Federal Report Finds State Oversight of California Nursing Homes Deficient

Last week, the federal government issued a new report that scrutinizes California nursing home inspections. The report finds those inspections lacking because inspectors fall far short in following up on their own investigative findings into problems at nursing facilities across the state. The California Department of Public Health is responsible for inspecting the state’s 1,150 nursing homes. Our San Diego County nursing home abuse lawyers have successfully sued nursing homes and residential facilities for neglect and abuse for years, and our firm is recognized as a leader in this area of law. As a result, we are familiar with how important it is for state officials to conduct thorough and accurate nursing home inspections.

inspections.gifThe Department of Public Health (DPH) enforces both state and federal regulations that govern California nursing homes. However, the state and federal systems follow different rules and can levy different fines and sanctions when nursing homes commit violations. According to the DPH, it receives about 19,000 complaints and facility-reported issues each year. The DPH instructs inspectors to first examine problems in light of state laws that allow them to levy fines of $1,000 to $100,000. Those fines can be levied for a number of reasons, including, for example, a finding of San Diego elder neglect or abuse.

The recent federal report examines how well state inspectors from the DPH enforce federal regulations. When state inspectors fail to follow up on their inquiries, it can potentially enable sustained neglect or lax practices that can injure residents, according to a report from California Watch. The federal report, which was issued by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General, examined the handling of 178 findings of deficiencies at three nursing homes that send a high rate of patients to nearby hospitals with painful bedsores and severe infections. The inspector general found that nursing home regulators underestimated the severity of problems in 13% of the findings.

For example, one patient was sent to a hospital for evaluation because she had blood in her urine, but she was sent home without medication after a day. The hospital instructed the woman to follow up with a doctor within two to three days. A week later, the nursing home determined that the resident’s problem persisted and merited another hospital visit. Clearly, something was missed, resulting in two hospitalizations for the elderly resident instead of one or none at all. Thus, in this case, the inspector general concluded that the problem should have been classified as one that caused “actual harm,” rather than the potential for harm. The failure to appropriately classify a problem at a nursing home or long-term care facility is considered “non-compliant” behavior, and could be an indication of larger problems.

When state inspectors fail to properly assess the severity of problems at California nursing homes, their evaluations have the potential to skew ratings on Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website, which provides detailed information about every Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the U.S. Nothing beats visiting and judging the quality of care at a nursing facility in person, but the website can be a useful tool to help you get started if a loved one is considering moving into a nursing home.

One elder advocate states the federal report shows that state inspectors are creating a system that does not hold nursing homes accountable for making meaningful changes after problems are found. California authorities say they are strengthening their staff training on federal guidelines in an effort to address the problems identified in the report. Our San Diego County nursing home abuse lawyer believes these issues must be dealt with immediately to ensure the well-being of all of our area seniors.

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