Man in nursing home
A man in a nursing home. Photo via Pixabay

New legislation to significantly alter the oversight of skilled nursing facilities throughout California passed the state Assembly this week but faces an uncertain future in the Senate.

Assembly Bill 1502 cleared the lower body on a 55-15 vote, with only Republican legislators casting “no” votes, including Minority Leader Marie Waldron, who represents part of North County.

Whether this far-reaching bill becomes law depends on whether the legislation will survive review by the Senate. The first stop is at the Senate Health Committee.

Supporters say the bill is necessary because 80% of homes in the state are controlled by large companies owning chains of nursing homes. Those corporations are the target of the bill.

Attorney Tony Chicotel, who represents the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, said that “currently these chain operators can acquire and operate skilled nursing facilities without prior approval or permits.” 

AB 1502 helps address poor management and operation of nursing homes, which has led to neglect and abuse of residents within their care, according to the bill’s co-sponsor, Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Torrance.  

He said the bill would empower the California Department of Public Health to disqualify unfit operators and owners, requiring them to meet certain qualifications” as well as establish other requirements.  

Patricia McGinnis, founder and executive director of the nursing home reform group, said she is hopeful “it won’t be amended” but is aware of the deep pockets and formidable opposition facing the bill on the Senate side.  She noted that two previous efforts “didn’t make it though.” 

Muratsuchi acknowledged taht AB 1502 faces significant opposition in the Senate. “We anticipate we have momentum to push the issue in the Senate, but they will likely push for some amendments to the bill,” he said.

In addition, the assemblyman said he believes the California Association for Health Facilities will be leading the charge to weaken the bill. The trade organization is strongly challenging the proposed legislation, saying it opposes  the bill “as written unless there are major changes.” 

Its CEO, Craig Cornet, said in an opposition letter that the problem lies with the state, not the organization’s nursing home members, adding that “it’s been perpetuated by the state — and needs to end”. 

Chicotel said he agrees that the state has not effectively supervised the industry, but suggested that large operators have exacerbated problems.

“The bad actors CAHF represents have been the direct beneficiaries of a system that allows them to buy up and take over nursing homes first and seek approval later,” he said.

JW August is a San Diego-based broadcast and digital journalist.