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California Nursing Home Evictions On The Rise

MOUNTAIN VIEW (CBS 5) -- Nursing homes are supposed to be safe havens for the elderly and the disabled. But a growing number are giving some residents the boot.

It usually happens at a most vulnerable time, when the resident has to go to the emergency room. Some are calling it the "hospital dump."

It happened to Patricia Jimno in May, when she got an infection after knee replacement surgery.

The nursing home she was recovering in, Grant Cuesta Sub-Acute Rehab Center in Mountain View sent her to El Camino Hospital for emergency treatment.

But a few days later when the hospital was ready to discharge her, she said the rehab center told her they couldn't take her back. Jimno said they told her friend, "We no longer want her things here, they are going to be put out on the street. I was a bit confused because I didn't do anything."

Jimno had a right to be confused. California law states nursing homes have to save a bed for seven days if a resident needs to go to the hospital. And Jimno was ready to come back well within that time. At a state hearing, a judge even ruled the nursing home had to readmit her. But she still wasn't allowed back in.

"It's probably been the number one area of concern," says Tony Chicotel, an attorney with California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

Chicotel said nursing home evictions are getting more common, especially for patients on Medi-Cal, which has the lowest re-imbursement rate.

"There's roughly 75 to 90 hearings per year. My guess is for every one hearing there's at least ten, maybe twenty, thirty residents who are essentially dumped," Chicotel said.

He said nursing homes routinely ignore the law and the state isn't doing anything about it.

Part of the problem according to Chicotel: Patients are tossed between two separate agencies, ironically working out of the same building in Sacramento, with neither taking full responsibility.

"The Department of Health Care Services conducts the fair hearings. And they say well were not really involved in enforcement," said Chicotel. "But the Department of Public Health which is charged with enforcing nursing homes laws says well we're not really a party to the fair hearing so were not bound by them."

"It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz and the scarecrow where the fingers are pointing in both directions," said Marianne Cunningham. Her mother Hazel Walsh lived in Golden Gate Health Center in San Francisco for seven years. But suddenly last winter after a brief hospital visit that nursing home too told her she couldn't come back.

"What surprised me more was that there were beds available in the facility," she said.

The family followed protocol and appealed. At a hearing a judge ruled in her mother's favor.

"I was ecstatic. I thought we were finally on our way," Cunningham said. But then nothing happened. Nine months later Walsh still doesn't have her bed back.

"The agency responsible to protect the health and safety of our most vulnerable citizens in this state like my mom, turned their back on them," said Cunningham.

CBS 5 took their concerns to Al Lundeen at the Department of Public Health. When asked why the judge's ruling was ignored, he said, "Ultimately if they are not abiding by the law we have the ability to issue citations,"

But according to the state's own data, citations are uncommon. From 2002-2008, there were 218 hearings regarding nursing home evictions. Residents won 147 of them. But the Department of Public Health issued only 40 citations.

Lundeen insists his Department is doing everything it can under the law.

So what happened in the Walsh and Jimno cases? Walsh's nursing home got cited and fined a total of $700. Marianne's mother was eventually pushed out of the hospital she was in, to a nursing home far away from her family in Hayward.

"She lost friends of 50 years that she would see on a regular basis. Anything possible that made her happy was taken away in one fell swoop," Cunningham said.

As for Jimno, after 3 months her case is still under investigation, while she lies in the hospital waiting. "I just don't understand how they could do that to me," she said.

Jimno's rehab center told CBS 5 they can't comment on the case for privacy reasons. Walsh's nursing home said they held a bed in compliance with state regulations but the family turned it down, which the family denies.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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