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DPH Licensing & Certification Fails Nursing Home Residents…Again

Have you ever filed a complaint with the Department of Public Health, Licensing and Certification? How long did it take for you to receive a response? Or did you even receive a response? How long did it take for the Department to complete the investigation? Nine months? A year? Two years or more? Or did they even complete the investigation?

Licensing & Certification (L&C) is responsible for licensing and inspecting nursing homes for compliance with state law. L&C is also the state survey agency for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and is responsible for certifying to the federal government that health care facilities are eligible for Medicare and Medi-Cal payments. L&C is also the agency responsible for investigating complaints about California’s approximately 1,280 nursing homes.

On October 30, 2014, the California State Auditor released a report condemning the Department of Public Health’s (DPH) systemic mismanagement of nursing home complaint investigations. Assembly Member Mariko Yamada and the Joint Legislative Audit Committee sought the investigation by the State Auditor earlier this year after embarrassing public reports that DPH often took years to complete investigations of severe abuse and neglect in nursing homes. CANHR called for the state audit in testimony at a legislative oversight committee on January 21, 2014.

The central finding of the report – California Department of Public Health: It Has Not Effectively Managed Investigations of Complaints Related to Long-Term Health Care Facilities – is that, as of April 2014, DPH had more than 11,000 open complaints, many of which had high priorities and had remained open for an average of nearly a year. When nursing home residents die from neglect or suffer from abuse, DPH is usually nowhere to be found.

The report documents numerous other DPH failings related to complaint investigations and makes reasonable recommendations for reform, including a call to establish a specific time frame for completing complaint investigations. The defiant DPH response, signed by Kathleen Billingsley for DPH Director Dr. Ron Chapman, rejects this recommendation without explanation. Elaine Howle, the State Auditor, ends the report by criticizing DPH for its lack of accountability. She states, “We believe that Public Health’s lack of accountability has contributed to its district offices’ failure to complete investigations within reasonable time periods.”

DPH leaders appear immune to accountability. The new report by the State Auditor is the third report she has issued since 2007 that raises serious concerns about DPH’s oversight of nursing homes. Yet the Department continues to oppose any attempt to impose accountability on their failed regulatory oversight. Clearly, it’s time for a change in leadership at the Department of Public Health. It’s time for Dr. Chapman and Ms. Billingsley to make room for leadership that understands the role of DPH as a consumer protection agency for consumers – not providers.


Page Last Modified: March 24, 2015