AARP Foundation Sues Nursing Home To Stop Illegal Evictions
Gloria Single and her husband Bill Single in the dining
hall of the skilled nursing floor at Pioneer House nursing home in
Sacramento. AARP Foundation attorneys say California needs to more
tightly enforce laws that prohibit evictions of the sort that separated
the Singles, and sped up her physical decline. Aubrey Jones
A California judge could decide Tuesday if Gloria Single will be
reunited with her husband, Bill. She's 83 years old. He's 93. The two
have been married for 30 years. They lived in the same nursing home
until last March, when Gloria Single was evicted without warning.
Her situation isn't unique. Nationwide, eviction is the leading complaint
about nursing homes. In California last year, more than 1,500 nursing
home residents complained that they were discharged involuntarily.
That's an increase of 73 percent since 2011.
Gloria Single has a number of ailments. One of them is Alzheimer's
disease. So when her son Aubrey Jones comes to visit her in her new
nursing home, he brings old photos to show her. She can still recognize
faces from long ago — one picture shows her three sons when they were
just little kids.
Jones says the photograph makes him and his brothers look like real troublemakers. "You are troublemakers," his mom teases.
Jones also shows his mother a more recent photo. It was taken at Pioneer House,
the nursing home where Gloria Single and her husband Bill lived
together before her eviction. They're gazing into each other's eyes and
When Jones tells her he loves that photo, Gloria Single slyly replies that's "because [Bill's] got his hand on my knee."
In court documents, Pioneer House paints a more troubling picture
of Gloria Single. They say that she became aggressive with staff and
threw some plastic tableware. So Pioneer House called an ambulance and
sent her to a hospital for a psychological evaluation. The hospital
found nothing wrong with her, but the nursing home wouldn't take her
back. They said they couldn't care for someone with her needs.
Jones protested his mother's eviction to the California
Department of Health Care Services. The department held a hearing. Jones
"I expected action — definitely expected action," says Jones.
he got an email explaining that the department that holds the hearings
has no authority to enforce its own rulings. Enforcement is handled by a
different state agency. He could start over with them.
"We certainly hope we can get Mrs. Single some relief," says William Alvarado Rivera,
the foundation's senior vice president for litigation. "But we also
hope that there is a lesson to be learned by facilities — that there
will be accountability for their failure to respect the due process
rights of their residents."
Nursing home residents have a lot of rights
guaranteed in state and federal law. For example, they have to be given
30 days' notice before they're moved involuntarily. And the nursing
home has to hold their bed for a week if they're in the hospital.
says Gloria Single didn't get any of that. As a result, she was stuck
in the hospital for four and a half months before being accepted by
another facility. During that time Single received none of the services
and activities she would have had in a nursing home. She lost her
ability to walk and now relies on a wheelchair.
Rivera says that "in the absence of state enforcement, it will depend
on individuals like Mrs. Single having to advocate for themselves to
get their rights respected and enforced."
years of public records obtained by NPR show that nursing homes rarely
pay a price for illegally evicting residents. Just 7 percent of nursing
homes that were found to have violated the law in California were fined
by the state. With just a couple of exceptions, the highest fines
assessed were $2,000. The majority were $1,000 or less — and most fines
were never paid in full.
California's secretary of health and human services, declined NPR's
request for an interview, citing pending litigation against the state on
a similar issue.
Frustration with the lack of state enforcement led the California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Association
to join the Single lawsuit as a co-plaintiff. The organization
represents long-term-care ombudsmen. Those are the public officials who
track complaints about nursing homes and advocate for residents. But
Leza Coleman, the group's executive director, says the spike in
complaints about evictions is so overwhelming, that it's "impacting our
ability to handle other complaints."
Coleman believes another
reason that eviction complaints are going up, is that the number of
nursing homes is going down. State records show there are about 2,300
fewer beds in California than there were six years ago.
residents that are more challenging — those that have to be repositioned
often, those that don't want to sit quietly and watch television — ...
they're more expensive," she says. "They can be very taxing on the staff
of a facility, and if a facility has one bed and two people looking at
it, they're going to take the person that's easier to care for."
But eviction complaints need to be seen in a different context, says Jim Gomez, CEO of the California Association of Health Facilities.
"We have a very low rate of complaints regarding discharge," he says,
adding that roughly 1,500 complaints is "less than a half of 1 percent
of some 300,000 discharges" a year.
And when residents are involuntarily discharged, Gomez says, "it's for the safety of staff and other residents.
"We've had many attacks on residents and staff," he says. "Are you going to allow that person back to the facility?"
Pioneer House and its parent corporation, the Retirement Housing Foundation,
declined to be interviewed for this story. They sent a written
statement which says, in part, "We intend to vigorously defend the
allegation set forth in the lawsuit."
Meanwhile, Aubrey Jones says the lawsuit is not just about his mother any more.
anything," he says, "I want the dial to be turned a little bit so this
thing doesn't happen again —[so] it's less likely to happen to someone
Most of all, Jones says, he wants to see his mother and
stepfather reunited, so they can be together for the little bit of time
they have left.