Brookdale Faces Lawsuit From Biden’s HHS Nominee Becerra Over Nursing Home Ratings

The state of California has sued Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE: BDK), alleging the company submitted false nursing home staffing data to the federal government and improperly handled resident discharges.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra — President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) — brought the suit as part of a coalition of district and city attorneys. The lawsuit covers 10 skilled nursing facilities in California managed by the Brentwood, Tennessee-based operator.

As of Dec. 31, 2020, Brookdale had 726 communities in 44 states, making it the largest senior living provider in the nation. Skilled nursing represents a relatively small fraction of its portfolio, and falls largely under the company’s 20-community CCRC segment.

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According to the lawsuit, Brookdale provided false information to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in order to boost ratings on the agency’s Five-Star Quality Rating System in an attempt to more quickly fill units at its 10 California nursing facilities. The attorneys also allege that Brookdale failed to notify patients and families of transfers and discharges, and failed to properly prepare residents for transfer or discharge from the facilities.

“We are holding Brookdale accountable for artificially increasing its profits by cutting corners when transferring or discharging its patients. It lured individuals to its facilities through false promises about providing the highest quality care,” Attorney General Becerra said in a press release about the lawsuit.

A representative for Brookdale told Senior Housing News that the company is aware of the lawsuit filed by the state of California, and denied the allegations.

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“We are disappointed in the allegations against the skilled nursing industry. Publicizing unproven allegations is reckless and undermines the public’s confidence in a service necessary to the care of elderly individuals, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” read a statement from a company spokesperson. “Brookdale is dedicated to providing quality care to our residents and patients, and we take our mission of enriching the lives of those we serve seriously.”

According to the lawsuit, Brookdale misrepresented the quality of its care to the public, allegedly by overreporting its nursing staffing hours to CMS, which awarded the facilities undeserved four-and five-star ratings.

The suit also details how the operator allegedly failed to properly prepare its patients for transfer or discharge.

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When discharging a resident, Brookdale was required to give reasonable notice to residents and their families in writing, notify a local ombudsman and prepare a discharge plan — but the company allegedly did none of that at its 10 California facilities.

The lawsuit follows a New York Times investigation into the five-star ratings system, which concluded that the agency’s rating system is “broken” and offers a distorted view of nursing home quality of care.

Industry trade groups have in the past called for changes to the ratings system, including the addition of customer satisfaction scores. In 2019, CMS implemented stricter standards for nursing home ratings, leading to declines in star ratings for some nursing homes.

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