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Hearing Over Controversial Nursing Home Mogul's Facilities Removed From Schedule At Last Minute

An image that combines a 2018 photo of Crystal Solorzano with Gov. Gavin Newsom, superimposed with a graphic that details $20,000 in campaign contributions that her company made to his election campaigns.
Solorzano photographed in 2018 with Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose campaign ReNew supported with $20,000. Newsom donated $10,000 of that to charity after our investigation was published in April.
(Screenshot from ReNew's Instagram account/California Secretary of State)
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The letters from the state’s public health department to nursing home mogul Crystal Solorzano were blunt: “You have not provided evidence satisfactory to be licensed.”

Solorzano, whose Southern California-based ReNew Health is connected to nursing homes throughout the state, had applied to acquire nine additional facilities in April 2020. Despite the state’s denial of her applications, businesses connected to Solorzano have operated those nine homes anyway during the pandemic. That’s because Solorzano appealed the decision, and is legally permitted to continue her involvement in the homes in the meantime.

After more than a year after the denials were originally issued, a judge with the state’s Office of Administrative Hearings and Appeals was set to hold a hearing this week. However, the hearing was removed from the schedule without public notice or explanation late last week. Monday morning a link provided to the hearing instead read: "The meeting has been cancelled or ended!”

Asked why the link didn't work, Tony Cava, a spokesman for the Department of Healthcare Services, said: "The hearing was removed from the docket late Friday."

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The hearing was set to consider whether Solorzano is fit to run the nine nursing homes. The California Department of Public Health's denial letters to Solorzano cite a long list of serious issues at her facilities. Regulators reviewed three years of records and found 128 federal violations — including 14 in the most severe category of “Immediate Jeopardy.”

The agency also documented 51 state violations issued at Solorzano's nursing homes, and three instances in which her facilities failed to meet even minimum staffing requirements. The poor care and regulatory failures were detailed in an LAist investigation.

Crystal Solorzano
ReNew CEO Crystal Solorzano has embraced the nickname "the Blonde Gorilla," which adorns a trophy and hat she has shared on social media.
(Portion(s) of images from Solorzano's Instagram account)

Solorzano and a spokesman did not respond to a request for comment, but in a statement in March, a spokesman for Solorzano’s company, ReNew Health, wrote: "Ms. Solorzano is fully qualified to own and operate nursing homes, and in fact has specialized in acquiring troubled facilities and turning them around to preserve and maintain critical bed space that would have otherwise been unavailable during the pandemic."

The nine nursing homes in question are only part of a network of at least 26 facilities connected to Solorzano and ReNew, which provide care to about 2,000 nursing home residents across California.

"The state has no willingness to evict operators that it has found to be unfit."
— Tony Chicotel, attorney with the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform

It is not clear if the hearing was postponed, cancelled, or if something else happened. But any delay is frustrating to patient care advocates who have followed Solorzano's rise.

“The state has no willingness to evict operators that it has found to be unfit,” says Tony Chicotel, a staff attorney for the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. He has followed the cases of Solorzano and another operator, Shlomo Rechnitz, who has been denied licenses to take over nursing homes. Chicotel calls the situation a “never-ending treadmill,” where even a license denial from the state doesn’t trigger decisive action.

On Monday, Chicotel said he was particularly concerned that Solorzano might have dropped her appeal and submitted new ownership applications, as Rechnitz has done. That would effectively re-start the process from square one.

"If that happened, then California nursing home ownership change policy is beyond a farce. It is a deadly, tragic hoax," Chicotel said.

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‘Fraudulent Documents’ And A Possible FBI Interview

In addition to dozens of violations at Solorzano’s nursing homes, the CDPH’s denial letter also questions her character. The department wrote to her that its review "revealed that in or around July 2008, you submitted fraudulent documents to obtain your nursing home administrator license," specifically citing a fraudulent college transcript from New York-based Touro College, which also has campuses in California.

LAist has obtained that transcript. It indicates that Solorzano graduated with honors from Touro’s School of Health Services.

The problem? Touro College does not have a “School of Health Services.” The institution instead has a School of Health Sciences. “It is a distinction with a difference and makes the transcript itself appear invalid on its face,” said Elisheva Schlam, a spokesperson for Touro.

Schlam said Solorzano did not attend the school.

In addition to considering quality of care, state regulators who review ownership applications consider whether an "applicant is of reputable and responsible character." The state cited the allegedly fraudulent transcript in its denial letter.

“The state has said — rightfully — that character matters," Chicotel said. "And then the issue is whether Crystal Solorzano has the requisite character to qualify for a license."

Solorzano faces a separate hearing over her nursing home administrator license, which she submitted the transcript to attain. That hearing is currently on hold. In that case, an attorney for CDPH wrote the credential is a “license [Solorzano] procured by fraud, misrepresentation, and deception."

"Quite simply, [Solorzano] is not qualified to hold a NHA license," the attorney wrote.

Attorneys for Solorzano asserted that the department lacks standing since her nursing home administrator license has lapsed, an argument rejected by an administrative law judge. (A nursing home administrator license is not required to own nursing homes.)

Hyde Park Health Center
Hyde Park Health Care Center in South Los Angeles is one of 26 nursing homes in California connected to ReNew.
(Chava Sanchez
LAist )

This week's expected hearing on the nursing home licenses, which was removed from the docket, was to come at a dramatic moment for Solorzano and her businesses. Several startling details have emerged from filings in a divorce case involving Solorzano and her husband, Randy Hernandez.

In one filing, an attorney for Hernandez writes that a ReNew executive was recently interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation “regarding Crystal’s business practices.” An FBI spokesperson declined to comment. “I would not be able to confirm or deny this particular activity,” the FBI’s Laura Eimiller said.

Solorzano did not respond to a question about the alleged FBI interview. When reached at her home, the ReNew executive, Aneta Handian, declined to comment. In a subsequent email, her attorney referred to Handian’s “prior relationship” with ReNew. And, he added, “she suggests that any inquiries you have be directed to ReNew.”

The filing also alleges that Solorzano “was going to remotely access Aneta’s computer and iPhone to ‘shut her down’’’ after the FBI interview. The allegation echoes a 2018 claim made in a separate legal case in which a former ReNew employee alleged that “her phone was erased and wiped of all data” after she reported sexual harassment by ReNew staff and the administrator — Solorzano’s father — at a related nursing home.

The divorce case, which was filed in June, presents new details about Solorzano’s luxurious lifestyle. Her husband estimates that Solorzano’s yearly income is $7 million to $10 million per year, and that their yearly expenses exceed $1.4 million. Their lavish lifestyle included flights on private jets and splurging on a $2 million yacht for Solorzano’s father, according to filings by Hernandez.

Orinda Care Center
A sign at the entrance to the Orinda Care Center stating the center is now closed to visitors is seen on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, in Orinda, Calif. This San Francisco Bay Area facility had nearly 50 COVID-19 cases with one fatality. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
(Ben Margot

Assessor records in Florida also show that, in May, Solorzano purchased a five bedroom, five bathroom home in Miami Beach for $5.9 million.

The situation for patients in nursing homes connected to Solorzano has been far less glamorous. In one facility, inspectors documented 93 rodent droppings, including several in a facility’s kitchen. At another, CDPH investigators found "deficient practices [that] resulted in a widespread outbreak of COVID-19."

At least 220 people have died of COVID-19 in the 26 nursing homes connected to Solorzano, according to an analysis of federal data by LAist. Among those deaths, 94 were in the nine nursing homes where the CDPH has rejected Solorzano’s ownership applications.

Those nursing homes have been the recipients of hundreds of millions in government payments: facilities connected to ReNew Health and Solorzano received more than $428 million in Medicare and Medi-Cal payments between 2016 and 2019.

After LAist’s investigation into Solorzano was published in April 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom donated a $10,000 political contribution from ReNew Health Consulting Services to charity, and members of California’s Congressional delegation said they were “appalled” and “horrified” by the details of the reporting.

Updated July 19, 2021 at 1:17 PM PDT
This story has been updated to reflect the removal of the hearing from the docket. The story originally published at 6 a.m. on July 19.