San Francisco sues federal authorities over Laguna Honda hospital closure following affected person deaths
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The city of San Francisco announced Thursday that it is suing the federal government over its decision to stop funding Laguna Honda Hospital and force the nursing home to move all patients out of the facility by September. 13.
The lawsuit was filed Wednesday against the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Minister Xavier Becerra. It is alleged that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), operating under HHS, have forced the city to implement an unworkable closure and patient transfer plan that is putting them at risk and denying the city’s due process.
In April, CMS terminated Laguna Honda’s participation in its Medicare/Medicaid programs after the hospital was found to be non-compliant with multiple safety inspections, including finding contraband items such as drug paraphernalia on site and failing to comply with hand hygiene, documentation, and infection prevention protocols.
As a result of the decertification, the hospital lost federal funds that funded more than two-thirds of its services to nearly 700 patients with complex medical needs and low incomes.
The federal government also ordered the facility to reduce its patient population, and the hospital transferred several dozen patients over 10 weeks. At least four patients reportedly died within days of being relocated, including three who were taken to homeless shelters. A total of nine patients died within days or weeks of being transferred or discharged, according to prosecutor David Chiu.
Laguna Honda last week halted referrals for the remaining 600 patients following the deaths.
The complaint alleges that CMS set an arbitrary deadline for patient transfers to September 13 and is asking that it be closed before the city’s appeals can be decided, which could render the transfers unnecessary.
In a press release, Chiu said a second class action lawsuit against the state of California and the federal government, filed by former prosecutor Louise Renne, alleges the closure and transfer process violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and denies patients and their families a proper due Procedure .
“The federal government has placed Laguna Honda and our city in an impossible situation,” Chiu said in a prepared statement. “As the last safety net for many of our most vulnerable San Franciscans, Laguna Honda serves a need too critical to be shut down by an arbitrary, bureaucratic decision. The city has been forced into an unworkable plan of closure and relocation that has done far more harm than good.”
The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to overturn the September 13 deadline and extend federal funding to Laguna Honda at least until appeals can be decided and all patients can be safely transferred or discharged.
“We are working hard to address issues that have been raised at Laguna Honda and this important work continues,” Mayor London Breed said in a prepared statement. “But closing this facility and forcing residents and families to endure the trauma of transfers should not be part of this process. This facility provides care and support to some of the most vulnerable people in our city, and that support must continue to keep them healthy and safe.”
“For over 150 years, the San Franciscos have relied on Laguna Honda to provide critical care to our most vulnerable,” Renne said in a prepared statement. “We simply cannot allow Laguna Honda to close. The actions of CMS and the California Department of Health and Human Services are illegal, unnecessary and cruel.
Theresa Rutherford, the President-elect of SEIU 1021 and longtime Board Certified Nursing Assistant at Laguna Honda Hospital, released the following statement in response to the lawsuits announcement:
“Laguna Honda Hospital is more than just a hospital, it is a long-term home for many. Keeping patients at Laguna Honda, where they will have one of the most unique and comprehensive care services in this country, must be a priority for us as a community and for elected officials at all levels. We support patients and families campaigning to stop the closure because we know it will save lives.
We understand how stressful and scary the past few months have been for staff and patients alike. Transfer trauma is a real danger to the people we serve, which is why our union is doing everything it can to get Laguna Honda Hospital recertified. We encourage community members to join us by contacting their elected leaders at all levels and asking them to join us.”
In May, Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to Becerra asking that CMS’s decision to end Laguna Honda’s participation in its programs and force the relocation of its vulnerable patients be reversed.
“Unless CMS reverses its decision, these patients would be put at risk again if they were transferred to other facilities,” Feinstein said in a statement last month. “This is of particular concern after reports of some patients being sent to homeless shelters that were ill-equipped to provide the necessary medical services.”
The hospital remains open and licensed as it continues to work to rejoin federal programs.