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California still failing after Valley Springs care home disaster

Original source:

San Jose Mercury News


It's been more than a year since the state Department of Social Services suspended the license of a Castro Valley care facility and left a janitor and cook looking after elderly and mentally ill patients.

The story of incompetence and indifference in the division responsible for overseeing residential care facilities was horrific. Unfortunately, its response continues to reinforce a stereotype of the worst sort of government bureaucracy, unwilling to hold employees accountable and unable to help the people it's supposed to serve and protect. Anyone who has loved ones in a care facility should be watching out for them constantly because the state is not.

In October 2013, inspectors who had been watching Valley Springs Manor for a year or more finally decided to shut it down. But they never considered what would happen to residents.

The day after the suspension, a licensing evaluator went back to the facility and found residents still there, an insufficient food supply and medications missing. The evaluator issued a notice that the facility was operating in violation of law, with a civil penalty of $3,800, and gave a copy of the findings to -- get this -- the cook. There's no indication the evaluator or her supervisor took steps to secure new homes for the residents.

The state agency's pathetic two-page report on the incident leaves the impression that no human beings were responsible, only faceless organizations: "The Department fell short of its mission to protect the health and safety of residents in Valley Springs Manor. The Division erred in not ensuring, through successful engagement with local partners, that relocation arrangements for all of the residents were complete."

The specific employees who demonstrated an appalling callousness and incompetence were never disciplined.

What about the families? They had no clue about Valley Springs Manor's troubled past and were unprepared for the shutdown.

If there had been a way for families to easily read inspection reports before the shutdown, they might have moved their loved ones -- or never placed them there. We're talking about public reports. This key information about California residential care homes has to be readily available online. Florida and Washington have solved this problem. But the state that's home to Silicon Valley can't get it done.

Instead, California still requires that families go to state licensing offices (in San Jose for the South Bay and Oakland for the East Bay) to read reports about a facility.

Pam Dickfoss, head of the department's Community Care Licensing division, promises change. But she has no timeline, saying -- just like a bureaucrat -- that it "takes time to do things right."

It takes holding people accountable for their responsibilities, too. And apparently that's not going to happen.