Many of us have heard about assisted living facility reforms pending before the California legislature, as well as those aimed specifically at residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFEs). But are those reforms sufficient to ensure that California seniors are safe from elder abuse? According to a recent story from KQED’s State of Health, many elder justice advocates in California do not believe the reforms are going to do enough.
Recent History of Elder Abuse in San Diego
According to Deborah Schoch, an advocate with the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting, the number of assisting living facilities in our state essentially doubled over the last 25 years. For whom are these facilities designed? According to Schoch, they are intended for older, healthy adults who are “relatively independent.” Yet many of these facilities have taken in patients who require much more extensive levels of care, and assisted living facilities “are not designed to deliver skilled nursing care.”
Schoch recently helped report on numerous deaths resulting from elder abuse or neglect in San Diego County assisted living facilities. Her work led the San Diego district attorney’s office to create a “special unit” designed to “target crime in the facilities.” However, such a unit is not sufficient to combat the rampant nursing home abuse taking place in facilities across the state. As a result, a number of lawmakers are proposing new legislation aimed at ensuring our seniors receive the care they need. But will the new legislation be sufficient?
Lawmakers Seek to Change Elder Care
Across the state, lawmakers have listened to testimony from reform advocates concerning the state of elder abuse in assisted living facilities. In Sacramento, lawmakers heard from Aaron Byzak, an advocate who founded “Hazel’s Army” following his grandmother’s preventable death in an assisted living facility. When his grandmother died as a result of the facility’s neglect, the state only issued a $150 fine. In Sacramento, according to the KQED story, fines and regulations “haven’t changed much in close to 30 years.”
How have lawmakers reacted? Pat Leary, Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Social Services, emphasizes the need “for a revamp.” She referred to a number of bills pending before the legislature that would include some of the following reforms:
- Raising the maximum fine from $150 to $15,000;
- Upgrading the online “violations” database to make it more accessible to the public;
- Creating a medical expertise unit;
- Establishing a corporate accountability unit.
Leary explained that the state’s current inability to track elder abuse trends has been a serious problem, as The California Department of Social Services only “tracks facilities on a one-facility-at-a-time basis.” However, a corporate accountability unit could change that.
Advocates “say they’re heartened” by the proposed legislation, but they “worry about the fine print.” For instance, Chris Murphy and Christina Selder, two ardent advocates from the San Diego area, sponsored a bill requiring assisted living facilities to carry liability insurance. That bill passed, and has since been signed into law. However, Murphy explained that, if certain features are not “clearly stipulated within the bill, then it’s left to the regulators, then the regulators are going to come up with whatever they come up with.”
According to KQED, Selder “worries lawmakers are tweaking a system that is fundamentally dysfunctional.” Perhaps, she explained, lawmakers should be looking to give the system a complete overhaul, rather than designing laws that act more like analgesics.
Contact a San Diego Elder Abuse Lawyer
Do you have an elderly loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility in Southern California? It is often difficult to know for certain whether an older adult is receiving proper care. If you suspect that your parent has sustained injuries because of nursing home abuse or neglect, it is important to talk to an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer.
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