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CANHR Sues DHS for Failure to Investigate Complaints
Relatives of nursing home residents joined CANHR in filing a lawsuit on October 17, 2005 against the California Department of Health Services for failure to investigate complaints against California′s nursing homes in a timely and diligent manner. The complaint charges the Department of Health Services with pervasive failure to investigate complaints within the mandatory 10-day response time as required under California law. The lawsuit also charges that this failure to investigate complaints in a timely and diligent manner has exposed thousands of nursing home residents to abuse and neglect, and has compromised the health and safety of California′s nursing home residents.
Plaintiff Patricia Bryant, whose mother died in a Los Gatos facility, filed a complaint with the Department alleging that neglect on the part of the facility contributed to her mother's death. According to Bryant, the State did not respond to her complaint until almost seven weeks after the complaint was filed.
Plaintiff Julie Fudge alleges that the Department of Health Services did not respond to her complaint regarding her mother′s care until many months after she filed a complaint. Ms. Fudge′s mother became comatose and died six days after the incidents that resulted in her complaint.
Complaints against California′s nursing homes have increased over 60 percent in the past five years. Of the 15,512 complaints filed against facilities in 2004 alone, nearly 75% were found to be ″unsubstantiated″ by the Department. The lawsuit asserts that, because of a large backlog in investigation of complaints, by the time the Department initiates an investigation, staff is gone, evidence is lost and witnesses are unavailable. As a result, complaints cannot be substantiated or are summarily dismissed.
At a July 20, 2005 Joint Informational Hearing of the Senate Health and the Subcommittee on Aging and Long Term Care, the Department put in writing what many of us have known for some time, i.e., that Licensing and Certification staff was not complying with the law and that complaints were not being responded to in accordance with California law. In fact, according to the Department ″...unfortunately, due to resource limitations, L&C has deferred the initiation of many Tier 2 complaints to the facility′s next on-site visit.″ Since facilities are only required to have an on-site visit once every 12-15 months, this can mean a year or more before some complaints are investigated.
The lawsuit is asking the court for injunctive relief to require the Department to comply with the statutory timelines. Plaintiffs are represented by Christopher Healey, Esq., Luce, Forward, Hamilton and Scripps in San Diego, and Michael Thamer, Esq. of Callahan, California.
If you have filed a complaint that has not been responded to, please contact Mike Connors at the CANHR office and send a copy of your complaint to your State Senator and Assembly member.