Google Street View of Eureka Rehabilitation & Wellness Center.

With the recent announcement that Rockport Healthcare Services plans to close three skilled nursing facilities in the county, potentially forcing hundreds of patients to relocate out of the area, our state legislators have been pressuring the California Department of Public Health to prevent the closures. In a letter to our region’s district manager Senator Mike McGuire said closing the facilities would be “potentially dangerous” and “simply unacceptable.” 

But after meeting directly with Public Health officials this week, Assemblymember Jim Wood found that the state may be powerless in the matter.

“We learned directly from Public Health that as long as this company provides a plan for the safe transition of residents, they [department officials] don’t have the authority to deny the closure application,” said Cathy Mudge, communications director for Assemblymmember Wood. “That’s really disturbing to us.”

Wood feels current regulations are written in a way that fails to protects rural areas. While the closure of three nursing homes in an urban area like, say, San Jose might not be a big deal, the local closures threaten to upend the lives of patients and their families. Rockport has proposed closing Eureka Rehabilitation & Wellness Center, Pacific Rehabilitation & Wellness Center and Seaview Rehabilitation & Wellness Center.

McGuire noted in his letter that the closure of these three skilled nursing facilities would cut the number of licensed beds in the region by more than half, from 449 to 191. Closing them, he said, would put the public’s health and safety at risk and force current residents to move hundreds of miles from their loved ones. “The community and other potential [nursing facility] operators must be given time to develop contingency plans to ensure patient safety,” McGuire wrote.

But according to Assemblymember Wood’s office, Rockport is only required to provide for a safe transition for patients, regardless of the distance between the old facilities and the new, and has no obligation to the local community.

“It is disturbing that a nursing home can be given approval to close without addressing the personal impact on the vulnerable residents and their families, especially in a rural community like ours where there are often no local alternatives for care,” Wood said in a prepared statement.

He added that, as chair of the Assembly’s Health Committee, he will bring stakeholders together and take a leadership role in developing long-term legislative solutions to this problem. “Be assured that I am already considering legislation that will require skilled nursing facilities that are applying for closure to meet new requirements that will address the impact closure will have on the residents, their families, and the community,” he said.

Wood’s staff said he will also closely monitor Rockport’s transition plan for current patients. Those patients will be his top priority, Mudge said, “to the extent we can influence what happens to them.”