Close-up of American Dollar banknotes with stethoscope

A central California nursing home has made enough improvements to staffing and operations to drop the fines levied by law enforcement agencies by $200,000 and wrap up a lawsuit brought by state regulators. 

Heart & Hands, a post-acute care and rehabilitation center in Santa Cruz, CA, entered into a stipulated agreement with the Santa Cruz County District Attorney and the state Department of Justice that reduces its civil fines for violations of patient safety from $250,000 to $50,000, according to a local report. The facility was accused of violating safe patient discharge laws, failing to provide adequate staffing, and causing an “inordinate amount of emergency calls.”

The facility will have to pay $52,584 in investigation costs and will operate under court-ordered terms and independent monitoring for at least two more years, according to a statement from the office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta. 

Investigators found that staff had “discharged” residents by calling law enforcement to conduct evictions. Residents with “difficult” diagnoses such as dementia and substance abuse issues who were challenging to care for were also sometimes illegally discharged, Bonta said.

Investigators also found that law enforcement agents were being used to manage residents’ behavior since there weren’t enough staff. But even residents who were properly discharged were sometimes sent to “temporary shelters or unlicensed ‘board and care’ homes that were not equipped to meet the residents’ needs,” according to the Attorney General. So-called “patient dumping” has long been a concern and a target of both regulators and advocacy groups in California.

The investigation began in 2018, and the lawsuit was filed a year later, accusing Hearts & Hands of violating the state’s unfair competition and false advertising laws. During three years of monitoring, the facility made “significant changes and progress in its operations and compliance,” the AG’s statement said. The nursing home also voluntarily agreed to give full access to personnel records to an independent monitor; calls to law enforcement have dropped while staffing is at an adequate level. Hearts & Hands also hired a new administrator, authorities noted. 

A woman who answered the phone at the facility Monday morning said she was not able to transfer the call to the administrator’s office due to meetings, nor was she “authorized” to provide a correct email address for comment. An email sent by McKnights Long-Term Care News to the address on the facility’s website was returned as undeliverable.