Which California Nursing Homes Care For Medical Parolees?
Last year, the California started releasing medically-incapacitated felons under a new program called medical parole. Designed to save the broke state tens of millions of dollars, the program sends felons who are not yet eligible for traditional parole to nursing homes in the community.
While there had been a lot of reporting about the launch of this new program, no one had revealed which California nursing homes are taking these patients.
I set out to find out, and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation told me that they absolutely could not tell me. They argued that since so few prisoners had been released on this program revealing which facilities they were going to could potentially violate their rights to medical privacy under the HIPAA privacy rule.
Our lawyers at The Bay Citizen sent the Department a letter arguing that they should give me the names of the facilities, but the agency continued to refuse. While this fruitless legal wrangling was going on, I had asked for a transcript of the medical parole hearing of one of the parolees. When I read it, I discovered -- eureka! -- that this public document gave the name of the facility to which the prisoner would be released.
Finding the names of the facilities was then just a matter of requesting the parole hearing transcripts of the other medical parolees. When I was writing this story in January, only 29 people had been released on medical parole in California, so this was not an overwhelming task. I was nervous the Department of Corrections would get on to my strategy and redact the names of the facilities before sending the transcripts to me, but they did not.
From the transcripts, I found at least three facilities in the state accepting medical parolees: Idylwood Care Center in Sunnyvale, Magnolia Special Care Center in El Cajon in the San Diego area and San Fernando Post Acute Hospital in Sylmar in Los Angeles. The story I ended up writing was focused on Idylwood Care Center in Sunnyvale. It ran in The Bay Citizen and in the Bay Area pages of The New York Times.
This story was inspired by talks given by Michael Berens of The Seattle Times at the California Health Journalism Fellowships in Los Angeles. He talked extensively about his investigative series "Seniors for Sale," which got me more interested in covering nursing homes and other homes for the elderly and disabled. A subsequent conversation with a local long-term care ombudsman turned me on to the medical parole topic.