Nursing Homes Lobby Newsom for Immunity to Lawsuits Over Virus

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Natalie Brunell, Spectrum 1 News,  April 30 2020

LOS ANGELES — It’s painful enough Zach Sarnoff wasn’t able to say goodbye to his grandfather, who passed away this April after contracting coronavirus.

He wishes he could have seen him one more time.

“He was a very generous person, a kind-hearted, honest person. He went the extra mile to help people where he could,” Sarnoff said. But he can’t help feeling that his grandfather’s death could have been prevented.

What You Need To Know

  • Boarding and care at Silverado Beverly Place cost more than $14,000 per month.
  • Albert Sarnoff was among 9 at the facility who lost their lives to coronavirus.  
  • An executive order could extend broad immunity to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
  • In L.A. County alone, more than 40 percent of deaths were connected to nursing homes.

At 94 years old, Albert Sarnoff, was a resident Silverado Beverly Place, an upscale assisted living community for those suffering with dementia. Sarnoff’s family said boarding and care there cost more than $14,000 per month.

On March 19, a new resident was admitted to the facility. Days later, that resident began showing symptoms of COVID-19 and was taken to the hospital where a test for the virus came back positive.

“It was pure greed. They were willing to risk people’s lives so they could get a new resident in to pay money,” Sarnoff said.

Silverado Beverly Place was suddenly in midst of an outbreak with several staff members and residents coming down with COVID-19. Before long, several turned into dozens.

Albert Sarnoff was among nine people at Silverado Beverly Place who lost their lives to coronavirus.  

“They let a new resident move in from New York on the 19th, the person who had the virus and ultimately spread it. That’s where I think they should be held liable,” Zach Sarnoff said.  

Sarnoff’s family has been talking with attorneys about their options.  

But they are anxious because Governor Gavin Newsom is considering an executive order that would extend broad immunity to nursing homes and assisted living facilities from being sued for situations like the Sarnoff family experienced.  

The lobbying arm behind the request is a powerful one that includes some of the state’s largest health care organizations. Currently at least six states have passed similar immunity orders.

“We think it would be a catastrophe if the governor signed it,” said Mike Dark, a staff attorney for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR).  

CANHR is a nonprofit that champions the elderly in long-term care facilities and is hoping to persuade Newsom not to sign the executive order.  

“It would immunize even conduct which is knowingly dangerous like when staff abandons a facility in the midst of the crisis like we saw at Magnolia in Riverside. It would potentially immunize conduct like knowingly bringing in a patient with contagious COVID to make money on that admission while putting your other patients at risk,” Dark said.

Dark’s organization has been investigating the nursing home industry for decades and raised concerns about how these facilities have been responding to the crisis. He said nursing homes also have a financial incentive to bring in patients with the virus who ultimately endanger the other residents and staff.

“This is sort of the ugly underbelly of the health care system,” Dark said. “If a coronavirus [patient] is discharged from an acute hospital into a nursing facility, that patient will be most likely covered under Medicare. And the Medicare reimbursement for that patient is probably somewhere in the order of $800 a day. That is as compared to the $200 a day these facilities get for patients who are getting Medi-Cal. So put simply, there’s a financial incentive for nursing homes to accept patients with the virus who could put the other residents are terrible risk or kill them.”

Spectrum News 1 asked Governor Newsom’s office to comment on the status of the order but we were turned down.

Dark also raised concerns about the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths at skilled nursing and assisted living facilities across the state.

In L.A. County alone, more than 40 percent of deaths were connected to nursing homes. But Dark thinks those numbers are likely underreported.

The rule is that nursing homes must disclose how many virus cases and deaths they have to county and state health agencies. But Dark says the reality is that there is no one to enforce that rule. Inspections by regulators have been put on hold due to the pandemic, which means that the facilities are self-reporting the data.

“We’re living in a third world nation in California in the 21st century.” “The real problem is we know the information is unreliable and contradictory and it would embarrass them for the information to get out,” Dark said. “We’re living in a third world nation in California in the 21st century.”

But the nursing home industry that’s pushing for the immunity order disagrees.

The California Association of Health Facilities, which is among the groups lobbying for the executive order, shared this statement with Spectrum News 1:

Skilled nursing facilities have been on the front lines of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and have suffered from a lack of access to testing and personal protective equipment, diminished nurse staffing and inconsistent directives from county, state and federal agencies. We are seeking baseline protection from the expected surge in litigation that will inevitably engage in the second-guessing of caregivers seeking to do their best under impossible circumstances.

This is not the first time the nursing homes have sought immunity from litigation.

Dark says some of the facilities his organization has investigated have a track record of violations, elder abuse, and concerns over infection control.

In a quick search for Silverado Beverly Place on the California Department of Social Services website, we found 20 citations over the last five years at the facility, including 14 “Type A” citations.

According to CDSS, Type A refers to the most serious type of violations in which there is an immediate risk to the health, safety, or personal rights of those in care.  

“I’m hoping Silverado was the most egregious case of letting this spread unnecessarily but I suspect it probably was not,” said Sarnoff.

A spokesman for Silverado, an Irvine-based company that runs more than a dozen upscale assisted living facilities across the country, including Beverly Place, said the facility had no access to testing when it admitted the new patient in March.

Public health records show the facility has more than 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with at least nine deaths.

Silverado sent Spectrum News 1 the following statement:

Our hearts go out to the families who have lost a loved one to this virus, those dealing with someone who is battling through it, and those worried about how it will affect their family. We are humbled every day by the professionalism and dedication our nurses and caregivers continue to show our residents and their families throughout this ordeal.

These are unprecedented times, and like so many other essential healthcare organizations, we are reviewing the latest information available to us each day and adjusting our standard operating procedures as needed based on how this virus is spreading and how it presents itself.

Unlike others who can close their businesses during this pandemic to reduce risk, as specialized memory care communities, we must face the risk head-on so that we continue to fulfill our responsibility to our residents, all of whom are living with memory impairing illnesses. We continue operating with care and compassion each day so that we may continue to serve the families and residents who rely on us.

Sarnoff is furious the company accepted an incoming resident who hadn’t been tested by local or New York authorities for the virus and he worries profits outweighed patient protection. Silverado’s CFO was quoted in published reports saying the company had a revenue of $350 million in 2019.

“That’s purely it. That’s the only reason to let people in and it’s just disgraceful,” Sarnoff said. “I don’t see how any family could send their loved one there in their right mind.”

Watch the full interview with Mike Dark, attorney for CANHR: