In an ongoing probe of California's largest owner of nursing homes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents raided the Alta Vista Healthcare & Wellness Centre in Riverside last week.
FBI spokesperson Laura Eimiller told the Sacramento Bee the feds were “seeking evidence in relation to alleged criminal activity” at the 99-bed facility. No one was arrested and “patients were not removed or even disturbed,” but the FBI did take some documents. The Bee ran a series of stories last year on the center's owner, Shlomo Rechnitz of Los Angeles, cataloguing a litany of negligence and abuse at other facilities operated by his Brius Healthcare Services.
Sallie Hofmeister, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor and now public relations representative of Sitrick and Company, said on behalf of Brius Healthcare, “We are not aware of any basis for the investigation, but are cooperating fully with authorities.”
Brius Healthcare had acquired at least 80 nursing homes since 2004, and is connected to another 130 related businesses, but operates somewhat in the shadows. According to the Bee, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) did not list Brius Healthcare among its licensed facilities. The state has around 1,260 nursing homes.
Brius Healthcare isn't the only nursing home owner in the state operating under layers of obfuscation. So the Bee created a database to track the operators and provide key measures of quality for chains and individual homes. Around half the nursing homes are operated by just 25 companies.
Using its database and information from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Bee asserted that Brius Healthcare nursing homes were accused of three times as many deficiencies per 1,000 beds as the state average last year.
In August 2014, the California Attorney General's office filed an emergency motion in federal bankruptcy court on behalf of the CDPH and the state's Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) to block the purchase of 19 nursing home facilities by Rechnitz. The motion said he and his companies “have a history of failing to comply with laws and regulations” and repeatedly “failed or refused to submit required audit materials to DHCS.”
Mark A. Johnson, an attorney for Rechnitz, complained in March to the Public Health Department's parent, the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHS), that his client was being unfairly targeted because of the state's “lack of communication, transparency and misrepresentations.” Health department official Jean Iacino denied the allegation and suggested, “The remedy lies in improving the quality in those facilities and addressing the management issues, if any, that may be contributing to the compliance issues.”
One of Rechnitz's properties, South Pasadena Convalescent Hospital, came under scrutiny last year when a 57-year-old mentally-ill patient, Courtney Cargill, signed herself out for a visit to the “library etc.” and walked over to a nearby gas station where she set herself on fire. She died.
The facility, owned by Rechnitz since 2006, had been the subject of numerous inquiries and complaints. At one point local police said they had received more than 1,100 calls over the years from the facility's patients via 911 and asked the hospital to do something about it. The hospital solved that problem by changing the phone wiring to reroute 911 calls back to the facility's own reception desk.
“That's insane that the people that were asking for help got rerouted to their captors,” South Pasadena Police Chief Arthur Miller told the Los Angeles Times. The median age of most nursing homes is in the 70s, but the South Pasadena average was 37. Miller told the Pasadena Star-News the facility recruited convicted felons, rapists, robbers and other probationers from Los Angeles as patients.
The state jerked its certification in January and it was sold in August to new owners who renamed it the South Pasadena Care Center.