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How to File a Complaint Against a Nursing Home
* This is for Nursing Home complaints only.
Stage 1 - Filing the Complaint
Who Can File a Complaint?
Any person (not just residents or their family members) or organization can file a complaint about a nursing home with the Licensing and Certification Division of the California Department of Public Health (DPH). DPH is the state agency that enforces nursing home laws and regulations through regular inspections and complaint investigations. File a complaint with DPH when problems are serious and/or other steps to resolve your concerns have not been effective.
What Can I File a Complaint About?
You can file a complaint about abuse, neglect and any other matter protected by law. For example, you can file a complaint about violations of your rights, poor care, lack of staffing, unsafe conditions, mistreatment, improper charges, transfer and discharge concerns, and a failure to readmit you after a hospital stay.
In Addition to Filing a Complaint with DPH
Although you are not required to try other dispute remedies first, it is usually best to do so.
Start by communicating with staff of the facility or a family council if one exists. Another option is contacting the long term care ombudsman office in your county for assistance (http://www.aging.ca.gov/Programs/LTCOP/Contacts/). The ombudsman program helps residents resolve concerns about their care and rights. The ombudsman does not have any powers or direct authority over the nursing home, however, it can try to resolve the complaint with the nursing home, express concerns with outside officials and help you file a formal complaint with DPH.
If your concerns are not resolved, file a complaint with DPH.
Where Do I File a Complaint?
See the list of DPH Licensing and Certification district offices below to find the district office for your area.
How Do I File a Complaint?
Complaints may be made orally or in writing. If you phone in a complaint, follow up with a written complaint to ensure that there is a paper trail. Attached is a form you may use to file a complaint.
What Information Should I Include in My Complaint?
Taking notes or keeping a written log will enable you to retrieve specifics later. When writing a complaint, be brief, concise, and complete. No investigator wants to read a long letter to figure out what’s going on. Stick with the facts (“the nurse hit my mother”), and avoid stating generalities or making legal conclusions such as “the facility is guilty of elder abuse.”
Your complaint should include:
Stage 2 - Notifying Other Authorities of Your Complaint
Should I Notify Other Agencies or People About My Complaint?
Yes, other organizations may have authority to investigate your complaint or be able to give you advocacy support or information. Also, DPH may give your complaint better attention if it knows you have alerted other authorities. Send a copy of your complaint to CANHR, the local ombudsman office, and to:
Stage 3 - Investigation
After You Have Made a Complaint - What Happens Next?
DPH must notify you of the name of the assigned investigator within two (2) working days of receipt of your complaint. California Health & Safety Code §1420(a)(1). It is a good idea to call the assigned investigator prior to the onsite investigation to ensure the investigator is familiar with the details of your complaint and to discuss the planned investigation.
Under California law, DPH must begin an onsite investigation of your complaint within ten (10) working days of receipt. If the complaint involves a threat of imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm, DPH must investigate onsite within 24 hours of receipt of the complaint. California Health & Safety Code §1420(a)(1).
As a result of a CANHR lawsuit, DPH is under court order to comply with the investigation timelines. CANHR is carefully monitoring its compliance with the court order. Please notify us if your complaint is not investigated within the above timelines.
There are also deadlines for completing complaint investigations. Investigations of all types of nursing home complaints filed on or after July 1, 2018 must be completed within 60 days of receipt. In extenuating circumstances, the deadline can be extended by up to 60 days upon written notification to the complainant and facility. California Health & Safety Code §1420(a)(5).
There are less strict deadlines for completing investigations of complaints filed prior to July 1, 2018.
DPH must issue any citations resulting from its investigative findings within 30 days of completion of the complaint investigation. California Health & Safety Code §1420(f). Citations are state fines that DPH can impose for certain types of violations.
What Are My Rights as a Complainant?
Stage 4 - The Appeals Process
What If I'm Dissatisfied with DPH's Findings?
If you are dissatisfied with DPH’s findings, you have the right to an informal conference. To request the informal conference, write to the DPH district office manager within 30 calendar days of from receipt of the findings (“Results of Complaint Investigation” letter). Center for Health Care Quality Policy & Procedure 19-03.
The conference should be scheduled within 30 days of your appeal; you will meet with the DPH district manager (or designee) and possibly the nursing home administrator. Within 10 working days after the informal conference, DPH should notify both you and the facility of its determinations. You have the right to have an attorney with you.
What If I'm Dissatisfied with the Results of the Informal Conference?
If you are dissatisfied with the results of the informal conference, you may appeal to the Deputy Director at: California Department of Public Health, Center for Healthcare Quality, P.O. Box 997377, Sacramento, CA 95899–7377. To file this appeal, you have 15 days from receipt of the findings of the informal conference. A representative from the Complainant Appeals Unit will review the findings from the initial investigation and the informal conference. You have the right to request an interview with this representative. Based on the Appeals Unit review, the Deputy Director must make a final determination and notify you and the facility within 30 days. No further appeals are available through DPH.
Despite your legal right to appeal, DPH often ignores complainant appeals. If it does not respond to your appeal in a timely manner, call CANHR for advice.
Stage 5 - Ensuring Proper Investigation
Help! DPH Hasn't Gotten Back to Me in a While - What Do I Do?
If DPH does not keep you notified as detailed above, contact it to check on the status of your complaint. Know your complaint number, as well as the name and direct phone number of the investigator. Keep a timeline of all correspondence and communications with DPH.
If the assigned investigator is not responsive, work the DPH chain of command. Contact the investigator’s supervisor, then the district manager if necessary. Advise the legislators for your district and the ombudsman office if they do not take appropriate action to address your concerns.
Call CANHR at 800-474-1116 to discuss additional advocacy steps if your complaint is not addressed to your satisfaction.
You can find your complaint and appeal rights in the California Health & Safety Code, Sections 1419 and 1420. The California Health & Safety Codes are available online at:
Find the county where the nursing home is and use the corresponding number to send the complaint to the appropriate Licensing and Certification District Office Location address below. The corresponding hyperlinks will show the appropriate office information.
Licensing and Certification District (LCD) Office Addresses
Find the county office for a particular facility by using the table above.
The form below may be used as a guide for what to include when filing a complaint.
Date Completed: _______________
Name of person filing complaint: _________________________________
City: __________________________ State: _______ Zip: ____________
Daytime phone: ___________________ Evening: ___________________
Address of facility: ____________________________________________
City: ___________________________ State: ______ Zip: ____________
Date(s) of incident: _______________
Shift(s) when incident(s) occurred, if known:
Witnesses (including health care professionals):
Records that should be examined:
Name of staff person(s) if violation involves action or lack of action by staff:
Mark the following spaces that apply:
Page Last Modified: October 24, 2019