Renewed Concerns About Staffing Ratios in Assisted-Living Facilities

file000356994816Allegations of Elder Neglect and Abuse Resulting in Patient Deaths

According to a recent report from The San Diego Union-Tribune, concerns about elder abuse and preventable injuries in assisted-living facilities in Southern California still loom large. A 2013 special report from The San Diego Union-Tribune highlighted the dangers of nursing home neglect in assisted-living facilities across the state, emphasizing that regulators needed to do more to address serious allegations including but not limited to:

  • Lack of investigation into nursing home abuse claims;
  • Injuries resulting from medical errors;
  • Broken bones potentially caused by physical abuse;
  • Bed sores, or pressure ulcers, resulting from neglect; and
  • Claims of sexual assaults.

Has the California Department of Social Services stepped up to take action? The recent report alleges that many of the assisted-living facilities and memory-care centers in California are “often ill-equipped to manage the complex medical needs of their residents,” resulting from:

  • Lack of appropriate staffing numbers;
  • Poor training of staff; and
  • Off-label uses of antipsychotic drugs.

What do elder advocates allege has resulted from these incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect?

Examples of Incidents in California Demonstrating Lack of Oversight

The U-T San Diego report cites a particularly severe incident that occurred at Elmcroft of La Mesa, which ultimately resulted in the death of a 92-year-old patient, Norma Desick. According to the report, “amid lack of oversight, [Desick] was involved in a violent altercation with another dementia patient on February 20, 2015.” Due to her injuries, Desick died 16 days after the attack took place. The county medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Given that this patient’s death “occurred just as 10 bills passed by the Legislature in late 2014 began taking effect,” it may be too soon to know whether we need to do more.

What do those laws aim to do? There are currently more than 7,500 assisted-living facilities and memory-care centers in the state of California, and the laws were passed to help ensure the safety of the thousands of patients who call these facilities home. How do new laws help to protect seniors? The report notes some of the following elements of the recent legislation:

  • Levying higher fines on facilities that violate the law;
  • Requiring facilities to have more liability insurance; and
  • Requiring additional training for staff members in assisted-living facilities and memory-care centers in California.

While these laws might be doing some good, numerous elder advocates argue that the relatively recent legislation still does not go far enough and is not specific enough to prevent incidents like the one that took place at Elmcroft.

Staffing Requirements for Facilities May Be Inadequate

One of the primary concerns about the limitations of new laws is that that do not adequately address staffing problems. As the report explains, California state law requires that facilities meet a “minimum staff-to-resident ratio only for nighttime shifts.” What is that ratio? It requires one staff member to be on call at the facility in any facility that has fewer than 16 beds. For facilities that hold between 16 and 100 beds, the law requires “one ‘awake’ employee on duty along with another who is on call and capable of responding within 10 minutes.” And when it comes to daytime hours, facilities only are required to have staff members “in sufficient numbers.”

Are these staffing requirements really enough to prevent elder neglect and serious injuries? Or should California lawmakers do more, requiring facilities across the state to employ more staff during nighttime hours and requiring something more specific than “sufficient” numbers of daytime staff?

Contact a San Diego Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer

The U-T San Diego report raises many important questions about the safety of our elderly loved ones in facilities throughout Southern California. In the meantime, if you are concerned about a senior’s safety in an assisted-living facility, you should speak with an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the Walton Law Firm today.

See Related Blog Posts:

Nursing Home Abuse at the Hands of Other Residents

Elder Abuse Victims Remains Silent Too Often