State Sued Over Delayed Investigations of Nursing Home Complaints
On Tuesday, an advocacy group for elderly individuals filed a lawsuit against the California Department of Public Health for failing to promptly investigate complaints at nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities in the state, the Sacramento Bee reports.
California has 1,286 licensed nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities, according to the Bee.
The number of nursing home residents is likely to increase in coming years as more California residents reach age 65 or older. According to estimates from the state Department of Finance, the number of individuals over age 65 is expected to triple from 2000 to 2050.
DPH is required by the Health and Safety Code to perform on-site investigations within 10 business days of receiving a complaint. For "imminent and serious" complaints that involve "a threat of imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm," DPH is required to investigate within 24 hours.
However, state data show that the department in fiscal year 2007-2008:
- Completed 69% of investigations of serious complaints within 10 days; and
- Completed 79% of non-urgent investigations within 40 days.
In fiscal year 2009-2010, the department completed even fewer investigations over a longer period of time, with:
- 47% of serious complaints being investigated within 40 days; and
- 54% of non-urgent complaints being investigated within 60 days.
Details of Lawsuit
The lawsuit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of the Foundation Aiding the Elderly. Two top DPH officials were named in the suit, including:
- Ronald Chapman, director of DPH; and
- Debby Rogers, deputy director of DPH's Center for Health Care Quality.
FATE argues in the lawsuit that DPH staff "have been extremely delinquent" in responding to complaints by "taking months and sometimes years" to complete an investigation.
According to the suit, the department's most recent annual report did not include data on how quickly complaints were investigated, even though the number of complaints increased from 8,915 to 9,281 since last year.
Howard Hirsch -- an attorney with the Lexington Law Group, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of FATE -- said the department either has violated the California Public Records Act by refusing to release the data or has violated the Health and Safety Code by failing to collect it.
The lawsuit asks the court to:
- Impose deadlines on DPH or enforce existing deadlines for investigating complaints at nursing homes; and
- Compel DPH to issue an annual report on the timeliness of its complaint investigations (Lundstrom, Sacramento Bee, 10/30).