On November 3, 2009, the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes issued a strongly worded report recommending major reforms to the California long term care ombudsman program. The report, California’s Elder Abuse Investigators: Ombudsman Shackled by Conflicting Laws and Duties, found deep flaws in California’s system for detecting and responding to elder abuse and neglect.
Nursing home and assisted living facility residents in California are increasingly at risk of elder abuse because local ombudsman funding has been severely cut and the state ombudsman office has established unreasonable restrictions on ombudsman reporting of abuse.
The report reveals that ombudsman complaint referrals to the nursing home licensing agency dropped by a shocking 44 percent in the last year after the Governor slashed funding to the ombudsman program. During the same period, ombudsman complaints to Community Care Licensing about assisted living facilities dropped by over 40 percent. Ombudsmen throughout the state report that abuse and neglect are going unreported and uninvestigated because ombudsmen are far less visible and available to residents and their families.
According to the report, local ombudsmen often drop serious abuse cases because the state ombudsman office has imposed inappropriate restrictions, such as requiring ombudsmen to obtain consent from suspected perpetrators to report abuse and neglect.
The California Department of Aging operates the state ombudsman office, which is going to extreme lengths to prevent the proper investigation of abuse and neglect. The report states that the state ombudsman office will not even release the names of elder abuse witnesses to law enforcement or licensing agencies that are investigating the abuse, despite laws directing it to do so.
As a result of the California Department of Aging’s misguided policies, legislation aimed at protecting long term care facility residents from abuse is being ignored. For instance, the Legislature passed AB 2100 (Wolk) in 2008 to require ombudsmen to send abuse complaints to district attorneys. The bill was meant to encourage local prosecutors to pursue elder abuse cases that may have previously escaped their attention. However, very few reports have made their way to prosecutors due to the California Department of Aging’s erroneous and restrictive confidentially policies.
CANHR strongly supports the report’s recommendations to restore adequate funding for local ombudsman programs and to establish an independent state ombudsman office that can provide support and leadership to local programs and serve as a true advocate for residents of long term care facilities.