Marin IJ Opinion by Dick Spotswood May 5, 2020

During the pandemic there’s much concern over the safety of those living in retirement communities, senior-care facilities and skilled-nursing homes.

All have populations living in close proximity who are fragile, vulnerable and experience underlying health issues. California’s Department of Public Health reports the state’s true hot spots are senior centers where 40% of all COVID-19 deaths have taken place.

Many senior homes with high rates of death are privately owned by chains, financed by hedge funds and operated as businesses where — denials aside — costs are an overriding concern. Others are run by opaque entities, where those behind innocuous sounding names are impossible to identify.

Senior facilities operated by the nonprofit sector generally have performed far better.

Reliable information regarding elder-care facilities is found at Medicare’s website All are rated on a five-star scale. Five stars represents “much above average” and one star denotes “much below average.”

Reviewing Medicare’s website, only one Marin location merited a red warning sign. Pine Ridge Care Center of San Rafael got a two-star “below average” overall rating. That score was accompanied by a red flag with the comment, “This nursing home has been cited for abuse.”

California’s Department of Health reports Pine Ridge has “less than 11” resident and staff COVID-19 infections. Due to privacy concerns, the exact number isn’t disclosed by the state.

San Rafael Operating Co., L.P. is doing business as Pine Ridge. It has a Delaware entity with a Maryland address. Medicare indicates Atlanta-based Grancare, LLC, has “5% or more ownership interest” in Pine Ridge. Grancare’s website touts it “has 13,800 total employees across all of its locations and generates $72.75 million in sales. There are 340 companies in the Grancare LLC corporate family.”

This isn’t to condemn all privately operated long-term care centers, but the pandemic is exposing the for-profit senior care industry’s shortcomings that are well known to health care professionals.

There is a right way and a wrong way to run any public, private or nonprofit entity.

In Marin we have a retirement community with an unbelievably good record. The Redwoods, the Mill Valley nonprofit senior facility founded by the town’s Community Church, hasn’t discovered a single COVID-19 infection. That enviable safety record, plus securing an overall five-star Medicare rating, could be attributed to strictly enforcing safety rules plus a well-trained staff and cooperative residents.

The Redwoods isn’t even high-end, though after its recent reconstruction, its campus is top-notch. Of its 370 elder population, 40% of independent living residents take advantage of HUD Section-8 project-based certificates.

It’s proof positive that a diverse group of seniors can be comfortable, safe and happy in an affordable communal living setting if management is committed and profit isn’t the first or even second priority.

Getting the same five-star rating and equally COVID-free is the Tamalpais located in its landmark Larkspur tower. The upscale senior residence and long-term care center is operated by Sequoia Living, previously called Northern California Presbyterian Homes.

The key to success at the Redwoods and the Tamalpais, as it is with all well-run senior facilities, is a sufficient number of well-trained and motivated staff.

The problem facing for-profit elder-care homes is often a dangerously low staff-to-patient ratio. It’s a risky and often shameful way of doing business that needs to be drastically revised once this epidemic has run its course.

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