Lawsuit alleges 'patient dumping' at San Jose care facility

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A new lawsuit alleges that a San Jose nursing facility illegally discharged two residents into the streets without any notice or medical clearance from a doctor, while they were both suffering from debilitating medical conditions.   

The suit, filed last week in Santa Clara County Superior Court, claims Courtyard Care Center follows an unlawful policy of refusing to issue discharge notices and bypassing other resident protections in order to make money. 

“When a facility believes it can replace the resident with someone who will pay more, is less of a payment risk, or requires less staff time to care for, facilities illegally discharge residents,” the complaint states.   

In the case of the two residents discharged into the streets, Anita Willis spent two days at a motel and was then homeless until she was taken to the hospital for emergency surgery. Resident Karen Mou was unable to walk or take care of herself after her unexpected discharge from the care facility and was temporarily homeless. 

Courtyard Care Center is part of a nursing facility chain owned by Sava Senior Care. Annaliese Impink, a spokeswoman for the care center, said the company was made aware of the lawsuit Monday and is in the process of investigating the matter. 

“We cannot comment specifically regarding these two residents due to state and federal privacy laws.  According to our initial review, we see no merit to the allegations,’’ Impink said in an emailed statement. “We continue to focus on the care and services we provide to the residents we have the privilege to serve and we thank all of our staff for their diligence and commitment. We also thank the San Jose community for their support and loyalty.” 

Under state and federal laws, skilled nursing facilities must follow discharge procedures designed to protect residents, including providing residents with a 30-day written notice in advance of the discharge.

The facilities are required to inform residents in writing of their rights to appeal the discharge decision, and must notify the local ombudsman, whose job it is to help advocate for residents and explain their rights.

The suit claims the Sava facilities violate those requirements.

“Residents have many legal protections against being dumped,’’ said the plaintiffs’ attorney Matthew Borden of BraunHagey & Borden. “But when facilities violate the notice requirements, nobody can protect the residents, and all their substantive rights, like their right to have a doctor determine whether they should be discharged in the first place, disappear.”

The suit seeks to stop all the Sava facilities in California from illegally dumping residents as well as statutory damages.

The suit comes as state Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, has introduced a bill in the California State Senate to curb the practice known as 'patient dumping.'

 “I believe the way we treat our most vulnerable communities is a reflection on our society as a whole. Our homeless community deserves compassion, dignity and respect,” said Sen. Hernandez, chair of the Senate Health Committee.

The bill would:

  • Require hospitals to have a discharge planning policy and process specifically for homeless patients, and to develop a plan for coordinating services and referrals for homeless patients with the county behavioral health agency, as well as providers and social services agencies in the region. 
  • Prohibit discharging patients to any place other than the location identified by the patient as where they live, unless it is to another licensed facility or to a social services provider that has agreed to accept the patient.
  • Require the homeless discharge policies to include a number of protections for homeless patients, such as ensuring the patient is clothed appropriately, has had a recent meal, and has a source of follow-up care, among other requirements.