families were on a roller coaster ride of anxiety. It became obvious to me that new protections would have to be put in place to prevent this trauma from happening to other residents in the future.”

This bill requires facilities to provide 90 days’ notice to residents and if resident’s concerns cannot be appropriately addressed, the Department of Public Health can add another 90 days. It requires a patient assessment by both a physician and mental health professional and gives the department the authority to require a patient transfer plan to assure that patients’ needs have been considered. And finally, another provision was included so that whenever two or more facilities propose to close on the same date, the facilities will be required to prepare a comprehensive community impact report.

“Although this was an issue that affected a rural community I represent, this situation could occur in more densely populated areas where beds are limited or similar ownership situations exist,” said Wood.

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