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Judge Orders State to Promptly
Investigate Complaints of Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse


On September 28, 2006, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch ordered the California Department of Health Services (DHS) to obey California law by promptly investigating complaints about nursing home neglect and abuse. This action is a forceful rebuke to DHS, which argued it could not timely investigate complaints despite receiving more than $20 million in California’s new budget to hire additional inspectors.

The written order stems from an October 2005 lawsuit brought by CANHR and the daughters of two elder neglect victims against DHS because it does not investigate nursing home complaints within 10 working days, as required by California law.

At a September 12, 2006, hearing in San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Busch dismissed DHS’s protests that it needed more than a year to comply with the law. He stated: "My view, however, is that the Department has to get on this, and has to get on it quickly, and has to comply with the law."

Due to its longstanding failures, many California nursing home residents are exposed to abuse and neglect long after it is reported to DHS. Most complaints are investigated months or years late, rendering investigations virtually worthless. According to 2006 DHS data, it is investigating less than one in four complaints in a timely manner and has a backlog of nearly 1,000 complaints.

The order requires DHS to investigate at least 40 percent of the backlog complaints by January 12, 2007, and all of them by May 12, 2007. Eighty percent of new complaints must be investigated in a timely manner within four months and all new complaints must be investigated in a timely manner by May 12, 2007.

Due to its longstanding failures, many California nursing home residents are exposed to abuse and neglect long after it is reported to DHS. Most complaints are investigated months or years late, rendering investigations virtually worthless.

In issuing his ruling, Judge Busch declared: "I don’t see a reason why it can’t be done, and I think unless the Court puts pressure on the Department, that it won’t get done." Judge Busch’s order also requires DHS to file quarterly compliance reports with the Court and allows CANHR to seek enforcement if DHS fails to comply with any of its terms. The order is posted on CANHR’s website.

Christopher Healey and Aaron Winn of Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps and Michael Thamer represented CANHR in this important victory. Many thanks to them and to co-plaintiffs Patricia Bryant and Julie Fudge for their outstanding advocacy.