There was disagreement between officials from the California Department of Public Health and long-term care advocates at a recent Assembly oversight hearing. The hearing topic was the regulators’ ability to process and investigate abuse complaints against nursing assistants. There was a dispute over how many allegations of abuse that have not been investigated yet. A California Health Department official claimed that the state has a backlog of approximately 700 complaints that are more than one year old. According to a California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform official, there are almost 10,000 complaints. California elder abuse attorneys would like to see the complaints investigated promptly.
The state ombudsman for long-term care stated that local ombudsman have had issues with their complaint referrals being held up at the public health department and not getting phone calls returned. One ombudsman was told to stop investigating a complaint despite the fact that allegations regarding the facility continued to come in. California elder abuse attorneys think that the investigation process could use an overhaul.
One thing that officials and advocates did agree on was that the backlog of complaints is problematic. Substantiating allegations becomes harder as time progresses because staff moves, evidence vanishes and people who complain die. One Assembly member stated that his goal was to determine how the Legislature could help the department.
The hearing came four months after The Center for Investigative Reporting found that state health regulators had regularly performed delayed and superficial investigations into complaints of abuse and neglect at California long-term care facilities for the elderly and developmentally disabled. The committee and officials set a deadline in March for a progress report on an improvement plan. The director of the Department of Public Health stated that there are significant process complexities and that the department is looking to hire more staff members to process complaints. California elder abuse attorneys would like to see cases investigated promptly.
The California Department of Public Health has closed most of the abuse and misconduct complaints without taking any action, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. Additionally, the health department has stopped referring cases to the California Department of Justice. It is alleged that some southern California cases were closed with a single phone call from an investigator in Sacramento. The California Department of Public Health denies that allegation and says that every case is investigated. According to the health department, not every case warrants a site visit. As cases age, there is less evidence and fewer witnesses to interview.
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