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"No help for assisted living facilities in proposed state budget cuts"

Original source:

The Napa Valley Register

By Natalie Hoffman
Register Staff Writer

The way Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sees it, $14.5 billion in budget cuts would be a boon to the economic health of the state. But for the more than 150,000 elderly Californians who reside in more than 7,700 of the state’s assisted living facilities, the outcome may not be as rosy, according to the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

Unlike skilled nursing facilities, assisted living establishments do not provide medical care. Seniors are furnished with their own rooms or apartments and although staff members may give reminders, help with medications or provide assistance with personal hygiene, residents must be healthy enough to live on their own.

Proposed cuts to the state’s Department of Social Services – which licenses the facilities – would reduce the percentage of facilities chosen randomly for state inspections each year by more than 50 percent, "increasing the risk of neglect and abuse," according to CANHR.

Elizabeth Mautner, coordinator of Napa’s Long–Term Care Ombudsman’s Office, said the lottery system supplements scheduled state inspections throughout California, including Napa County’s 42 licensed facilities. "The state is only required to come out at least once every five years. Theoretically, a facility that nobody complains about could go five years without a state inspector coming out."

The current scarcity of random inspections is already less than ideal, she said. "Under the old formula, only 12 out of 42 (Napa County facilities) would be visited each year, which in itself is a travesty. The new formula would mean that only five or six of the 42 would get inspected. This is a disaster waiting to happen."

As a watchdog organization for local seniors, Napa’s Long–Term Care Ombudsman’s Office regularly records and investigates complaints about care, said Mautner. Since the beginning of the fiscal year, she said, the office has received more than 115 complaints from family members and others about local assisted living facilities – complaints about abuse and neglect, problems with care and issues with facility policies.

Lia Miller, administrator of the Berkshire – a 72–bed assisted living facility in Napa – said ideally, assisted living facilities should be inspected annually. Miller, who said smaller facilities are often not held to as high a standard as larger ones, added that the Berkshire’s last state inspection was in spring of 2007.

Like Miller, Patricia McGinnis – executive director for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform – is also in favor of more frequent state inspections.

"Inspecting (assisted living facilities) once every five years or less is a recipe for neglect and abuse. Care standards and residents’ rights become virtually meaningless when inspections are so rare," McGinnis stated in a press release.