Nursing Home Complaints Increase; Citations, Fines Decline
The Department of Health Services received 23% more complaints of possible health and safety violations at nursing homes last year than the average of the previous four years, but it issued 36% fewer citations last year than in previous years, the Los Angeles Times reports. The state received 15,512 complaints against nursing homes last year, compared with 9,650 in 2000, according to an analysis of state records conducted by the Times.
In addition, the total amount of fines imposed for such violations was down 36% last year from the average of the previous three years. Last year, the state issued $2.3 million in fines, compared with an average of $3.66 million for each of the three previous years.
DHS officials say they have emphasized enforcement of federal nursing home regulations over the enforcement of state laws, which carry heavier fines than federal laws and are more strict on requirements such as staff-to-patient ratios, the Times reports.
Officials said they lack the staff to enforce both sets of rules, in part because of budget cuts (Morain , Los Angeles Times, 7/31). Brenda Klutz -- head of the DHS Licensing and Certification Division, which oversees nursing homes -- said the state currently has 443 nursing home inspectors, down from 557 in 2001.
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) signed into law a bill that increases state spending on nursing homes by $200 million. The law requires inspectors to respond to complaints involving allegations of "imminent serious bodily harm" within 24 hours. Less serious complaints must be answered within 10 days.
Klutz said DHS often does not respond to complaints within 10 days -- and sometimes never verifies complaints -- because of a shortage of inspectors and a backlog of complaints (AP/Sacramento Bee, 7/31).
Attorney General Bill Lockyer (D) is "making a point" of prosecuting nursing home owners and employees for crimes related to elder abuse, the Times reports. Since 1999, more than 300 nursing home workers have been convicted for crimes such as hitting or sexually abusing patients and forging licenses to obtain nursing home jobs (Morain , Los Angeles Times, 7/31).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.