Orange County’s Council on Aging is a local nonprofit advocacy group that pays surprise visits to nursing homes and investigates Orange County nursing home abuse and negligence complaints. Unfortunately, the Council has recently cut most of its staff because of California’s budget cuts. According to this October 8, 2008 news report in The Orange County Register, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed $3.8 million in funds for long-term care ombudsman programs across California. As a result, the Orange County group lost $321,266; about half its funding. This giant budget cut caused 14 of its employees to be laid off, leaving three to do all the work.
So, what exactly did the Orange County Council on Aging office do? Basically, they visited Orange County’s 1,050 nursing homes and assisted living facilities and handled all sorts of complaints from bad food and patient neglect to serious cases of physical and sexual abuse. Office staff members also act as legal witnesses for all advance directive requests signed by nursing home patients.
This budget cut is a major injustice to Orange County nursing home residents and their families. Orange County’s Council on Aging was an effective advocate for seniors living in nursing homes. These are people who are extremely vulnerable because they are aging, sick and dependent. They need someone to speak up on their behalf. With this budget cut the group is going to have to cut down on how often they visit nursing homes or what cases they choose to investigate. This increases the probability of more nursing home residents being neglected or abused.
More than 30,000 adults live in Orange County nursing homes. Last year alone, the Orange County Council on Aging made more than 8,000 unannounced nursing home visits and investigated about 450 cases of suspected abuse. Most of those abuse complaints turned out valid. Although this group cannot enforce or regulate, they do have the right to enter and meet with nursing home residents in private.
It is even more shocking that this budget cut comes on the heels of a federal study by the Department of Health and Human Services which reports that 90 percent of nursing homes were cited for violations of federal health and safety standards last year. Now because of Governor Schwarzenegger’s veto, Orange County nursing home abuse victims and their families have no choice but to resort to the court system to hold wrongdoers accountable.