California Begins Clearing Nursing Home Complaint Backlog

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.

Photo Credit: Julien Lagarde via Compfight cc

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