Senate Committee Hearings Review Assisted-Living Center Problems
On Tuesday, several California legislative committees held joint hearings regarding complaints about abuse and neglect of residents at assisted-living facilities in the state, U-T San Diego reports.
The hearings came after an investigation by U-T San Diego, in partnership with the California HealthCare Foundation's Center for Health Reporting. CHCF publishes California Healthline (McDonald, U-T San Diego, 2/11).
Background on Investigation
After analyzing 7,000 state records of assisted-living center inspections, the investigators identified a variety of problems, including:
- Employees being discouraged from reporting medical mistakes;
- Failure to schedule medical appointments for residents when ordered by a doctor;
- Housing residents who needed a higher level of care than staff could provide;
- Insufficient staffing;
- Medication errors, including administering incorrect medicine or dosages;
- Staff ignoring or not treating residents' symptoms; and
- Unsafe medicine storage.
The investigation found that most of the errors were caused by:
- Poor oversight by staff; or
- Lack of training for staff.
Investigators noted that the California Department of Social Services -- which licenses and regulates assisted-living centers -- does not track medical errors at the facilities.
The investigation also found that only half of the $2.9 million in fines levied against assisted-living facilities since July 2007 has been collected by the state. Meanwhile, hundreds of facilities that have unpaid fines remain licensed and continue to operate (California Healthline, 1/14).
Details of Hearings
The first hearing on Tuesday was held by the Assembly and Senate Human Services committees. The second hearing was held by the state Senate committees on Health and Business, Professions and Economic Development.
During the hearings, witnesses said that the penalties for individuals or facilities that violate state law are not harsh enough and offer no real incentive to comply with the rules.
Pat McGinnis, with California Advocates for Nursing Reform, said, "The enforcement system creates no accountability."
In addition, witnesses noted that many regulators did not respond to complaints in a timely manner and that complaints often were assessed as administrative violations, which do not require police or prosecutors to be notified.
Former regulator Markie Parker called the pressure to process cases "relentless," noting that public health administrators "are not doing their jobs."
However, state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) said that legislation cannot be the only solution to the problems at assisted-living facilities. He said, "We can only go so far with regulation. I just implore the [Department of Social Services] to understand there are intangibles that cannot be taken care of" by passing laws alone (U-T San Diego, 2/11).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.