Owner Of Troubled Nursing Homes Drops Appeal
The California Department of Public Health decided last year that controversial nursing home owner Crystal Solorzano was unfit to hold licenses at nine nursing homes she sought to take over. Solorzano appealed the decision, and the state was set to hold a hearing — until Solorzano withdrew her appeals at the last minute, earlier this month.
Despite the move, Solorzano — who the California Department of Public Health has said submitted a fraudulent college transcript and has a record of poor care in her facilities — could potentially continue her involvement in the nine nursing homes. She can even apply to take them over again in the future.
“It’s a bad day for patients,” said Tony Chicotel, a staff attorney for the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, referring to the prospect that ReNew Health could continue to be involved with those facilities. “It's been a horrible year-and-a-half for nursing home residents. And this is just sort of kicking more sand into their face.”
Businesses connected to Solorzano have been managing the nine nursing homes for years, according to CDPH, but it is unclear if they will continue their involvement. “As the withdrawal of the appeals is a recent development, the department has no additional information to disclose,” the agency wrote when asked if Solorzano and her businesses remain active at the facilities.
The agency added that nothing prohibits Solorzano and her businesses from providing administrative or management services to the nursing homes — though she would have to get state approval to manage them. CDPH also said that it is not negotiating a settlement with Solorzano.
For all the drama over her nursing home applications, which were originally denied by CDPH in April 2020, nothing prohibits Solorzano from simply submitting another round of applications to take over ownership of some, or all, of the nine nursing homes, potentially allowing her to remain involved in facilities several years after the state has judged her unfit to run them.
It's been a horrible year-and-a-half for nursing home residents. And this is just sort of kicking more sand into their face.
The situation echoes that of Shlomo Rechnitz, the nursing home magnate who was once Solorzano’s boss. In 2018, Rechnitz dropped a number of appeals after the California Department of Public Health deemed him unfit to take over additional facilities. His companies submitted new applications in 2021, several years after the date they effectively took over the nursing homes.
“This is now the playbook for bad operators in California,” Chicotel said. He calls the situation a “never-ending treadmill,” where even a license denial from the state doesn’t trigger decisive action.
It is extraordinarily rare for the state to reject applications for nursing home ownership, as it has for Solorzano and Rechnitz. An LAist analysis of state data found that, of more than 250 such applications submitted for nursing homes since 2015, just 5% have been denied. The department hadn't denied a single ownership change application submitted between 2016 and 2019 — until it rejected the nine from Solorzano.
News of the withdrawn applications comes during a pandemic in which at least 220 people died of COVID-19 at nursing homes connected to Solorzano. Among those deaths, at least 94 were in the nine nursing homes where CDPH rejected Solorzano’s ownership applications.
The development also arrives during a dramatic moment for Solorzano. 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.
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 the couple's yearly expenses exceeded $1.4 million.
Their lavish lifestyle contrasts sharply with the conditions documented by CDPH at nursing homes connected to Solorzano, where rodent droppings have been found in a facility’s kitchen, and at a Northern California home where investigators found "deficient practices [that] resulted in a widespread outbreak of COVID-19."
This story is part of 'Unprotected,' an ongoing series examining California's failures on nursing home oversight, done in collaboration with other nonprofit newsrooms