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California Lawmakers Proposing Significant Nursing Home Reform Package

Pictured above is one of about 100 skilled nursing homes in San Diego County, March 31, 2020.
Matthew Bowler
Pictured above is one of about 100 skilled nursing homes in San Diego County, March 31, 2020.

Prompted by the high COVID-19 death toll at California’s nursing homes, along with long-standing problems at the facilities, state lawmakers are proposing a package of bills aimed at reforming senior care and how the industry reports its profits.

“One in four Californians lost in the COVID-19 pandemic was in a nursing home - a tragedy made worse because the profit-driven nursing home industry failed to keep our loved ones safe,” said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

California Lawmakers Proposing Significant Nursing Home Reform Package
Listen to this story by Amita Sharma.

The slate of proposed legislation deals with a range of issues that have plagued the nursing home industry for years. Key among them are quality of care, financial transparency and stronger government oversight.

RELATED: State Lawmakers Question Nursing Homes On COVID-19 Response

One bill would expand the ability of nursing home residents to sue if their rights have been violated. Another would stiffen nursing home penalties for chronic understaffing, poor infection control, over drugging of residents and wrongful discharges.

Legislators also want nursing homes to be clearer about their profits and how much of the money they are re-investing in care.

State Sen. Henry Stern (D-Los Angeles) said complaints against the facilities are at record highs and “the care is often abysmal.”

“Many large, for-profit skilled nursing home chains use complex ownership structures to increase their profitability by making it seem like their costs are external and unavoidable, while keeping the money all in dark recesses of the corporate family,” he said.

Stern's bill would require nursing home chains to place CPA verified financial reports on each of the facility’s websites.

“The public has the right to know how much of its money is supporting nursing home residents versus how much is spent on the lifestyles of billionaire nursing home owners,” Stern said.

State lawmakers are expecting nursing home lobbyists to push hard against the reform package. Stern said much of the lobbying will happen behind closed doors.

Even so, Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said whether the strategy is public or private, it is fraught.

“I don’t think the nursing homes want to be in the position of having to say they don’t want to provide better care for their patients,” Jones-Sawyer said. “I’m battle-worn. I’m battle-tested. I’m ready for the fight.”

A spokesperson for the California Association of Health Facilities, which represents nursing homes, declined to comment on the proposed legislation.