When families are faced with making the difficult choice of placing an elderly or very ill loved one in a nursing home, they are not fully aware of what too many nursing homes are all about: profits over people. Having been a civil trial lawyer in the Central Valley for over 35 years, and having represented dozens of families of those abused in nursing homes, I see this story repeated over and over again. Families find themselves in a position where they cannot provide all of the care necessary for a loved one. So they begin to search for a facility that can provide the care needed. All too often, they are given an upbeat tour by a friendly representative of the facility. The audacious representative assures them that their aging and/or ailing family member will be provided exceptional care by a skilled staff in a top notch facility. But all that glitters is not gold. Sadly, after all the paperwork is signed, financial arrangements are made and the family member is left in the care of that facility, things go wrong. Why? Because too many nursing home operators see the residents as statistics – not as people. As a means for creating wealth instead of improving health.
But there is some good news to report. Earlier this year California enacted a law requiring speedier investigations by the Department of Public Health. That is the agency responsible for overseeing nursing homes and investigating complaints. The workload of the agency has become so great that many of the most serious complaints made by members of the public about abuse or neglect in a nursing home will take over a year, and sometimes as long as three years. With the passage of Senate Bill 75, signed into law by the Governor in June, 2015, the Department will be required to complete investigations of complaints from the public within 60 days. This goes into effect in 2018.
However, there is a slight flaw with the newly enacted legislation that is in the process of being fixed. Currently pending in the California legislature is Assembly Bill 348. If 348 becomes law, it will require that when reports are made to the Department of Public Health by nursing homes, those reports are to be investigated within 60 days also. There are actually over 20,000 such reports made every year. Facilities are mandated to report certain happenings and/or events to the Department. Many facilities are not fond of this reporting, and when they fail to do so, some of the nursing home staff are actually brave enough to do so on their own. One such example is the case I was involved in against a facility in Fresno County known as Wish-I-Ah. Wish-I-Ah was closed several months ago, but for decades operated in the community of Auberry, just north of Fresno. An elderly resident suffering with dementia issues wandered out of the facility undetected on a cold winter evening. She fell and lay in the cold under the eaves of the roof where nearly freezing water from melting snow dripped down onto her body until she froze to death. The following day, the nursing home notified her family that she had died of “natural causes.” Weeks later, a Wish-I-Ah employee who had a conscience made a call to the State and reported what really happened. The investigation was lengthy, but ultimately resulted in charges brought against the facility. My office participated in the civil litigation which resulted in the facility having to pay a large financial settlement to the family. If pending Assembly Bill 348 is passed by the legislature and signed into law, investigations of such complaints would have to move forward quickly and completely.
For more information regarding the investigations that ultimately lead to the Wish-I-Ah facility closure, please see the following links:
Anyone reading this blog is encouraged to read up on Assembly Bill 348. Following is a link to the California Legislative Information website and Assembly Bill 348 – Long-term health care facilities: complaints and investigations, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB34
Also, following is a link to the website for the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CAHNR) that talks about this important legislation, http://canhr.org/legislation/index.html. CAHNR does an amazing job of advocating for the rights of nursing home residents. Also following are links to the CAHNR website where you can find a form for a letter to send to your legislator encouraging him or her to vote for AB 348, http://www.canhr.org. The bill is currently heading to the Appropriations Committee. I join CANHR in encouraging the legislature to approve and the governor to sign this important legislation. Timely investigation of all complaints, whether coming from the general public or from nursing homes themselves, is vitally important. We must make sure that nursing home operators are made to comply with the rules and regulations in place for the safety of our elderly and infirm.