Pasadena rejects evacuated nursing home’s requests for leniency

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By Bradley Bermont, Pasadena Star-News, July 20 2020

The Golden Cross Heath Care facility as it was evacuated because the operators were failing to provide even the most basic health services at Golden Cross Health Care in Pasadena on Friday, June 12, 2020. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

The facility was evacuated in June and had its license suspended

A Pasadena nursing home, Golden Cross Health Care, is fighting to keep its operating license by trying to enlist Pasadena’s help, but city officials say they’re having none of it.

The facility was evacuated in June and had its license suspended when state investigators — after weeks of prodding from Pasadena officials — discovered the nursing home didn’t provide even the most basic level of care for some residents. They also found problems with the facility’s infection control practices in the height of a pandemic.

According to statements from Pasadena officials and emails acquired by this newsgroup, lobbyists for the company approached the city’s executives last week, requesting letters of support in an upcoming state hearing which could put the nursing home out of business permanently.

Lawyers for Golden Cross did not respond to emails from this newsgroup.

Pasadena officials didn’t even know there was an upcoming hearing until Tracey Chavira, a lobbyist from Los Angeles-based Veritas, called city executives asking for their support, according to emails acquired by this newsgroup.

While Chavira confirmed to this newsgroup that she was working with Golden Cross, she declined to comment and would not discuss or verify the conversations recalled by city officials.

In a statement, City Manager Steve Mermell described his conversation with Chavira: “The consultant wanted to know the city’s position on the facility,” he wrote. She specifically asked if the city would like to see the facility continue to operate, Mermell recalled, and questioned if Pasadena needed the beds, given rising coronavirus caseloads.

In response to Mermell’s statement, Chavira had no comment.

Mermell continued: “I made it clear to her that, based on the owners’ egregious violations, any settlement that left them in place was not acceptable to the city and, moreover, based on our over-concentration of skilled nursing facilities in the city, we did not need the beds.

“I encouraged her to explore our updated general plan to see what other higher and better uses there may be for the property,” Mermell said.

Officials were not happy about this phone call.

Upon hearing about the call, Assistant City Manager Nicholas Rodriguez fired off an email to the Los Angeles County Office of the Inspector General, saying the city only “learned about the hearing because lobbyists for Golden Cross contacted city executives.”

He added in no uncertain terms: “The support for Golden Cross will not be forthcoming as the city supports the revocation.”

The county department’s mission is to “promote constitutional policing and the fair and impartial administration of justice,” and it reports directly to the county Board of Supervisors. Its role has recently been expanded to oversee skilled nursing homes.

Rodriguez questioned why the city wasn’t called for testimony, but Inspector General Max Huntsman said his office didn’t have anything to do with the hearing, though officials there may monitor it.

Rodriguez replied, saying he hoped the Inspector General’s Office would watch the proceedings so it could take note of the regulatory system’s successes or “more likely, another example of system failure.”

While the hearing was originally scheduled for last week and slated to be a two-day event, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Public Health said it had been pushed back until late August — and expanded to 10 days.

Regardless of when it takes place, Golden Cross won’t be getting the stamp of approval from any of Pasadena’s officials, according to statements provided to this newsgroup.

Interim Fire Chief Bryan Frieders, who helped investigate the facility and was onsite when it was evacuated, said he was “gravely concerned that a facility with a proven track record of blatant negligence and a willful defiance” to health officer orders and infectious disease protocols “could ever operate again in this city.”

The city’s top health official, Dr. Ying-Ying Goh, stressed the number of resources committed by the city, state and county to get the facility to comply, yet Golden Cross still fell short.

She noted the facility had seen 104 cases among residents and staff and 11 resident deaths. The figures are “among the highest” in Pasadena nursing homes, she said in a statement.

“Change of operator does not change ownership, and ownership was fundamentally responsible for the failure,” Goh said, referring to Chavira’s suggestion the owners could shift management companies to stay in business.

While it’s difficult to trace how many nursing homes these owners have, a review of public records and lawsuits filed in civil court — including one ownership dispute in 2010 — indicate there may be numerous facilities across the state, including at least one shut down years ago.

Mermell’s statement said the owners shouldn’t be allowed to keep this facility after violating health officer orders “and were untruthful with our health department.”

Without even entering the building, Mermell said he himself witnessed the nursing home staff violate health department rules around personal protective equipment — a major problem identified in the state’s investigation. That scrutiny was prompted by city officials after weeks of complaints.

But none of the officials came out swinging as hard as Rodriguez, who railed against systemic failures in the state’s nursing home oversight scheme, lashing out against Pasadena’s exclusion from the hearing process.

“It goes to show how broken the system (is) when the local authority is not an integral part of the part of the decision-making,” he wrote in a statement, expressing hope the newly appointed Los Angeles County nursing home inspector might be able to fix a broken system.

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