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Violations amassing for owner of nursing homes

The biggest nursing home operator across the state, Shlomo Rechnitz, is under fire and is being held to answer for a number of regulatory violations following state inspections.

Rechnitz and his company, Brius Healthcare Services, now in control of one out of every 14 nursing home beds in California, was the subject of an investigative story by The Sacramento Bee, which was reprinted in the June 14 edition of The Fresno Bee.

A 43-year-old Los Angeles entrepreneur and philanthropist, Rechnitz owns 81 nursing facilities across California, including the Oakhurst Healthcare & Wellness Centre.

This center is a skilled nursing facility, with 66 beds. The overall state rating shows the facility at below average, with two out of five stars for 2015. There were 10 complaints last year, and this year, there have been two so far - complaint of a call bell not being answered in a timely manner on March 9, and complaint of a resident not being groomed adequately on Jan. 8.

The Oakhurst facility also received below average in health inspections (two stars), and much below average in quality measures (one star), which is based on resident assessment data that shows how well the nursing home cares for resident’s needs.

A former employee of the Oakhurst facility, who asked to remain anonymous, believes Oakhurst Healthcare & Wellness Centre is understaffed to the detriment of those living there.

However, this is the area the facility scored highest, receiving five stars, based on the nursing home’s staffing hours for RNs, LPNs, LVNs, and CNAs. Current state law requires 3.2 nursing hours per patient per day at nursing homes, and in 2011, the Oakhurst facility was fined $15,000 for not meeting this requirement.

The five star ranking system is based on on-site Medicare inspection results from the last three years, with only the most recent data used in calculations, and weighing heavier than past results.

Oakhurst Healthcare & Wellness Center Administrator Stepan Sarmazian declined comment, and Rechnitz was unavailable for comment for this story. However, an outside public relations spokesperson said, “The facility has made measurable strides in improving quality care in the last year, with complaints dropping to two so far this year, from 10 last year, and none pertaining to the quality of patient care.”

“Our deficiencies have dropped from the double digits in previous years to two in 2015 because of operational and procedural changes aimed at improving patient care,” she added. “There have been no state enforcement actions taken this year. We continue to look for ways to make Oakhurst a top-performing facility by all measures, but in particular, in delivering quality care.”

Archie Macaulay has been visiting his wife, Carol, every day at the center for the past two years. While he wishes she could come back home with him, he believes she is in good hands.

“She gets pretty good care, there,” Macaulay said, “and the food is good. She has minor complaints about little stuff, but it’s always been taken care of. I really like that the residents have a meeting every week with upper management to voice their concerns, and generally those concerns are addressed.”

Macaulay added that he has seen quite a turn-over in staff, but most have gone on to other places, like hospitals or the Veteran’s Administration.

According to Corey Egel with the California Department of Health Office of Public Affairs, the Oakhurst facility does not have any pending citations, and was last fined $2,000 for a patient care issue in 2013.

The last certification inspection of this facility was Nov. 12, 2014, when the center was found to be in compliance.

Wish-I-Ah Healthcare & Wellness Centre near Auberry was a second Central Valley nursing facility owned by Rechnitz. Following an 81-page report listing numerous health hazards there, the state suspended the facility’s license in November 2014. Rechnitz then made the decision to voluntarily close the nursing home, rather than make additional repairs and upgrades required by regulators.

In the Bee piece, Rechnitz said it would cost more than $3.5 million to make the repairs, that he had already made many improvements to Wish-I-Ah, and that inspectors would say, “But, then there’s this problem ... then there’s that problem.”

Among the homes Rechnitz owned during the entire year of 2014, inspectors found 33 serious deficiencies, problems causing actual harm or immediate jeopardy to patients, according to the Sacramento Bee. That is about five serious deficiencies per 1,000 nursing home beds, more than double the average of California nursing homes owned by other chains or individuals.

Reichnitz maintained that some of these findings were based on faulty data from the Department of Public Health.

The Bee also found that many of the facilities purchased by Rechnitz did have serious problems at time of purchase, with none coming with the five-star rating from the federal government. As of this month, eight of those 57 facilities had received five stars.

According to Rechnitz, he is in the business of purchasing troubled facilities and turning them around. Of the 81 nursing homes he has acquired, 59 were considered “distressed” at time of purchase.

For nursing home complaints, rankings, and surveys, see HFCIS.

NOTE: The Sacramento Bee story, in its entirety, can be seen at sacramentobee.com.

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