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Laguna Honda crisis continues: 48 patients relocated, few get SF placement

A shuttle departs from Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco, Calif. on Monday, May 16, 2022. | Camille Cohen

As Laguna Honda Hospital continues to transfer patients as part of its fight to stay open, 48 residents have been relocated since federal regulators ordered them evicted this past spring, according to the latest tally released Monday.

Due to a shortage of hospital beds in San Francisco, only one of the 35 patients transferred to a skilled nursing facility was able to get placement in San Francisco. Thirteen other patients were discharged to residential care facilities, temporary housing or shelters with medical care or to homes, according to the city’s data dashboard. Teresa Palmer, a longtime Laguna Honda physician, said the dearth of local beds underscores how critical the 700-plus spots at Laguna Honda have been to the city. 

Eleven patients have died since the closure proceedings began about eight weeks ago and two people have left the facility on their own against medical advice. With a total of 61 transferred, discharged or deceased, that leaves Laguna Hospital with 623 patients to relocate as of this week, the new batch of data shows. 

In April, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services terminated Laguna Honda’s participation in the two programs, putting nearly 700 patients at risk of relocation—a potentially lethal fate for elderly and disabled people. 

A month later, Laguna Honda created a closure and patient transfer plan that updates a public dashboard every Monday. 

Laguna Honda will continue to receive essential federal funding until September, as long as it continues their federally required patient transfer plan. 

Palmer said it’s disruptive for Laguna Honda patients to have to move so far away from their longtime home. 

“We’re not animals,” she said. “We need to be around our community when we’re old. We need to be surrounded by family and friends that can visit and be with us. Sending elderly and disabled families out of town is a form of dumping. It’s cruel and unethical.” 

In September, Laguna may begin a several-months-long recertification process with federal regulators. 

Still, if the recertification is successful, senior staff attorney of the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Tony Chicotel said it’s unlikely any of the patients will be able to transfer back. 

“I’ve seen promises like that in writing, but I think that’s highly unlikely,” he said. “I think for the average resident, if they go now, they’re not coming back to Laguna Honda ever.” 

The Gray Panthers of San Francisco will host a “Save Laguna Honda” event on Tuesday to discuss how to handle some of the challenges at the 156-year-old nursing home. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the total number of patients who have died or been discharged against medical advice.