Laguna Honda's New CEO Hopes to Focus on COVID-19 Care, not Past Scandal

San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital is managing a COVID-19 outbreak and recovering from a multiyear resident abuse scandal. ((David Wakely, courtesy of the San Francisco Joint Information Center) )

A new chief executive officer begins at San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center this week, almost a year after the last one resigned. Michael Phillips says he wants to focus on the facility’s stabilization of an early outbreak of the coronavirus, rather than its recent rocky past.

“My vision is to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our residents,” Phillips says.

For the last few years, he ran Silver Lake Medical Center, a small acute-care hospital with campuses in downtown Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

At the same time, Laguna Honda itself was in scandal: from 2016 to 2019, staffers had sexually abused and photographed residents without their consent, abused residents verbally, made mistakes in medications and gave residents medicine that wasn’t prescribed to them in order to restrain them, according to a state investigation. Even after a high-profile press conference, regulators made immediate jeopardy findings last summer, indicating that patients weren't yet safe.

A criminal investigation into the abuse remains open; some staffers were fired.

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In April, Phillips began transitioning into his new post: It’s a tough time to step into the job: the city and county of San Francisco projects a $1.7 billion budget deficit, not counting COVID-19 emergency response costs. Phillips acknowledges that Laguna Honda will likely need to tighten its finances.

“In no way will we be looking at patient care areas and anything that is there in place to support our residents,” Phillips said.

Laguna Honda has stabilized an early outbreak of COVID-19, counting now 6 active cases of the virus among residents and staff.

About the prior patient abuse, Phillips says “bad things happen to good organizations.” He praises the facility’s current caregivers for their response to the virus — and he says he recognizes that the pandemic isn’t over.

“We have some 780 residents,” says Phillips. “That makes our facility a prime target, if you will, if good processes and procedures are not in place.” His top goal: controlling the spread of COVID-19 and caring for people sickened by the virus.

3:06 p.m. This post has been updated to reflect a new number of active COVID-19 cases.