Back in April, almost all of the nursing homes in Humboldt County were taken over by a new operator, owned by unspecified investors and a Los Angeles man named Shlomo Rechnitz.
The arrangement allowed the previous owner/operator to sidestep a monitoring agreement that was part of settling a huge class action lawsuit over understaffing.
Instead of submitting to two years of special supervision of staffing levels, as the settlement required, Skilled Healthcare Group Inc. leased its five Humboldt County nursing homes to Rechnitz and his allies, who locally call themselves Brius. (Other Rechnitz properties elsewhere use other names.)
And guess what? Everybody involved says Brius doesn't have to undergo that monitoring.
All this switching around came after a 2010 jury verdict that concluded Skilled had understaffed 22 California homes so badly it should pay $677 million. Now Skilled still owns its five Humboldt homes, but Brius operates them, paying Skilled rent.
Meanwhile, since the Journal began reporting on the new operator last summer, top administrators at two Brius homes have left, and the state has released new details on problems with care.
Brius has passed its state surveys made public so far, doing nothing that seriously endangered residents' health, according to California regulators. But it's not all valentines and roses in those state reports. Among the findings from June inspections: Call lights were not being answered promptly at Pacific Rehabilitation & Wellness; an occupational therapy staffer at Granada Rehabilitation & Wellness stood by and said nothing while a resident repeatedly pointed out how difficult and painful it was to use exercise equipment without proper shoes; residents went days without their scheduled showers at Eureka Rehabilitation & Wellness, and medications were not monitored properly at Fortuna Rehabilitation & Wellness. Brius executive Brad Gibson declined to talk about the findings, although he did say he would consider questions submitted in writing.
Meanwhile, Thomas Burns of Arcata, whose sister spent her final years at Eureka Rehabilitation & Wellness, told the Journal earlier this month that he was "shocked" by the abrupt departure in October of Mary Johnson, the home's widely praised administrator. Johnson improved staff morale, lowered turnover and was always responsive, Burns said.
Johnson, who has since taken a job managing a nursing home in Lake County, said she was mystified by her firing, but it did come after ongoing conflicts over admissions. She said she had balked at taking on patients who didn't belong in a nursing home or might put others at risk.
Roger Endert, former administrator at Seaview, left in late summer over what he described as "differences in philosophies." He declined to provide details, but said, "I care very deeply about those residents and my staff. ... They deserve everything I was able to give them, and I wish I could have given them more." Endert has accepted a job running a nursing home near Bend, Oregon.
Gibson had no comment on the departures.
-- Carrie Peyton Dahlberg