Anna Bauman San Francisco Chronicle April 7, 2020
The owner of a nursing home in Orinda with nearly 50 confirmed cases of COVID-19 operates a network of California long-term care facilities with a lengthy record of health and safety violations, records show.
Crystal Solorzano, owner of the Orinda Care Center, hit by a coronavirus outbreak last week, owns 11 long-term care facilities near Los Angeles and in the Bay Area. One nursing home advocacy group called the record of violations at her facilities “extraordinarily alarming.”
At the 47-bed skilled nursing facility in Orinda, 27 residents and 22 staff have tested positive for COVID-19. Four residents have been hospitalized and one resident, who was already receiving end-of-life care, died after testing positive.
That facility has a lengthy record of health and safety violations, according to state regulators.
“We believe these were unacceptable, but isolated, incidents,” said Dan Kramer, spokesperson for Orinda Care Center. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure they won’t happen again.”
Last year, the Orinda center failed to meet sanitation protocols and proper staffing requirements, among other violations, state records show.
In August, state health officials conducted a staffing audit and found that Orinda Care Center did not meet minimum staffing requirements on 16 out of 24 days. The facility failed to meet the minimum hours required for certified nursing assistants on 10 out of 24 days.
During an inspection in July, dietary staff “could not describe or demonstrate the appropriate procedures for sanitizing tableware and cookware,” leaving residents “at risk for food borne illness,” inspectors wrote.
The kitchen had a wash-rinse-sanitize procedure for manually washing dishes, but one staff member told an inspector: “I never had to use it.” The manager admitted staff had not been trained, according to the inspection.
Other inspections last summer found that the Orinda facility stored active and expired medication together, and some medications were not refrigerated properly. Investigators responding to complaints discovered that staff had misused antipsychotic drugs for residents and that a housekeeper sexually abused a resident with dementia.
The facility filed a “plan of correction” for many of the violations, but no enforceable actions were taken in incidents last year.
“The violations (California Department of Public Health) has cited the Orinda Care Center for are troubling, especially related to inadequate staffing, and raise questions about its preparedness to keep residents safe now,” said Michael Connors, an advocate at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
A reported incident is made by a representative of the facility to state officials, and certain unusual circumstances must be reported. Officials conduct surveys to ensure compliance with regulations, and will report a deficiency when violations of state or federal regulations are found at the facility. Investigations can also stem from a complaint or reported incident.
Responding to the coronavirus outbreak, the facility has enhanced its infection prevention protocols, Kramer said. That includes restricting non-medically necessary visits, screening employees and residents for symptoms and high temperatures, avoiding group activities when possible, and communicating with local and state health officials. Ownership has ensured that there is enough personal protective equipment.
“We are absolutely committed to protecting the well-being and safety of our residents and ensuring that every resident continues to receive exceptional care and attention during this trying time,” Kramer said.
State health officials revoked Solorzano’s nursing home administrator license in May 2019 because she provided fraudulent college transcripts in applying for the license, according to a revocation letter provided to The Chronicle. An administrator license is needed to serve as an administrator at a nursing home, but it is not required to own such facilities.
The Orinda Care Center LLC, owned by Solorzano, is licensed to operate the facility. Solorzano’s other Bay Area nursing homes include Lake Merritt Healthcare Center in Oakland and Redwood Healthcare Center in Oakland.
Kramer disputed that the license was revoked and said Solorzano is scheduled for an appeals proceeding in September. Kramer said Solorzano has requested the state retract the letter of revocation because it is “inaccurate.”
“This is about Ms. Solorzano’s due process rights, and we plan to present information on or before that date fully exonerating Ms. Solorzano,” Kramer said.
Solorzano applied last year to operate three other California long-term care facilities, including one in San Jose, but was denied in December by the state Public Health after officials reviewed “whether the applicant is of reputable and responsible character.”
Officials cited the revoked license as one reason why Solorzano’s applications were denied. Solorzano appealed the denials and is waiting for a response from the state, Kramer said.
“The original license denials claim that Crystal Solorzano’s license was revoked. That is a false statement and is being used as a basis to deny the facility license applications, which we believe invalidates the original denials,” Kramer said.
Another reason for finding Solorzano unfit to operate more facilities was a review of violations at her other facilities in the past three years. Officials found 97 federal regulatory violations above a certain severity level and 46 citations for state licensing violations during the same time period, according to the denial letter. Her facilities also received three administrative penalties for failure to comply with minimum staffing requirements.
Those violations include one facility, the Healthcare Center of Orange County, where residents were allowed to smoke near patients on oxygen. Another facility associated with Solorzano through a management operations and transfer agreement, the Asistensia Villa Rehabilitation and Care Center in Redlands (San Bernardino County), served food that had been stored at unsafe temperatures for three days, according to the denial letter. At Lake Merritt Healthcare Center in Oakland, faulty wiring sparked beneath a resident’s bed, burning a hole in the floor, causing a power outage in three rooms and creating the potential for fire, state documents said.
At Griffith Park Healthcare Center in Glendale (Los Angeles County), owned in part by Solorzano since 2014, a resident was raped by a certified nursing assistant in February 2019, officials wrote. The resident was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after experiencing suicidal thoughts and fear.
In another incident cited in the state’s denial letter, a nurse at a San Bernardino nursing home owned by Solorzano failed to report that a resident fell in March 2017. The resident was diagnosed with a hip fracture six days later. A nurse failed to report another accident that left a resident with a fractured femur that was not diagnosed for nine days, officials wrote.
“Residents of nursing homes Solorzano owns or operates have been repeatedly subjected to extreme abuse and neglect that has been voluminously documented by the state,” said Connors, the nursing home advocate. “Operators that routinely expose residents to such horrific mistreatment should not be in the nursing home business.”
Connors said he thinks the state health department is to blame for problems at nursing homes because the screening process for operators is “broken.”
In a statement, a department spokesman said: “The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has taken, and will continue to take, every action within our legal authority to safeguard residents, investigate licensure violations, and ensure violations are immediately remedied.”
Anna Bauman is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org