San Francisco – San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ordered the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to obey California law by promptly investigating complaints about nursing home neglect and abuse. The action is an important victory for victims of neglect and abuse because their complaints must now receive the attention they deserve.
The written order, issued September 28, 2006, stems from an October 2005 lawsuit brought by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) and the daughters of two elder neglect victims against DHS because it routinely ignores its legal duty to investigate nursing home complaints within 10 working days. Due to its longstanding failures, many California nursing home residents are exposed to abuse and neglect long after it is reported to DHS. Most complaints are investigated months or years late, rendering investigations virtually worthless.
At a September 12, 2006 hearing in San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Busch dismissed DHS’s protests that it needed more than a year to comply with the law. He stated: “My view, however, is that the Department has to get on this, and has to get on it quickly, and has to comply with the law.”
The order requires DHS to investigate at least 40 percent of its nearly 1,000 complaint backlog within four months and all of the backlog complaints within 8 months. Eighty percent of new complaints must be investigated in a timely manner within four months and all new complaints must be investigated in a timely manner within eight months.
In issuing his ruling, Judge Busch declared: “I don’t see a reason why it can’t be done, and I think unless the Court puts pressure on the Department, that it won’t get done.”
Judge Busch’s order also requires DHS to file quarterly compliance reports with the Court and allows CANHR to seek enforcement if DHS fails to comply with any of its terms.
“It’s a shame that citizens have to sue the State to make it comply with laws that protect people from neglect and abuse,” said Pat McGinnis, CANHR’s Executive Director. “But we are very pleased with the judge’s firm order and expect that it will help reduce mistreatment of California’s nursing home residents.”
CANHR is represented by Christopher Healey and Aaron Winn of Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps of San Diego and by Michael Thamer of Callahan.