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"Investigation Prompts Bill On Group Homes"


March 12, 2008
Reporting Anna Werner

SACRAMENTO (CBS 5)�— A CBS 5 investigation into disabled Californians living in group homes has resulted in new legislation proposed in Sacramento.

It has taken 17 years, but the state agency that is supposed to protect disabled residents is officially being told to do its job.

For Jody Smith, a hearing at the State Capitol on Wednesday was not only about legislation, but also about justice for her and her daughter Robin Conte. Her daughter suffered injuries in a group home and later died.

"I was never so shocked," Smith said to the committee.

She also said the group home lied to her about whether residents of group homes like her quadriplegic daughter received proper medical care. A CBS 5 Investigation discovered the state Department of Public Health has failed to put in place regulations requiring adequate nursing training for staff in those homes, despite the fact they were supposed to do it under emergency legislation nearly 20 years ago.

As a result of CBS 5's reports, State Senator Elaine Alquist sponsored a bill to require the department to take action.

"It's a fact that people are dying," Alquist said.

But a nursing home industry group, the California Association of Health Facilities, says it opposes having those regulations put in on an emergency basis.

"We still haven't seen the draft regulations, so we don't know what it is that the department would put forth in an emergency format," said Betsy Hite, a spokesperson for the group. "That's of concern to us."

Michael Thamer, Conte's lawyer, responded to the group, saying, "The fact that the emergency has continued to go on doesn't make it any less of an emergency. There's a whole population that is in immediate need of protection, for them to say that we are going to continue to subject this population group to inadequate protections is unconscionable."

The Health Committee voted in favor 8-0, sending the bill on its way. The bill a step forward Jody Smith.

"This is one of the most important days of my life," she said. "As a parent to be able to speak even after the death of my child to speak for her, it means so much to me."