Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s legislation to reform the state’s faulty system used to investigate complaints of neglect and abuse within California’s 7,500 senior care homes was approved this week by the Assembly Human Services Committee on a unanimous, bipartisan vote.
Responding to the scandal at Valley Springs Manor in Castro Valley, where 19 elderly residents were abandoned by the home care owner, and reports citing failures in oversight and enforcement regarding California’s residential care facilities for the elderly, Skinner introduced AB 1554 to strengthen the investigations and complaint process. The bill is part of a package of reforms sponsored by the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.
“No longer will complaints of abuse and neglect be swept under the rug. The tragic incident at the Castro Valley care facility was preventable,” Skinner, of Berkeley, said. “We know now that stronger measures are needed to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable.”
Media reports have exposed failures in the Community Care Licensing (CCL) complaint investigation system revealing a pattern of shallow investigations, poor communication with complainants and weak enforcement.
At the hearing, Eric Boice, of Colfax, recounted how the complaint and investigations process failed his mother, a former elementary school teacher diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Boice said his mother died in 2009 as a result of the abuse and neglect she sustained while at an assisted living facility in Auburn, Ca.
“The investigation process was a joke,” Boice said. “We had evidence and material facts supporting our claims of abuse, yet the state agency did not request any additional information nor did they contact our attorney. My family’s experience is a sad commentary on our state's ability to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
AB 1554 would require Community Care Licensing to begin investigations of complaints involving abuse, neglect, or serious harm to an assisted living resident within 24 hours and to complete these highest priority investigations within 30 days.
The bill would also include provisions to ensure the confidentiality of patients, staff and whistleblowers. Additionally, the bill would require CCL to complete investigations of all other complaints within 90 days; to interview complainants, residents and other pertinent parties during investigations; to send written findings to complainants; and to provide complainants an opportunity to appeal findings.
“Sadly, we can’t erase the pain and trauma of those who have already suffered at the hands of problem owners,” Skinner said. “What we can do is pass this comprehensive set of reforms to prevent future incidents.”
—Information submitted by the Office of Assemblymember Nancy Skinner