San Francisco — On Sunday night, just hours before it would become law, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 399, striking down an immensely popular bill to aid elder abuse victims in nursing homes by improving investigations of abuse and neglect. The bill would have required the California Department of Public Health to complete investigations within reasonable time limits and to notify complainants of findings.
Abuse and neglect have reached crisis proportions in California nursing homes. Complaints and facility reports of abuse and neglect have more than doubled in recent years and continue to grow at double–digit rates each year. More than 15,000 complaints and facility reports are expected to be investigated this year.
Introduced by Assembly Member Mike Feuer, AB 399 responds to the California Department of Public Health’s longstanding failures to conduct timely and effective investigations of nursing home complaints. The failures are well documented in a series of government reports, including an April 2007 report by the California State Auditor. It shows the Department failed to timely complete more than 60 percent of 15,275 investigations conducted between July 2004 and April 2006, and that more than 500 complaints remained open for more than one year.
For nursing home residents, the broken investigation system is a matter of life and death. The slow investigations subject residents to continued mistreatment and also compromise the Department’s ability to collect evidence. Most nursing homes face no consequences for abuse or neglect because the Department substantiates so few complaints (only one in six according to a 2007 study by the California Healthcare Foundation).
Even complaints involving deaths suffer extreme delays. This is especially true in cases involving AA citations, which involve a finding that neglect or abuse led to the death of a nursing home resident. Typical delays range from one to two years. Click here to read CANHR’s summary of recent AA citations.
“The veto is devastating to elder abuse victims in nursing homes,” said Patricia McGinnis, CANHR’s Executive Director. “It is shocking that the Governor won’t commit to timely investigations of abuse and neglect.”
Other than the Governor, AB 399 faced no opposition. The California Legislature voted 117 – 1 in favor of it. AB 399 is supported by dozens of organizations, the nursing home industry, and citizens throughout California who see it as an historic opportunity to restore integrity to California’s nursing home complaint investigation system.
Click here to read An Overview of California’s Broken Nursing Home Investigation System (pdf).
Click here to read list of organizations that supported AB 399 (pdf).