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Assisted living home lawsuit, citations add to controversy over Hovde’s nursing home remarks

Campaign says GOP Senate hopeful has no responsibility for facility and lawsuit lacks merit

By Erik Gunn, Wisconsin Examiner - April 24, 2024
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CORRECTS BYLINE AND SOURCE TO JOHN HART/WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL - Eric Hovde, a Republican businessman and real estate mogul launched, announces he is for running U.S. Senate against Wisconsin Democratic incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, in Madison, Wis. Hovde previously ran for Senate in 2012 but finished a close second to former Wisconsin Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson in the primary. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

An assisted living home in California connected to the bank owned by Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Eric Hovde has been cited for a series of violations, records with the state of California show.

The home, Claremont Hacienda in Los Angeles County, has also been named in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the daughter of a former resident. The lawsuit was amended in March to add SunWest Bank — which Hovde owns and which is a part-owner of the assisted living home — as a defendant in the case.

Hovde is challenging two-term Democratic incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin for re-election this year.

Democrats have jumped on the lawsuit, which was first reported Saturday by The New York Times, to attack Hovde. They have linked the lawsuit and its allegations against the home to Hovde’s remarks earlier this month criticizing voting by residents of nursing homes in the 2020 election in Wisconsin.

In addition to the lawsuit, previously unreported state records reviewed by the Wisconsin Examiner show that the Claremont Hacienda has been cited a dozen times in the last two years by the California Department of Social Services, which licenses and monitors assisted living homes. The home has been fined $4,500, records show.

Hovde’s spokesman, Ben Voelkel, said Tuesday that neither the bank nor Hovde are involved in the day-to-day operations of the assisted living and memory care home, which is managed under contract by another company.

Hovde has called the lawsuit “manufactured” and The New York Times report about it “a hit job.” And his campaign has said Hovde’s comments about nursing home residents voting have been taken out of context.

Assisted living home’s record

Claremont Hacienda is owned by Claremont Senior Living LLC and Ally Senior Living LLC. Claremont Senior Living is owned by SunWest Bank, which is owned by H Bancorp, according to records on file with the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s National Information Center. Hovde owns H Bancorp.

SunWest Bank became a part-owner of the Claremont facility as a result of a foreclosure action after previous owners of the home defaulted on a debt.

Between August 2022 and early March 2024, the California Department of Social Services conducted 14 visits to the facility, according to the department’s online records. Those included routine reviews as well as visits following up on complaints or to check on compliance with previously issued citations.

Those visits produced citations for not complying with medication storage rules; taking a resident’s personal property (a cell phone); lacking required certificates in cardio-pulmonary resuscitation for two employees and lacking current certificates for two others; failing to display a required patients’ rights poster where it was publicly visible; lacking an up-to-date license for the home’s administrator, whose listed qualification also did not meet state minimum requirements according to the department; employing two people without any record that they had cleared criminal background checks; incomplete training records for five employees; and hot water in two rooms that was below the minimum required temperature.

After five subsequent inspections that found the training, license and qualifications citations remained unmet, the department levied financial penalties totaling $4,500 in late 2023, according to department records.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed in April 2023 by the daughter of a 94-year-old woman who died in another nursing home two months after a fall at Claremont Hacienda. 

The lawsuit alleges that the woman fell on an unidentified date in March 2022 and then had a second fall on April 4, 2022, breaking her left hip. She was hospitalized, then transferred to another nursing home, where she died in June 2022.

The lawsuit blames the assisted living home where the falls occurred for failing to provide the woman proper care, setting in motion the chain of events that unfolded in the last months of her life. In March, the plaintiff’s lawyer added Hovde’s bank as a defendant in the case.

Records from the California Department of Social Services show that the state received a complaint about the first fall nearly a year later, on March 9, 2023, and completed an investigation on March 7, 2024.

The department investigator’s report said that there was no testimony from residents or staff to corroborate allegations of the earlier fall or of a failure to respond to it, and the complaint was classified as unsubstantiated.

In a radio interview Monday, Hovde attacked the lawsuit and The New York Times coverage. “They’re all about the politics of personal destruction,” Hovde told Joe Gigante, host of “The Regular Joe Show” on WTAQ. “To think that they actually manufactured a lawsuit against me so The New York Times could write a hit piece against me, tells you how desperate they are because they have no real issues to talk about.”

“The Democratic Party has nothing to do with this lawsuit,” Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler said Tuesday. “This is a lawsuit brought by a family that experienced a tragedy. … If you’re the owner of a nursing care facility, then you have a responsibility to ensure that people get the care that they need.”

Hovde’s nursing home comments

Wisconsin Democrats have argued that the lawsuit and Hovde’s comments about nursing home voters reflect a disregard for seniors.

In 2020, the Wisconsin Elections Commission voted against the usual practice of sending special voting deputies to nursing homes, which were closed to visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the commission agreed to send absentee ballots to nursing homes to avoid disenfranchising residents who were registered voters.

Repeated investigations and recounts affirmed the results of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, which Joe Biden won by about 20,000 votes. Some of former President Donald Trump’s supporters, however, suggested that nursing home votes were suspect.

In an April 5 interview on a Fox news radio program, Hovde referred to those claims.

“Well, if you’re in a nursing home, you only have five, six months life expectancy. Almost nobody in a nursing home is at a point to vote,” Hovde said. He added that there were “adult children showing up and saying, ‘Who voted for my 85- or 90-year-old father or mother?’”

Hovde reiterated his argument during an April 17 interview with podcaster Meg Ellefson.

“They’re totally incapable,” Hovde said. “They either have dementia or at the very end stage of their life, they’re not capable of voting. So who’s voting for them? The sheriff did a whole investigation, and I was talking about that. Addressing the fact that these elderly people were being taken advantage of and you had 100% voting in nursing homes where a large percentage of those people are not in that mental capacity to do that.”

Hovde was alluding to a report that Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling made in October 2021, almost a year after the election, based on one nursing home in Racine County where some voters cast ballots with the help of nursing home employees and some family members questioned whether their relatives were capable of voting.

Wisconsin Democrats respond

Prosecutors rebuffed Schmaling’s recommendations for criminal charges against elections commission members and for a statewide investigation. 

The claim of nursing home residents voting who weren’t capable of doing so was also aired in a discredited report by former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, who Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) later fired after originally hiring him as special counsel to investigate the 2020 election.

While the Gableman report had claimed 100% of registered voters in nursing homes in heavily Democratic Dane and Milwaukee counties cast ballots, a subsequent review by the Wisconsin State Journal found turnout ranged from 49% to 92% among nursing home voters, with only one — with 12 voters — hitting 100%.

In subsequent interviews last week, Hovde denied that he was saying elderly people shouldn’t vote, the Associated Press reported, but he referred again to assertions that nursing home residents were voting who family members said weren’t competent.

While Hovde has reiterated his assertions that the nursing home votes in 2020 were fishy, Democrats are reiterating their take that his attacks amount to trying to take votes away from the elderly.

In a Tuesday Zoom press conference organized by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Wikler tied the assisted living facility lawsuit to Hovde’s comments about the nursing home vote.

“He thinks that seniors who may be toward the end of their lives aren’t in a place to vote,” Wikler said of Hovde. “This would deny the voting rights of seniors. And now we’re learning that he and his bank are profiting [from a home] that is allegedly mistreating the seniors in their care.”

Wikler decried attacks on the nursing home voters in 2020 “as evidence of something going wrong in that election — an election which was nationally renowned for having one of the most successful and problem-free election administration systems in the country.” He said excluding voters or questioning the validity of their votes “because of their age, or the fact that they live in a nursing home, is anathema.”

This story was originally published by the Wisconsin Examiner


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