Judge Orders State to Promptly Investigate Complaints of Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse

Judge Orders State to Promptly Investigate Complaints of Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse

San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ordered the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to obey California law by promptly investigating nursing home neglect and abuse complaints. The action is an important victory for victims of neglect and abuse because their complaints must now receive the immediate attention they deserve.

The written order, issued in the end of September 2006, stems from an October 2005 lawsuit brought by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) and the daughters of two elder neglect victims against DHS because it routinely ignores its legal duty to investigate nursing home complaints within 10 working days. Due to its longstanding failures, many California nursing home residents are exposed to abuse and neglect long after it is reported to DHS. Most complaints are investigated months or years late, rendering investigations virtually worthless.

At one of the September hearings in the San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Busch dismissed DHS’s protests that it needed more than a year to comply with the law. He said that the Department needs to comply with the law and must make any necessary changes immediately.

The order requires DHS to investigate at least 40 percent of its nearly 1,000 complaint backlog within four months and all of the backlog complaints within 8 months. Eighty percent of new complaints must be investigated in a timely manner within four months and all new complaints must be investigated in a timely manner within eight months.

Without issuing such a ruling and having the Court put this pressure on the Department, Judge Busch felt the needed changes would not be made. His order also requires DHS to file quarterly compliance reports with the Court and allows CANHR to seek enforcement if DHS fails to comply with any of its terms.

To view a copy of the order, click on the following link: Judge Orders State to Promptly Investigate Complaints of Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse (PDF; 1.3mb). For more information, you can also contact Pat McGinnis, Executive Director, CANHR at (415) 974-5171.

Around the same time as this ruling, Governor Schwarzenegger also signed some related legislation pertaining to patient safety and long term care. The passage of SB 1301, introduced by Senator Elaine Alquist, requires health care facilities to report adverse events to the Department of Health Services within five days of their discovery, unless the event is an ongoing situation or an emergency. Under the law, DHS within two business days must investigate a complaint of an ongoing problem or emergency situation at a health care facility. The passage of AB 2968 introduced by Assembly member Mark Leno, addresses long term care in the community setting by requiring DHS to develop a program to offer community-living support benefits to eligible Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

Information for this article was edited in part from a CANHR press release, October 2006.

Our blogger Karen J. Fletcher is CHA's publications consultant. She provides technical expertise, writing and research on Medicare, health disparities and other health care issues. With a Masters in Public Health from UC Berkeley, she serves in health advocacy as a trainer and consultant. See her current articles.