Nursing homes owned by the largest senior living operator in the U.S. illegally discharged residents to free up beds for patients who would bring in more money and gave false information to regulators to inflate their quality ratings, according to a lawsuit filed this week by California's attorney general and district and city attorneys in the state.
The suit is among the first to target a high-profile nursing home operator for giving inaccurate information to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which regulates nursing homes. It accuses 10 California nursing facilities owned by Brookdale Senior Living — a $4 billion company that operates approximately 800 nursing, senior living and long-term care facilities across the country — of falsifying the reported working hours of registered nurses and staff.
CMS uses that information to award quality ratings on a five-star scale that help consumers compare options and make long-term care decisions for themselves and their family members. By submitting inflated staff hours to make it look like it was providing a higher standard of care, the suit alleges, Brookdale received “higher star ratings than it deserved."
"It lured individuals to its facilities through false promises about providing the highest-quality care,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Monday in a statement about the lawsuit.
Until 2018, nursing home staff hours were largely self-reported by individual facilities. CMS has since switched to a payroll-based system that is supposed to be harder to falsify. The lawsuit accuses Brookdale of falsifying hours under the old system and says it “continues to provide misleading information to CMS and continues to manipulate its star rating by falsifying its payroll-based journals.” The facilities involved received four- and five-star ratings from CMS (five is the highest rating).
"It can be very scary, and very challenging, for a family to make a decision about long-term care. When they see a ‘five-star rating,’ they assume it means their loved one will get the very highest standard of care,” says Bill Sweeney, senior vice president of government affairs at AARP. “It is outrageous that nursing homes would manipulate the data to give themselves better ratings."