San Francisco sues over effort to close Laguna Honda hospital

Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco lost its Medicare and Medicaid funding on April 14, 2022. (KTVU FOX 2)

San Francisco’s current and former city attorneys have filed a pair of lawsuits, hoping to stop efforts to close Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center next month, where several patients have died following transfers to other facilities.

City Attorney David Chiu on Wednesday asked a U.S. District Court judge to stop the federal government from cutting off funds to Laguna Honda as of Sept. 13, a deadline the city calls arbitrary and which would force the nursing home to shut down and displace 600 vulnerable residents by Sept. 13.

Meanwhile, former City Attorney Louise Renne, who now has her own law firm, filed a separate, class-action lawsuit against state and federal officials on behalf of those residents. 

In May, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid forced Laguna Honda to begin moving patients - who are often medically fragile and poor – away from the center to prepare for the closure. 

Laguna Honda’s current troubles began last July, after two patients overdosed on illegal drugs and recovered. That report triggered the state visit in October, after which inspectors found the facility out of compliance.  That led to the recommendation that CMS end its contract with Laguna Honda on April 14 if the nursing home was still out of compliance.

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that eight of the 57 transferred patients died soon after they moved. 

As a result, the federal government agreed to at least temporarily stop the transfers. 

In the city’s lawsuit, Chiu wrote that CMS chose a random date — Sept. 13 — to stop paying $200 million a year in the form of Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements. The suit says shutting down the nursing home so quickly is illegal because San Francisco is appealing the agency’s decision to decertify Laguna Honda and that appeal won’t be heard until at least October.

"CMS’s unreasonable requirements are not only harmful to patients and impossible to achieve, they are also unlawful," according to the city’s lawsuit. Chiu argued San Francisco needs time to make its case. 

Chiu admits that Laguna Honda must fix its many problems. 

Founded in 1866, the sprawling facility serves people who need long-term care but can’t afford private nursing homes. Many of the patients have dementia, drug addiction and other complex medical needs.

But Chiu also said that the California Public Health Department — which recommended that CMS withdraw the Medicare and Medicaid funding — exaggerated the problems at Laguna Honda that its inspectors found between October and March. 

Renne’s class-action suit makes the same argument. 

If Laguna Honda has to shut down, Chiu argued that it will need until November 2023 to do so safely. 

As it stands, Chiu said that San Francisco is currently in an impossible Catch-22 situation.

 "Laguna Honda cannot stay open and it cannot close," the suit says.