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Why So Few Complain?
Is Anybody In Sacramento Listening?

By Lillian L. Hyatt, M.S.W., and a Resident of a CCRC

Excerpted from the Summer 2006 The CANHR Advocate newsletter

“The Continuing Care Contracts Branch (CCCB) of the Department of Social Services is not able to be in an assertive mode. It has been quite passive for a number of years,” according to Walter Rozett, President of the California Continuing Care Residents Association (CALCRA). The CCCB received only six complaints in 2005 from 78 CCRCs! It is surprising indeed that so few complaints were received. Perhaps my own painful, intimidating experience as a CCRC resident illustrates why so few complaints were received and recorded as public information.

In April of 2005, I testified at the California State Capitol on Senate Bill 244. I gave testimony about when I was refused fundamental services mandated in my contract. In May 2005, the C.E.O of the organization that owns and operates my facility attacked my credibility, reputation and character before legislative staff in a meeting designed to discuss issues related to SB 244. I made a verbal complaint concerning this attack in January 2006, with the Senior Care Licensing Division Chief responsible for my area. Although this agency is empowered to investigate residents’ complaints, they refused to speak to me and referred me to the CCCB in Sacramento. On February 2, 2006, I sent my first letter of complaint to the CCCB. I requested that this C.E.O. be called to account for violation of the Health and Safety Code, which prohibits retaliation against a resident, who complains to any governmental agency. (Health and Safety Code §1569.37 and §1771.7(g))

In my initial letter, I furnished the CCCB staff with a letter from a legislative staff person detailing the C.E.O.’s attack on my credibility and reputation. The CCCB staff then requested corroborating information from another legislative staff person present at the meeting. I obtained and forwarded that letter. On February 22, 2006, the branch chief informed me that such complaints must be backed by any relevant “information that might assist us in resolving this matter.” On March 12, 2006, I wrote the CCCB once more furnishing more information. On March 14, 2006, the CCCB received a letter from the C.E.O. calling the whole matter a “misunderstanding.”

After numerous letters and phone calls, I finally received a letter from CCCB dated May 2, 2006 finding no retaliation by the provider based on the reasoning that “a provider may justify the statements in the context of a political debate with legislators … as the exercise of his/her political rights.” It is no wonder that in my letter of April 2, 2006, to the CCCB Branch Chief, I stated that this complaint process is designed to “make the complaining resident feel like the offender.”

Almost a year has passed since the incident occurred. By now most elderly residents would have given up on getting a fair resolution to their complaint. Is this one reason why so few complaints are made or become part of the public record? This problem is compounded by the fact that residents are not clear about how and where to file complaints.

Social workers and relatives of residents should be aware that CCRC residents are vulnerable because the Ombudsman has no enforcement powers, and the Department of Social Services officials are reluctant and slow to address thorny issues. The CCCB of the Department of Social Services has a Branch Chief, an attorney and 4 to 6 staff to oversee a multi–billion dollar Continuing Care Retirement Community industry in California! This limited regulatory capacity reduces the sense of security and protection that the elderly, who have invested their life savings in CCRCs, have a right to expect.