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New Government Study Finds California Overlooks Serious Nursing Home Violations

San Francisco — A new report (summary (pdf); full report (pdf, 1.6mb)) by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that California continues to overlook serious nursing home violations, including life-threatening conditions. Related to these failures, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), recently sued the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to seek enforcement of California laws requiring timely investigation of nursing home complaints.

The GAO report (Nursing Homes: Despite Increased Oversight, Challenges Remain in Ensuring High-Quality Care and Resident Safety) found that California inspectors issue far fewer serious deficiencies than most other states. From July 2003 through January 2005, California issued serious deficiencies to just 6 percent of its nursing homes, compared to 54 percent in Connecticut. According to the report, State inspectors often missed serious deficiencies or understated their severity.

The GAO study also found that California nursing home inspections are becoming much more predictable. According to the report, almost 28 percent of inspections are held within 15 days of the anniversary date of the prior annual inspection. The percent of predictable inspections in California has almost tripled since 2002. This practice allows nursing homes to conceal problems from inspectors.

The new findings are strikingly similar to earlier GAO investigations that found California nursing home residents are imperiled by a lax monitoring system. For instance, a July 2003 GAO study (Nursing Home Quality: Prevalence of Serious Problems, While Declining, Reinforces Importance of Enhanced Oversight), reported that the DHS was unable to respond to a rising tide of nursing home complaints and failed to detect serious violations that harmed residents or put them in immediate danger.

“The latest study demonstrates that California’s only consumer protection agency for nursing home residents, the California Department of Health Services, is not protecting them from neglect and abuse,” said Pat McGinnis, CANHR’s executive director. “The oversight system is badly broken and in need of major improvements.”

Too many California nursing home residents are victims of neglect and abuse. In the past five years, nursing home complaints increased by more than 60 percent and now exceed 15,000 per year. Many complaints are not investigated for weeks or months, resulting in lost evidence and witnesses. Consequently, most complaints are not substantiated or are summarily dismissed.