"Care facility regulator lax on fines"
A hearing by an Assembly panel is told that a state agency doesn't yet have a good way to track penalties.
By Clea Benson — Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 2:15 am PDT Thursday, April 6, 2006
The state doesn't consistently penalize foster homes, day care facilities and care homes for the elderly when they fail to meet safety standards, a state official testified at an Assembly hearing Wednesday.
In addition, people who run small child care operations out of their homes are hardly ever fined even if they repeatedly violate the rules, said Lauren Nackman of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
"We are talking about providers where repeated problems are found," Nackman told the Assembly Budget Committee's subcommittee on health and human services.
Nackman urged lawmakers to institute fines for safety violations at child care homes and to require the state to start tracking whether fines are imposed and collected at all types of care facilities.
Officials from the Community Care Licensing Division, the arm of the California Department of Social Services responsible for monitoring the roughly 90,000 nonmedical care facilities in the state, said their computers don't allow them to keep track of penalties assessed and whether they are paid. Jo Frederick, director of the division, said upgrades to the computer system should enable her employees to start tracking that information by next year.
At Wednesday's hearing, Frederick also updated lawmakers on the division's efforts to improve its oversight of care facilities, which dropped dramatically during the budget crisis of the past few years.
Due to budget cuts in 2002, California adopted the lowest standard in the nation for inspecting care facilities - only once every five years. But because of staff cuts, the state was on track to inspect some facilities less than once every decade.
This year, the Schwarzenegger administration wants to devote $6.7 million to reforming the division, including the hiring of 80 new inspectors.
The division has made some progress. In addition to responding to complaints at care homes, inspectors made just 3,400 visits to care facilities in the fiscal year that began in July 2003. Inspectors will make twice as many visits this year, Frederick said. But that still falls short of the number of inspections that must be performed to ensure that facilities get visited at least once every five years. The new funds would help reduce the backlog of inspections.
At the same time, inspectors are expected to issue about 40 percent more citations to facility operators for safety violations this year than last year.
"The bottom line is we're continuing to rebuild, and the effort is showing encouraging results," Frederick said.
But advocates for residents of care facilities said an inspection once every five years is far too seldom to prevent harm to vulnerable Californians.
"We still feel this is woefully inadequate," said Jackie McGrath of the Alzheimer's Association. "If inspections are as frequent as they should be, it should act in the way of prevention."
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• The Bee's Clea Benson can be reached at (916) 326-5533 or email@example.com.
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