Published in: Santa Monica Daily Post

WISE & Healthy Aging, a nonprofit headquartered in Santa Monica, tipped off Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer that a nursing home in Westlake was improperly discharging homeless and mentally-impaired residents, resulting in a $600,000 settlement that Feuer announced Friday.

Molly Davies, a vice president at WISE, said the organization received hundreds of complaints about Lakeview Terrace Skilled Nursing Facility, most of which alleged that the nursing home released residents onto the street, locked them out at night or neglected their care. The City Attorney’s Office prosecuted Lakeview for patient dumping, which is illegal in Los Angeles and a major priority for Feuer. His office has settled eight cases of patient dumping since 2013.

Lakeview will have to hire a director to discharge homeless residents to housing and an independent monitor to oversee its operations for two years. It will also disperse $50,000 to cover housing costs for residents who were improperly discharged and pay $200,000 in civil penalties.

“I am hopeful that this settlement will bring about real and lasting change to this facility,” said Grace Cheng Braun, WISE’s president and CEO. “Beyond that, I hope it will motivate other facilities to review their own practices and procedures and make any necessary changes in how they deliver care.”

Feuer publicly thanked Davies for the role she and WISE played in the multi-year investigation into Lakeview. As vice president of elder abuse prevention and ombudsman services, she tried referring the facility to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and advising its executive staff before going to the City Attorney’s Office.

“We found the same issues coming up time and time again,” Davies said. “We referred the complaints to Public Health and the behavior wouldn’t change. We saw individuals hospitalized after being dumped on the street.”

The county has aggressively prosecuted hospitals for dumping homeless patients on the street without a place to go and Davies said the problem is also pervasive in nursing homes.

“It’s not just this facility, we’re seeing this in other skilled nursing facilities … (they) view homeless individuals as if no one wants them, and believe if they take them and discharge them, they should be happy with what they get,” she said. “This settlement makes a statement that the industry is not going to stand for someone who needs additional assistance or is homeless being put on the curb anymore.”

The county, the nursing home industry and organizations like WISE are still developing alternatives to patient dumping that can be put into widespread practice, however. At Lakeview, a new director will offer homeless residents housing and fund temporary housing for those who cannot afford it. The director will also invite governmental agencies to assist homeless residents in securing social services before discharging them.

A monitor will make sure the director and other staff are complying with the City Attorney’s orders – and understand the root cause of Lakeview’s problems.

Jerry Seelig, who will oversee the facility for two years, said nursing homes often struggle to hire trained staff or put staff in positions that they are unqualified for. Nurses and administrators often avoid working in nursing homes because the pay is typically lower than it would be in a hospital and there are fewer opportunities for advancement, Seelig said.

“You’ll see a failure to staff properly with trained people and a lack of willingness to look at mistakes,” he said.