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CCRC Residents on Trial:
What Can Happen to CCRC Residents
If They Dare to Complain?

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

Excerpted from the Fall 2007 The CANHR Advocate newsletter

When I applied to enter my Continuing Care Residential Community (CCRC) seven years ago, I neglected to ask if the facility had a grievance policy and procedures to allow a resident to complain in a private, confidential manner. That omission proved to be a grave error.

I recently discovered from the Ombudsman that my facility had no such policy or procedure. In order to file a grievance in this CCRC, residents must go to a standing committee closest to the subject of the complaint, who then constitute themselves as a grievance committee. This committee decides if the issue is worthy of consideration by the Residents’ Council. In the meantime, the person’s private problems and business can become known to the entire CCRC. This “procedure” benefits CCRC administrators, because most residents will forgo their rights rather than allow their peers to judge them and gossip about their private concerns. As a result, the administration does not have to deal with the problem, and has effectively silenced the complaining resident.

If the resident persists, as I have done, the resident is put on trial! Questions are raised. Is the resident telling the truth? Do others believe that this person is in their right mind? Are they chronic complainers? In my facility, any resident who complains is labeled a “Grouser!” How many elderly people would care to invoke that kind of hostility from other residents in order to exercise their rights? I did. As a result, I have faced serious retribution and humiliation from fellow residents as well as staff and administration.

Although the law establishes many rights and protections, including the right to make complaints without fear of retaliation or loss of confidentiality, some CCRCs do not have policies or procedures to maintain residents’ privacy when a grievance is made. Check the policies of the CCRC to make certain that fair and adequate procedures exist to keep grievances confidential.

What happens if a resident’s rights and privacy are violated? What recourse do residents have? Do the agencies that are supposed to protect residents really work? Are residents even aware of where and how to file complaints?*

Over a period of six years, I have explored the system supposedly designed to protect CCRC residents. I have discovered a number of disappointing facts. Complaint calls to regulatory agencies frequently go unanswered or remain uninvestigated for so long that one becomes discouraged from pursuing the matter. Investigations seem too often to result in “unsubstantiated” findings. Contacting the Department of Social Services’ Continuing Care Contracts Branch (CCCB) is usually of little help. The CCCB receives all of its money from the CCRCs, compromising their independence. For instance, the CCCB received only 6 complaints in 2005 and 13 complaints in 2006 from all 78 CCRCs in California. If you bring your complaint to your Ombudsman, administrators know that they have no enforcement power, and can be ignored with impunity.

The agencies that I have dealt with were inadequately funded, understaffed, and often unresponsive. As long as the State of California is more interested in saving a few dollars in its budget rather than maintaining an effective system of oversight and enforcement, many of the state’s frail and elderly citizens will be without real protections and remedies.

Because CCRC administrators are very aware of California’s weak regulatory protections, some providers have adopted the arrogant attitude of “sue me;” or, “leave this facility if you are so unhappy here.” In the absence of meaningful regulatory oversight, legal proceedings unfortunately might be the only effective remedy left for some residents. However, the prospect of large legal bills can silence a complaining resident as they must pay for attorney fees out of their own pocket while the CCRC administrators pay their legal fees from the residents’ monthly care fees.

The system of care and protection for CCRC residents should be on trial, not its residents!

*Refer to CANHR’s Fact Sheet, Filing Complaints Against CCRCs.