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Nursing Homes in California Get Off Easy

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The California Department of Health Services has been negligently slow to respond to complaints regarding nursing home safety and has been understating the severity of the problems they do find, according to a state auditor report released last week. The audit, which looked at about 17,000 complaints lodged over a recent two-year period, found that the department failed to respond within legal time limits to almost half, and failed to complete about six in 10 investigations promptly, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Auditors also cited instances where state health investigators did not take safety violations seriously. For example, in one case, the inspectors issued a low-level citation to a home that failed to provide oxygen to residents with breathing problems. Auditors pointed out that the home should have faced a much higher penalty for putting its residents in immediate jeopardy, the article stated. According to the auditor in 20% of the cases reviewed in which the state inspectors cited a nursing home for violations, the penalty imposed was too light.

Our California Department of Health is sick. It is under a San Francisco Superior Court order to improve its speed in response to complaints. Advocates filed a lawsuit last year, alleging that the department was too slow in processing and investigating complaints and the Court agreed.

The article also cites a recent report by the California Health Care Foundation that found the total number of complaints against nursing homes rose from about 8,000 in the year 2000 to 12,000 in the year 2005. But at the same time, the portion of complaints that were substantiated by investigators fell dramatically, from 41 percent to 16 percent. The report cited the slow response time as a factor hampering investigators’ ability to determine what happened. Last year, the federal Government Accountability Office also issued a report saying that California’s inspectors often overlooked or downplayed serious safety violations.

Do you get the feeling that something is going on with the inspectors? Are they incompetent, uncaring, sloppy, unqualified or have they forgotten who’s side they are on? Is it possible that some of these inspectors are being paid off by the nursing homes?

It is terribly disturbing when agencies, such as our own health department, that are responsible for safeguarding public welfare, acts as if they couldn’t be bothered. Why are the complaints being ignored?

The nursing home business in this country is in the billions of dollars. Is it possible that some of the money that is saved by shorting patients of oxygen and understaffing the facilities is finding its way into the pockets of the inspectors?

I am not surprised by these reports. The accidents, injuries and lack of appropriate care that we see in nursing homes are appalling. The conditions in these homes, some of them the higher priced, seemingly nicer facilities, are a common topic of discussion around my home. Both my mother and mother-in-law have made my wife and I promise that they will never be put into a nursing home; they are so concerned about the conditions and lack of care.

My mom loves to hear about the appalling conditions in nursing homes. She uses the information to justify her stand against being moved to a nursing home and threatens to cut me out of any inheritance if I do.

If you need any help or have any questions regarding elder abuse, please call me, John Bisnar, 800-259-6373. If your loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, please contact me to learn about your rights.

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