SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu and former City Attorney Louise Renne have filed lawsuits against the federal government after funding was cut off for the Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center. The federal government mandated that all of the hospital’s more than 600 patients be transferred or discharged from the hospital by Sept. 13 as part of a closure plan.
The lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday by Chiu against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra alleges that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services forced San Francisco to “implement an unworkable closure and transfer plan that denies the city due process and puts Laguna Honda patients at risk.”
The lawsuit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief to get rid of the Sept. 13 deadline and extend federal funding to the hospital until the appeal of the loss of federal funding can be decided, the city attorney’s office said.
“The federal government has put Laguna Honda and our city in an impossible situation. As the final safety net for many of our most vulnerable San Franciscans, Laguna Honda serves too critical a need to be closed due to an arbitrary, bureaucratic decision,” Chiu said. “Hundreds of patients’ lives are stake. We are taking legal action today in the hope that a court will compel the federal government to exercise compassion and common sense.”
Laguna Honda reported two non-fatal overdoses in July 2021, triggering inspections by the California Department of Public Health and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The facility was cited for deficiencies in care related to cigarette lighters and drug paraphernalia, infection prevention and control and two missed doses of medication.
The hospital worked to correct the deficiencies, the city attorney’s office said, but CMS terminated Laguna Honda’s Medicare and Medicaid provider agreements. The hospital cares is heavily reliant on federal funding through these agreements, with 98 percent of patients being Medicare or Medicaid recipients.
The city appealed the decision to terminate the provider agreements and the hospital intends to apply for recertification in Medicare and Medicaid with CMS, though the appeals will not be decided until after the Sept. 13 deadline. The city attorney’s office claimed that this denies the city, the hospital and patients the due process they are owed.
Mayor London Breed said the facility is continuing to work on improving its care, but that forcing transfers should not be a part of that process.
“This facility provides care and support for some of the most vulnerable people in our city, and that support must continue to keep them healthy and safe,” Breed said.
The city attorney’s office said that to continue federal funding, Laguna Honda had to create a closure and transfer plan. The San Francisco Department of Public Health proposed plans that would lessen the impact on patients, the city attorney’s office said, including slower and phased transfer processes, but CMS rejected these and gave the deadline of Sept. 13 for all transfers, in addition to the end of funding and closure of the facility.
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“There is an acute shortage of skilled nursing beds throughout California and the Bay Area, and it is simply impossible to find skilled nursing beds for all of Laguna Honda’s patients within the timeframe mandated by CMS,” the city attorney’s office said in a statement Thursday.
During the transfer process, nine patients who were discharged or transferred from Laguna Honda died within days or weeks. Federal regulators, through the California Department of Public Health, halted transfers temporarily, but the Sept. 13 deadline is still in place.
The city attorney’s office said that the deaths underscore “the incredibly high stakes of moving such a fragile population of people in a rushed manner.”
Renne, the former city attorney and founding partner at the Renne Public Law Group, announced that she filed a class action lawsuit against the state and federal government on behalf of Laguna Honda patients and families. The complaint alleges that the closure of the facility and transfer process “violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and deny patients and their families substantive and procedural due process.”
The lawsuit also seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, like the city’s lawsuit.
“For over 150 years, San Franciscans have relied on Laguna Honda to provide critical care to our most vulnerable,” Renne said. “We simply cannot allow Laguna Honda to close. The actions of CMS and the California Department of Health are illegal, unnecessary, and cruel.”
The federal Department of Health and Human Services was not immediately available to comment on the lawsuits.
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