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Progress Reported in State’s Handling of Nursing Home Complaints

Progress has been made in clearing a huge backlog of nursing home complaints, and steps have been taken to ensure it won’t happen again, according to testimony on Tuesday at a joint legislative hearing.

“We have taken significant steps to address the concerns,” said Jean Iacino, director of the Center for Health Care Quality department at the state Department of Public Health. “We have had substantial increases in staffing to meet the requirements [for handling complaints].”

Tuesday’s joint hearing of the Assembly Committee on Health and the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long Term Care was a follow-up to an October 2014 state auditor’s report that found a DPH backlog of 11,000 complaints about long-term care facilities.

“Many of them were urgent and serious complaints, and others were designated as high priority,” said Elaine Howle, California State Auditor. “About 40% of the complaints [fit] these immediate or non-immediate jeopardy designations.”

In immediate-jeopardy cases, action is supposed to be initiated within 24 hours and the department has 10 days to initiate those cases that fall into the non-immediate jeopardy category, she said.

“In this case, there was a low of 14 days but a high of 1,000 days,” Howle said. “There were 368 of these cases, and the average time taken was 340 days. That’s nearly a year, so we had very serious concerns about this.”

DPH officials adopted most of the recommendations from the auditor’s report — except for a provision that set a timeframe for completion of addressing the complaints.

Iacino said more progress needs to be made before attaching a time element to the changes.

Howle said that progress report is due soon. “April is the six-month response, so we expect to see significant progress by then and then more in October [at the one-year response date],” she said.

In addition to the staffing additions the department has developed a work plan, convened public stakeholder meetings, changed its oversight and supervision of a contract with Los Angeles County and increased recruiting and training efforts, Iacino said.

“We’ve been testing [computer] tablets to replace laptops in the field,” Iacino said. “And we’ve been modifying data collection to improve tracking of complaints.”

Iacino said the department now has completed 70% of all new complaints in 90 days or less. As for the immediate jeopardy cases, she said, 96% of them now meet the 24-hour requirement.

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