Sun Healthcare Group Agrees to Improve Patient Care at Nursing Homes
Sun Healthcare Group Inc., California's largest nursing home chain, will make court-ordered improvements to its facilities in order to settle criminal and civil allegations of elder abuse brought by Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D), the Sacramento Bee reports. Statewide, Sun manages 80 nursing homes with approximately 8,000 patients. The allegations against the company were brought by the attorney general's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse in response to state licensing citations for poor care (Teichert, Sacramento Bee, 10/5). Sun's California facilities had been cited 127 times in the past four years for "substandard" patient care. Patients reportedly suffered from bedsores and malnourishment, and one resident died during a heat wave in June 2000 (Quach, Orange County Register, 10/5). Sun agreed in the settlement to increase staffing, provide better training for caregivers and allow increased security by state investigators (Sacramento Bee, 10/5). The settlement also calls for the company to create a system in which the facilities "can be continually monitored" by the Justice Department (Orange County Register, 10/5). The company will spend $2 million annually to monitor the reforms. Although no fines were negotiated in the settlement, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Lockyer can "enter court and demand $6,000 fines for each violation" at the company's facilities if improvements are not made (Salladay, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/5). Violations could also prompt government officials to bar Sun from receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements, which constitute 80% of the company's revenue (Orange County Register, 10/5).
Lockyer said yesterday that the case marks the first time that a national nursing home chain has been prosecuted in California for poor patient care (AP/New York Times, 10/4). "The message is simple. No more excuses. We can't have these kinds of conditions persist," Lockyer said (Sacramento Bee, 10/5). The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Sun case "represents a significant shift in how nursing homes are penalized and monitored by the state." Although the state Department of Health Services typically inspects and fines homes "until they comply," the settlement "gives the attorney general a legal hammer that he can continually hold over SunBridge" (San Francisco Chronicle, 10/5).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.