San Francisco halts patient transfers, discharges at Laguna Honda Hospital

Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco has halted transfers for its remaining 600 patients following deaths that occurred after their relocation and unsatisfactory placements.

San Francisco Department of Public Health announced Thursday that federal regulators agreed to the city's urgent request to pause all transfers at Laguna Honda Hospital. The hospital will continue to work toward recertification in the Medicare and Medicaid provider participation programs.

In April, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) terminated Laguna Honda's participation in its Medicare/Medicaid programs after the hospital was found out of compliance on multiple safety inspections, including finding contraband like drug paraphernalia on site, and failure to adhere to hand hygiene, documentation and infection prevention protocols.

As a result of being decertified, the hospital lost federal funding that financed more than two-thirds of its services for about 700 patients with complex medical needs and low income.

Since the federal government required that the facility wind down its patient population, Laguna Honda transferred 57 out of 681 patients in 10 weeks as of last Sunday, according to the hospital's weekly dashboard. At least four patients were reportedly dead within a few days after their relocation. Three were sent to homeless shelters.

"This is an extremely challenging time for our community of residents and their families, our staff and all those who care about Laguna Honda Hospital," city public health officials said in Thursday's announcement. "The transfer and discharge of residents has been challenging as many have complex healthcare needs."

"No other city in the nation has made the commitment San Francisco has made for a public skilled nursing facility to serve its most vulnerable residents. (Thursday's) agreement to halt all patient discharges and transfers will allow the dedicated Laguna Honda staff to focus on caring for patients and not moving them," said SFDPH director Dr. Grant Colfax.

CMS, the California Department of Public Health and the California Department of Health Care Services all agreed with the decision to halt transfers and discharges.   However, the hospital's future remains unclear as it continues to work on rejoining the federal programs.

"We are ready and willing to confront any and all challenges we have to make Laguna Honda work, but that commitment should not conflict with the care we have provided for so many for so many years," said Mayor London Breed.

In May, Sen. Dianne Feinstein wrote a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra asking to reverse the CMS decision to terminate Laguna Honda's participation in its programs and force the relocation of its vulnerable patients.

Feinstein released a statement Friday to urge CMS to consider recertifying Laguna Honda.

"If CMS does not reverse its decision, these patients would again be put at risk as they're transferred to other facilities," Feinstein said. "This is particularly concerning after some patients were reportedly sent to homeless shelters ill-equipped to provide the necessary medical services."

The hospital remains open and licensed during the recertification process.