(CALMATTERS) – California’s reputation as a national leader in the COVID response was turned on its head Tuesday, when state lawmakers launched a blistering attack on the Newsom administration’s handling of nursing homes amid the pandemic.

The rebuke of the California Department of Public Health came during a legislative hearing on the state’s process for licensing nursing homes, during which lawmakers repeatedly cited an investigation from CalMatters’ Jocelyn Wiener that found the state allowed Shlomo Rechnitz, California’s largest nursing home owner, to operate many facilities even as their license applications languished in pending status — or were outright denied. Rechnitz is now facing a lawsuit alleging that one of his homes — for which the state denied him a license — is responsible for the COVID-related deaths of 24 residents.

“Where is the proactive, patient-centered, public safety approach here? … Because I don’t feel it right now. … We have to wait for news articles. We have to wait for people to die.”

Assemblymember Jim Wood, a Santa Rosa Democrat who chairs the Assembly Health Committee, asked Cassie Dunham, an acting deputy director of the state health department

Wood also slammed Craig Cornett, the president of a nursing home industry group, the California Association of Health Facilities, for apparently saying that California “was the shining star in the nation” when it came to preventing coronavirus outbreaks in nursing homes.

“We saw this pandemic playing out in Washington a couple of months before it started in California, and yet it took a couple of months … to begin to react. … I expect better from us, we deserve better here in California, and I’m appalled. If we were the best, I shudder to think what was going on in other states, and I’m pretty, pretty, pretty shocked by that.”

Asm. Jim Wood 

Cornett emphasized that “every death is a tragedy” but noted that “if there’s any silver lining to this very dark cloud” it’s how much progress the state has made in combating the virus.

“I appreciate your perspective,” Wood said, “but that cloud doesn’t have a silver lining for me.”