Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer joined California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and a coalition of district attorneys in filing a lawsuit Monday against the country’s largest senior living facility operator for allegedly ignoring laws regarding discharging patients and reporting false information to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
The suit alleges Tennessee-based Brookdale Senior Living Inc., which operates 10 skilled nursing facilities in California, gave false information to CMS to misrepresent quality of care and increase “star ratings” to attract prospective patients and their families.
The plaintiffs also allege that Brookdale failed to notify its patients and families of transfers and discharges in accordance with the law, which requires to give notice at least 30 days in advance or as soon as practicable. Instead, the suit alleges, Brookdale patients’ health was endangered and families were left scrambling to find other places to provide care to their loved ones.
Brookdale Senior Living, through a spokesperson, denied any wrongdoing.
“We categorically deny that Brookdale engaged in intentional or fraudulent conduct. We are disappointed in the allegations against the skilled nursing industry,” the spokesperson said.
“Publicizing unproven allegations is reckless and undermines the public’s confidence in a service necessary to the care of elderly individuals, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “Brookdale is dedicated to providing quality care to our residents and patients, and we take our mission of enriching the lives of those we serve seriously.”
The lawsuit alleges that Brookdale falsified information to CMS, which uses a scale of one to five stars to rate facilities on several quality measures. Those ratings are posed on the CMS website and help families choose a quality facility. Brookdale was awarded four- and five-star ratings after it allegedly over-reported its nursing staff hours, according to the complaint.
“Coming in the wake of the settlement we just announced in a major case against a different nursing home — alleging unlawful discharge of patients during COVID, and patient neglect — this action underscores that we’re deeply committed to the safety and protection of these patients,” Feuer said.
“They could be our parents or grandparents,” he said. “Today, prosecutors up and down the state emphasize we’ll hold nursing home operators accountable for how they treat their patients, who are more vulnerable than ever during the pandemic.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the lawsuit was filed to hold “Brookdale accountable for artificially increasing its profits by cutting corners when transferring or discharging its patients. It lured individuals to its facilities through false promises about providing the highest quality care,” he alleged.
“Choosing a skilled nursing facility is no simple task. Seniors, people with disabilities and their families rely heavily on accurate data to make that decision,” Becerra said. “Californians have been directly impacted by Brookdale’s behavior. We will ensure that they face consequences for violating the public’s trust.”
The coalition, which includes district attorneys from Kern, Alameda, San Diego and Santa Cruz counties, alleges that Brookdale violated the Unfair Competition Law and the False Advertising Law.
“Residents of skilled nursing facilities are often our mothers, our fathers and our grandparents who are facing challenging times in their lives. Rules designed to protect nursing facility residents must be followed to ensure the dignity, respect and compassion that residents deserve,” said Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, who is leading the coalition.
“When companies fail to comply with these rules, they create environments that subject the most vulnerable among us to unnecessary victimization, stress, and even physical harm,” she said. “This case seeks accountability for offenders and is a reminder to all skilled nursing facilities of the importance of following rules designed to ensure the protection of vulnerable residents.”