Pennsylvania Attorney General Bruce R. Beemer onTuesday announced a $2 million settlement with Reliant Senior Care Holdings Inc., an Eddystone nursing-home chain accused of not providing enough staff to adequately care for residents.
"The Reliant facilities failed to deliver on a promise to provide personalized services to residents," Beemer said.
Since the investigation began in 2014, Reliant reached agreements to sell its 22 nursing homes, including three in the Philadelphia area. Their new owner is a company called Maybrook, but details on the firm were not available from state officials.
Reliant denied it provided inadequate care. "It entered into the settlement agreement as a business decision, given [that] the cost to defend the company against the claims would have been a significant financial burden," said David Landau, a partner with Duane Morris LLP, which represents Reliant.
The settlement stems from a 2012 collaboration between the Attorney General's Office and the Washington law firm Cohen, Milstein, Sellers, and Toll to investigate allegations of understaffing. This is the first settlment under that agreement.
The law firm will keep $420,000 of the $2 million settlement, filed Monday in Dauphin County Court.
The Attorney General's Office plans to give $1.25 million to the Pennsylvania Department of Health to help implement the recommendations in a Nursing Home Quality Improvement Task Force Report, also released Tuesday.
"We will be able to hire additional personnel to hard-wire our new policies and procedures," Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said at a news conference in Harrisburg that was also attended by Beemer and Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne.
Monday's filing on the distribution of the Reliant settlement, which awaits court approval, said the Health Department will use the money to build "a strike team" of contracted experts to lead efforts "in revising regulations, developing a data analytics program," and other initiatives.
Generally, the 78-page task force report recommended changes to annual licensing surveys for the state's 700 nursing homes, increased use of data and data sharing to allow better measurement of quality of care and quality of life, updates to staffing requirements to ensure nurses have the skill needed for a particular population, and cultural changes to shift the focus in nursing homes to the patient.
"We are focusing on the perspective of the resident," Murphy said.
Nevertheless, Diane Menio, executive director of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, based in Center City, noted that advocates were not represented on the task force.
A recommended change to the annual licensing survey that bothered advocates was the suggestion that inspectors could spend less time on "higher performing facilities" so that more time could be spent at facilities with problems.
"You don't want to do less on your annual surveys," Menio said. "One day can make a difference."
Samuel Brooks, a senior attorney at Community Legal Services Inc. of Philadelphia, was disappointed that the report did not address the complaint process.
"A lot of what got this ball rolling was the concern about complaints and how they are handled and how they are investigated," said Brooks, who wrote a report published in June 2015 criticizing the Health Department for dismissing 92 percent of the complaints against Philadelphia nursing homes.
The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a trade group for nursing homes, said it embraced the goals of the task force, but argued that an overwhelming volume of state and federal regulations sometimes limit a facility's ability to meet the goals of person-centered care.
The attorney general is using $100,000 of the Reliant settlement for its expenses and will put $230,000 aside for use by the Health Department in nursing-home oversight.