• Suspect nursing home abuse or neglect?
  • KNOW THE SIGNS
  • KNOW YOUR RIGHTS
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Given the sheer number of nursing home abuse complaints that have created a backlog in Southern California, it sounds like good news that state officials are hoping to change nursing home inspection and oversight duties. Indeed, according to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, officials in Los Angeles County are changing the way they handle nursing home neglect complaints “as part of a drive to better manage a backlog of investigations.”

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However, the reorganization may not be sufficient to yield a significant change. To be sure, “some patient advocates say the proposed changes aren’t likely to significantly improve conditions, and could make matters worse.”

Investigation Practices in Los Angeles County

In Los Angeles County, the Governor’s proposed budget would provide substantially more money for enforcement measures when it comes to complaints about elder abuse in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. With the proposed budget, county officials’ responsibilities likely would be limited to annual inspections, with exceptions made for “the most serious cases affecting patient welfare.” This shift is supposed to help to prevent a future backlog of complaints. Currently, Los Angeles County has a backlog of 10,000 complaints and incidents, and 2,700 “have been open for more than two years.”

Los Angeles County works a little bit differently than other counties in the state. It’s “the only county in the state that is contracted to conduct yearly inspections of the homes and hospitals, as well as investigations of complaints of mistreatment, inadequate care, and other violations of state regulations.” In other counties, state officials bear these responsibilities. And reports indicate that Los Angeles County officials aren’t getting the inspections completed in a timely or proper manner. To be sure, a recent audit showed that officials closed certain complaints without fully investigating them.

County employees attribute the problem to a lack of funding, and patient advocates have expressed concerns that shifting the investigation duties will lead to even greater mismanagement and the suffering of elderly residents in facilities throughout the county. According to Molly Davies, the vice president of Elder Abuse Prevention and Ombudsman Services at Wise & Healthy Aging, “there’s a potential to miss a lot if you don’t have some continuity of the inspection process.”

Need for More Funding

Will a new “division of duties” between state and county employees make a positive difference in the outcome of nursing home abuse complaints? Or is the problem one that could be better handled with a higher budget for county employees? Each year, Los Angeles County receives $26.9 million for its investigation program. In order to properly enforce the law and to hold facilities responsible for violations, county officials estimate that they’d need “twice that amount and an additional 150 employees.” In short, the county believes it could do better work if it had more funding.

And patient advocates also worry that introducing more state employees into the mix simply isn’t a good thing. According to one advocate with the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), “the state has been equally negligent in investigating nursing home complaints.” In other words, reorganization between the county and the state doesn’t seem to be the answer.

Are you concerned that someone you love has been the victim of elder abuse or neglect? It’s very important to discuss your case with an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse attorney. Contact the Walton Law Firm today to learn more.

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Proposed Legislation for RCFE Reform and Excluded Persons Lists

Senate Committee Approves Unscrupulous Elder Care Referral Agencies Bill

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When you learn that an elderly loved one has died while in the care of a nursing home or assisted-living facility, you may suspect that she didn’t receive the proper treatment. In some cases, however, it’s difficult to discern whether an older adult suffered injuries as a result of medical negligence or because of elder abuse.6811278733_eca62c5091

In California, nursing home abuse and neglect is a serious problem throughout the state. At the same time, medical malpractice can occur in a variety of healthcare settings, including nursing homes. According to a recent article in the National Law Journal, differentiating medical negligence and elder abuse cases can be complicated in California.

Characterizing a Healthcare Provider’s Actions

What’s the difference between medical negligence and elder abuse or neglect when it comes to seniors in California? It is not always easy to tell, and, sometimes, is a question for a jury to decide.  In a nutshell, medical malpractice is simply the failure to follow the “recognized standard of care” in a given situation, or, doing something (or failing to do something) another healthcare provider would do under the same or similar circumstances.   Elder abuse or neglect is conduct that is “more than negligent” and often thought to be a “conscious choice of action” that leads to a harm.  For example, a care plan for a nursing home resident might call for two people to assist to the toilet, but because of low staffing or a busy period, a caregiver decides to assist alone and the resident gets injured.  That could very well be considered neglect, because the caregiver knew, or should have known, what he/she was doing was wrong.  Ultimately, it’s an analysis about the degree or wrong doing.  Was it a simple mistake, or something more.

To be sure, nursing home abuse and medical malpractice claims can overlap. Indeed, both often involve descriptions of negligence or neglect when it comes to the actions of a medical professional or a facility, and more lawyers, like those at Walton Law Firm, will bring a lawsuit that alleges both medical negligence and elder neglect.

Limitations of Medical Negligence Claims for Seniors’ Injuries

Why might a victim of nursing home neglect seek to file an elder abuse claim instead of a medical malpractice lawsuit? In short, nursing home abuse victims may be entitled to additional remedies. For instance, a nursing home abuse claimant may be entitled to certain damages for pain and suffering whereas a medical negligence victim would not be eligible for the same.

Determining damages in any case—from an elder abuse injury case to a medical negligence matter—can be complicated. If you have questions about whether your elderly loved one may have been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, you should be sure to discuss your case with a dedicated advocate. A San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer at the Walton Law Firm can speak with you today.

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Northern California Nursing Home Sued for Overmedicating Residents

Rising Costs of Elder Care in California Prompt Additional Scrutiny

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In California, elder abuse isn’t limited to nursing homes. To be sure, residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFEs), which are also known as assisted-living facilities, retirement homes, and board and care homes, have been cited for numerous instances of elder abuse and neglect. And given that RCFEs only provide incidental medical services, these facilities aren’t subject to the same regulations as nursing homes. Which ones are safest for your elderly loved one? And which facilities haven’t been implicated in recent nursing home abuse allegations? Proposed legislation seeks to help Californians with these important questions.

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New Bill Aims to Provide Access to Elder Abuse Information

Many RCFEs exist throughout the state of California. According to the California Department of Social Services, they offer services ranging from personal supervision and assistance with activities of daily living to medical services that are incidental to personal care. How can consumers know which of these facilities will provide the best care to their elderly loved ones?

A recent article in California Newswire reported that a new bill seeks to require the Department of Social Services and Community Care Licensing (DSS/CCL) to “publish on its website a list of all persons who have been excluded from owning, operating, and/or working inside any licensed care facility as a result of an Administrative Law proceeding.”

In other words, if the bill passes, the public will be able to access quickly and with relative ease a list of those who have been implicated in serious situations of elder abuse and neglect. To be sure, the bill, AB 1122, “will provide convenient online access to the Excluded Persons Administrative Action List (EPAAL),” which will provide consumers, residents of assisted-living facilities, and service providers with information about persons who could be harmful at RCFEs. Allowing easy access to these names can help to ensure that RCFEs hire caregivers with “no prior history of behaviors which endangered the health or safety of an elder.”

Changing Reporting Requirements and Public Knowledge

Currently, DSS/CCL doesn’t have to contact outside law enforcement when it learns about cases of elder abuse or neglect in RCFEs. As a result, few of these cases end up being prosecuted. Rather than turn these cases over to prosecutors, allegations often end up in administrative law proceedings. Through these, DSS/CCL “can permanently or temporarily prohibit a person from working in a licensed care facility.”

While these proceedings may help to remove a dangerous employee from an assisted-living facility in one area, they don’t prevent another facility from hiring that person down the road. To be sure, “because the individual was never brought to justice through the criminal court system, the administrative sanction does not appear in a criminal background report.”

As such, Assemblymember Cheryl R. Brown emphasized that something needed to be done. She introduced AB 1122 in hopes of providing families and facilities with the information they need to avoid working with one of these “Excluded Persons” altogether. The bill has support from Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform (CARR).

Elder abuse and neglect are serious problems that frequently result in serious and fatal injuries to California seniors. If you are concerned that your elderly loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse, you should contact a dedicated San Diego nursing home abuse attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case.

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Rising Costs of Elder Care in California Prompt Additional Scrutiny

Fines to Increase at Assisted-Living Facilities

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Did you search for a nursing home or assisted-living facility in California through an elder care referral agency? In some cases, unfortunately, older adults end up in facilities that have financial arrangements with these referral agencies, and those elderly residents become the victims of nursing home abuse or neglect. Now, according to a recent article in California Newswire, Senate Bill 648 aims to provide greater protection to seniors who seek referrals through these agencies.

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Proposed Legislation to Protect Seniors from Bad Business Practices

How will Senate Bill 648 help elderly Californians and their families when it comes time to select a nursing home or assisted-living facility? In short, if the proposed legislation passes, it will strengthen the licensing and financial disclosure requirements for elder care referral agencies. The bill, according to the article, is on its way to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Why do we need this kind of law in Southern California? It’s no secret that many facilities for the elderly in our state haven’t provided the level of care that our older loved ones deserve. Indeed, numerous investigations into complaints of elder abuse and neglect—at facilities ranging widely in care, from those offering skilled nursing to those offering more limited attention at residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFEs)—make clear that we need to be particularly cautious when we’re deciding on a facility in which an elderly parent might reside.

Yet given the growing number of seniors across the country, “there has been an explosion of for-profit businesses that offer referral assistance to seniors and their families to find suitable long term care housing options in extended care, skilled nursing home, or intermediate care facilities and residential care facilities.” Are such services useful? If the referral agencies are acting in the best interests of the elderly population they serve, then they can “provide a valuable service.” However, the “current licensing requirements leave room for abuse.” As such, there’s a serious need for tighter regulation in California.

Need for Better Regulation

Elder referral services have risen dramatically in number, but the state’s attention to licensing and regulation hasn’t increased proportionally. To be sure, these companies remain largely unregulated throughout the state. What kinds of regulations currently exist? The better question might be one about the obvious regulatory omissions:

  •      Under the current law, “only certain referral agencies are required to be licensed.”
  •      Referral agencies aren’t required to make referrals to licensed care facilities.

What’s the result of the general lack of regulation when it comes to these referral agencies? Such agencies can advertise that they’re free of charge to clients, but then they recommend nursing homes and other facilities because there’s a financial incentive for every elderly person they place in these residences. And when a referral agency’s interests lie primarily in financial compensation—rather than placing seniors in facilities where they won’t be at risk of elder abuse or neglect—seniors and their families using the services deserve to have all the information.

As such, the bill would institute some new regulations. Specifically, under the terms of the bill, referral agencies must:

  •      Disclose their financial interest in placing customers at particular facilities;
  •      Disclose how many times it has inspected a particular facility;
  •      Provide notice to clients about where they can direct their complaints;
  •      Protect seniors’ medical privacy; and
  •      Maintain liability insurance.

In the meantime, if you or someone you loved suffered injuries as a result of elder abuse, you should contact an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case.

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Learning More About Elder Abuse Investigations

California Begins Clearing Nursing Home Complaint Backlog

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Given that reports concerning nursing home abuse and neglect have made clear that such crimes simply don’t discriminate based on the cost of a facility, should Californians be concerned about the link between the rising costs of long-term care and the risks of elder abuse?

In short, it’s possible that, due to the rising costs of this type of care, facilities could try to cut back on budgets in certain areas in order to attract elderly residents and their families. But could this type of attention to pricing lead to inadequate staffing, for instance?

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Need for Vigilance at Long-Term Care Facilities

According to a recent article in California Healthline, “the cost of long-term care for the elderly has steadily increased in recent years across the country, including in California.” The information comes from a survey conducted by Genworth Financial, which polled approximately 15,000 different facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Researchers asked questions about different types of costs, such as those for adult daycare as well as for home health aides, the article reported. The survey took place earlier this year in January and February.

How much have prices risen? The survey results suggest that “the cost of staying in a nursing home has increased by 4 percent annually over the last five years.” To give you an idea of what those costs look like, “the median cost of staying in a private nursing home room in 2015 is $91,250, compared with $87,600 last year.”

While services for the elderly generally have risen over the last decade, the price of long-term care at a nursing home has increased more rapidly. In comparison, the median annual cost of staying in an assisted-living facility is around $43,000, while it’s a bit higher—about $45,000—for a year of service from a home health aide. Should we be concerned about the rising costs and possible links to nursing home neglect? It’s important for families to be vigilant when they have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted-living facility. If you are concerned about the facility emphasizing that it has been cutting costs, you should ensure that your elderly parent continues to receive the type of care that she or he requires.

Costs Increase in California, Too

While long-term care prices are rising across the country, that trend seems to be even more pronounced in California. The survey results showed that California is on the higher side of the price increases, as nursing home costs rose by about 3.5 percent over the last five years. As such, the median cost for a private nursing home room in our state is now more than $104,000 over the course of the year.

Costs of assisted-living facility stays and in-home health aide services have also risen, but not nearly as drastically as nursing home costs. In California, the annual cost of staying in an assisted-living facility, for instance, is right around the national median at $45,000.

If you have questions about your elderly loved one’s treatment in a California nursing home, assisted-living facility, or residential care facility for the elderly (RCFE), you should discuss your case with an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer. The advocates at the Walton Law Firm can help.

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Pilot Program for Elder Abuse Victims

Learning More About Elder Abuse Investigations

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Over the past year, elderly California residents and their family members have been made all too aware that, if they file elder abuse complaints, the Department of Public Health isn’t likely to respond in a timely manner. However, according to a recent article in California Healthline, testimony given in a joint legislative hearing emphasized that “progress has been made in clearing a huge backlog of nursing home complaints, and steps have been taken to ensure it won’t happen again.”

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Department of Public Health Discusses Progress

Last October, a report from a state auditor revealed that the California Department of Public Health had a backlog of about 11,000 complaints concerning elder abuse in nursing homes and related facilities. According to Elaine Howle, the California state auditor, “many of them were urgent and serious complaints, and others were designated as high priority.” Of those complaints, Howle indicated that around 40 percent of those in the backlog fell into the category of “immediate or non-immediate jeopardy designations.”

As a quick reminder, California law requires the Department to initiate action within 24 hours when it comes to immediate jeopardy cases. In those deemed non-immediate jeopardy, the Department must initiate action within 10 days. With regard to the backlog of complaints and the time taken to launch an investigation, Howle emphasized that the Department had a “low of 14 days but a high of 1,000 days.” The auditor made numerous recommendations to the Department to speed up its investigations into complaints of urgent and serious nursing home abuse situations.

Based on Howle’s recommendations, Jean Iacino, the director of the Center for Health Care Quality, reported that the Department of Public Health has “taken significant steps to address the concerns.” Indeed, she underlined, “we have had substantial increases in staffing to meet the requirements for handling complaints.”

Time Frame Remains Too Long

The Department did adopt most of the recommendations in Howle’s report. At the same time, however, the Department has yet to enact a “provision that set a timeframe for completion of addressing the complaints.” Iacino made clear at the joint legislative hearing that “more progress needs to be made before attaching a time element to the changes.”

How has the Department taken steps to address the backlog and to work toward timely investigations of complaints concerning nursing home abuse and neglect? Iacino emphasized the following steps taken by the Department over the last six months:

  • Staffing additional employees to investigate complaints in a speedier fashion;
  • Developing a work plan;
  • Convening public stakeholder meeting to address the problem;
  • Changing oversight and supervision methods;
  • Expanding new technologies in the field;
  • Modifying data collection methods; and
  • Increasing recruiting and training efforts.

Iacino’s testimony indicated that all new complaints, since the state auditor’s report, have been completed in 90 days or fewer, and 96 percent of the immediate jeopardy cases are in compliance with the requirement for action within 24 hours.

Nursing home abuse and neglect is a serious problem in California and throughout the country. What should you do if you’re concerned that your elderly loved one has suffered injuries as a result of elder abuse? Contact a dedicated San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case.

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Court Prohibits California Health Department from Hiding Nursing Home Citations

Pilot Program for Elder Abuse Victims

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How, exactly, do elder abuse investigations work? After national news that Harper Lee, the famous author of To Kill A Mockingbird, might have been the victim of elder abuse, an article in Slate provided an in-depth look into investigations concerning reports of elder abuse and neglect. While each state has its own methods for looking into reports of nursing home abuse and other violations, it’s important for Californians with elderly parents and loved ones to understand the basics of an elder abuse inquiry.

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The Allegedly “Murky Field” of Elder Abuse and Competence

What does elder abuse look like, and how can we be certain when we see it? According to Rosalie Kane, a professor of health policy and management at the University of Minnesota, “the concept of elder abuse is a murky field.” Kane explained that “sometimes there’s too much branding of older people as incompetent,” and that can complicate conceptions of elder abuse. In other words, Kane believes that investigations into elder abuse allegations often aren’t taken seriously because of suspicions about the victim’s mental capacity.

Dr. Peter Lichtenberg, who serves as director of the Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University, described the “multi-step process” he uses when determining whether an elderly person is competent. He begins, he explains, “with 2-3 hours of cognitive testing to measure things like learning and memory, executive function, problem solving, attention span, language, and spatial awareness.” He then explores the close relationships the elderly person currently has to look for any signs of abuse or exploitation.

Looking for Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect in an Investigation

What are some of the obvious warning signs of physical abuse when it comes to the elderly? According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), physical abuse takes many forms. Some of the most common signs of physical abuse include but are not limited to:

  •      Slap marks;
  •      Pressure marks;
  •      Certain kinds of burns or blisters;
  •      Bruises; and
  •      Broken bones.

In addition to physical abuse, neglect is also a serious problem for elderly Californians in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, as well as those who receive care from family members. Some warnings signs of neglect include but are not limited to:

  •      Unexplained changes in behavior or alertness;
  •      Withdrawal from normal activities; and
  •      Any other unusual behavior.

The NCEA explains that one of the first steps in an elder abuse investigation typically involves adult protective services. Indeed, the NCEA reports that these workers “usually are to first responders to reports of elder abuse and neglect.” In California, the Ombudsman’s Office, administered through the California Department of Aging (CDA), “has jurisdiction for investigating reports of abuse that occur at nursing homes, board and care homes, residential facilities for the elderly, or long-term care facilities.”

Depending on the specific facts involved in the case, law enforcement officials also may be alerted. To be sure, the California Department of Social Services emphasizes that the Ombudsman’s office has “the responsibility to cross-report allegations of abuse to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, public agencies, and licensing entities having jurisdiction over these cases.”

Are you concerned about an elderly loved one’s safety in a nursing home or assisted-living facility in California? Elder abuse and neglect may not always be obvious, and it’s important to look for signs. If you do suspect that someone you loved has been the victim of nursing home abuse, you should contact an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse attorney to discuss your case. You may be able to help your loved one to seek compensation.

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Court Prohibits California Health Department from Hiding Nursing Home Citations

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When older adults become victims of elder abuse in their own homes, do they have any options to escape the violence? According to a recent article in the Orange County Register, more elderly adults are reporting that they’ve been the victims of physical abuse in Southern California, and the Orange County Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Registry received more than 9,000 such reports last year alone.16570337968_57d62c7708

Elder Abuse on the Rise in Orange County

Over the last 10 years, the Orange County Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse Registry has received a 74 percent increase in reports of abuse. Between 2013 and 2014 alone, the reported cases of abuse rose by nearly 14 percent. Of those calls, more than 75 percent involved seniors aged 65 and older. Yet experts suspect that the number is actually much higher. In other words, numerous cases simply go unreported.

Why wouldn’t elderly victims report their abuse? As officials from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department explain, “as with other domestic abuse cases, elderly victims often are afraid to report abusers because they are family members,” and they’re also often “financially dependent on them.” And when elderly victims of abuse do report it, they don’t have a lot of options to escape their abusers. Elder advocates have noted that “shelter options” in Orange County and elsewhere in California “are scarce for those over 65 who live in dangerous situations.”

Indeed, law enforcement agencies emphasize that elder abuse perpetrators frequently are family members. Even when elderly Californians do report abuse and their abusers must face the criminal consequences of their actions, the “victims are left without caregivers and safe living conditions.”

Elder Shelter Network and Pilot Program

It’s simply unacceptable for thousands of older adults in Southern California to be forced to remain in the residence of an abuser because they don’t have another place to go. Advocates in the area agree, and on March 1st of this year, a committee that includes various agencies in Orange County launched a pilot program known as the “Elder Shelter network.”

The Elder Shelter network is, according to the article, “the first of its kind in California.” It reaches out to long-term care agencies, including the Silverado group and the be.group to “reserve beds in their housing facilities for older victims who need to be moved.” The be.group, based on information contained in the nonprofit’s website, is one of the largest providers of senior living communities in California. It offers licensed communities to elderly residents throughout Southern California.

In addition to donating a specific number of beds for elders who have been the victims of abuse, the agencies involved in the pilot program will also provide “trained staff to care for those individuals.”

Whether it’s abuse at the hands of a family member or a staff member at an assisted-living facility, elderly Californians deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. Nursing home abuse and neglect is a serious problem in California, and it’s important to be vigilant. If you are concerned that an elderly loved one has been physically or emotionally abused, it’s important to discuss your case with an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer.

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Staffing Shortages at Skilled Nursing Facilities

California Facilities Fined for Resident Deaths

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Back in 2013, a number of elderly residents in a Castro Valley facility were abandoned, “left without proper staffing or care for two days,” according to a recent article in the San Jose Mercury News. Now, the owner and administrator from the facility, Valley Springs Manor, “have been charged with felony elder abuse and could face up to 17 years in prison if convicted.”

Indictment for Felony Elder Abuse

Who can be held liable for the serious allegations concerning nursing home abuse in Castro Valley? Based on an announcement from California Attorney General Kamala Harris, both the owner of Valley Springs Manor, Herminigilda Manuel, as well as a top administrator, Edgar Babael, have been indicted on 14 felony counts of elder abuse. Manuel was arrested by agents from the Department of Homeland Security at San Francisco International Airport, and a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Babel.

California authorities allege that Manuel and Babel “left residents in the care of only a janitor and a cook for several days after the state abruptly shut down the facility in October 2013.” The Valley Spring case, as well as other involving nursing home abuse and neglect, have resulted in a much-needed crackdown from the California Department of Social Services. To be sure, based on information about the elder abuse incident in Castro Valley, “legislators have pushed the department to improve not only its procedures for orderly closure of facilities, but also its maintenance of records showing individual facilities’ inspection and violation histories.”

After officials ordered the closure of Valley Springs Manor, no local authorities were contacted “to assist residents with finding new homes.” As such, numerous residents were abandoned at the facility without any “medical personnel to care for them, feed them, or provide them with medications.”

The only two staff members that remained at the facility—a janitor and a cook—reportedly “struggled to provide basic care” for those living at the facility. When asked about the recent indictment, both the janitor, Miguel Alvarez, and the cook, Maurice Rowland, emphasized that they were glad the facility owner and administrator would be held legally accountable for abandoning the elderly residents.

Efforts to Hold Owner and Administrator Liable

What do the charges against Manuel and Babael specifically entail? According to the article, they have been accused of “knowingly and willingly inflicted unjustifiable pain and mental suffering” on the residents of Valley Springs Manor when they abandoned them in October 2013.

Under the California Penal Code section 368(b)(1)(2)(3), Manuel and Babael could face the following penalties for felony elder abuse, including jail time:

  •      One year in county jail and $6,000 fine, or
  •      State prison for two, three, or four years.

In cases where a victim “suffers great bodily injury,” the perpetrator can face an additional 3 to 5 years in state prison. Those prison terms increase in the event of the death of the victim.

Nursing home neglect is a serious issue, and is can result in severe and fatal injuries to elderly residents. If you have concerns about a loved one’s safety or care in a California nursing home, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced San Diego elder abuse attorney.

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Sexual Abuse Reported at Nursing Home

 

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According to a recent report from CBS Sacramento, a California court made clear that “health officials may no longer hide from public view all the relevant details about citations issued to hospitals and nursing homes.” To be sure, the California Supreme court unanimously decided that “only the names of patients may be omitted when the California Department of Public health releases records describing the sanctions it imposed on long-term care facilities for providing improper care or endangering clients.”

Will this decision help to address issues of nursing home abuse and elder neglect across the state?

Background of the Center for Investigative Reporting Case

law-hammerThe recent case originated with the Center for Investigative Reporting after one of the organization’s investigators—who had been looking into patient abuse allegations at various state-run facilities—asked to take a look at the facilities’ citations as part of the California Public Records Act. While the California Department Health complied with the request in some form, it provided very little information that could be of use to someone who wants to determine in depth the reasons for a facility’s citation history.

To be sure, the investigator received “four years’ worth of heavily excised documents that listed only licensing information, the regulation violated, and a vague reference to the patient rights at issue.” According to one of the attorneys representing the Center for Investigative Report, the documents “were completely redacted.” He emphasized that, given the limited information contained within those redacted documents, “you wouldn’t have any understanding of the facts that led to the issuance of the citation.”

Why weren’t state health officials providing all of the essential information? Turning to a decades-old law, the department argued that redacting the documents was necessary to “protect patient confidentiality,” and an appeals court tended to agree. However, the Supreme Court held that “citations are public records from which only patient names need to be withheld.”

Citations are Public Records

When the Supreme Court determined that citations are public records and thus only require the omission of patient names for privacy purposes, it emphasized that Californians should be able to know the background of nursing home citations at facilities across the state.

As Justice Goodwin Liu noted in the decision, the lawmakers behind the Long Term Care Act—the law on which the Supreme Court relied in making its decision—were “aware of the privacy concerns presented by public disclosure.” At the same time, the Long Term Care Act “expressly mandates that every writing DPH generates . . . is a matter of public record subject only to the redaction of the names of the individuals involved.”

While this case focused primarily on facilities that treat “mentally ill and developmentally disabled individuals,” it’s likely to have reverberations in the elder care community. Given recent concerns about elder abuse violations at many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities throughout California, the state Supreme Court’s decision may make it easier for families to choose a safe facilities for their loved ones.

When you’re thinking about helping a loved one transition into a nursing home or assisted-living facility, it’s important to make sure that the facility has a history that’s free from allegations of nursing home abuse or neglect. If you do suspect that your elderly parent has been the victim of elder abuse, you should speak with an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer as soon as possible.

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