Governor Schwarzeneger "Terminates" AB 399: Last Minute Veto of Law That Would Have Protected Nursing Home Residents, Passed By Legislature 117-1
"FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 17, 2007
Governor Vetoes Bill to Protect Nursing Home Abuse Victims
San Francisco -- On Sunday night, just hours before it would become law, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 399, striking down an immensely popular bill to aid elder abuse victims in nursing homes by improving investigations of abuse and neglect. The bill would have required the California Department of Public Health to complete investigations within reasonable time limits and to notify complainants of findings.
Abuse and neglect have reached crisis proportions in California nursing homes. Complaints and facility reports of abuse and neglect have more than doubled in recent years and continue to grow at double-digit rates each year. More than 15,000 complaints and facility reports are expected to be investigated this year.
Introduced by Assembly Member Mike Feuer, AB 399 responds to the California Department of Public Health's longstanding failures to conduct timely and effective investigations of nursing home complaints. The failures are well documented in a series of government reports, including an April 2007 report by the California State Auditor. It shows the Department failed to timely complete more than 60 percent of 15,275 investigations conducted between July 2004 and April 2006, and that more than 500 complaints remained open for more than one year.
For nursing home residents, the broken investigation system is a matter of life and death. The slow investigations subject residents to continued mistreatment and also compromise the Department's ability to collect evidence. Most nursing homes face no consequences for abuse or neglect because the Department substantiates so few complaints (only one in six according to a 2007 study by the California Healthcare Foundation).
Even complaints involving deaths suffer extreme delays. This is especially true in cases involving AA citations, which involve a finding that neglect or abuse led to the death of a nursing home resident. Typical delays range from one to two years. See attached CANHR summary of recent AA citations.
"The veto is devastating to elder abuse victims in nursing homes," said Patricia McGinnis, CANHR's Executive Director. "It is shocking that the Governor won't commit to timely investigations of abuse and neglect."
Other than the Governor [picture here with President Bush], AB 399 faced no opposition. The California Legislature voted 117 - 1 in favor of it. AB 399 is supported by dozens of organizations, the nursing home industry, and citizens throughout California who see it as an historic opportunity to restore integrity to California's nursing home complaint investigation system.
For more information contact:
Pat McGinnis, Executive Director, CANHR (415) 974-5171
Michael Connors, Advocate (626) 796-6178
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR)
The veto is just one of a series of vetoes of pro-family bills by Governor Schwarzenegger. For more information, read Julius Young's article in the California Progress Report:
"Schwarzenegger Vetoes Pro-Family Bills As Corporate Interests Trump Family Values"
Email the Governor and tell him what you think and that you vote - click here.
Some of Arnold’s funniest lines in the movie were when Arnold, as Detective Kimble, took charge and demanded action. Remember such lines as:
“You lack discipline!”
“Well I've got news for you! You are mine now! You belong to me!”
“Who is your daddy, and what does he do?“
"You tell him you didn't do your homework"
“I'm going to ask you a bunch of questions, and I want them answered immediately.”
Arnold is now governor of our state. Unlike Detective John Kimble, Governor Schwarzenegger seems ready to accept excuses for inept and incompetent performance by government agencies that operate under his command. There is a bill sitting on Arnold’s desk, Assembly Bill 399 (Feuer), passed by the California legislature, that only requires the governor’s signature to become law. The bill would require the California Department of Health Services to complete investigations of complaints against nursing homes within 40 business days. The governor’s spokesperson says that he “hasn’t yet taken a position on whether he will sign the bill.”
What is he waiting for? All I can say is it’s time for the Governor to sign that bill and to tell the Department of Health Services to “stop whining.”
The Los Angeles Times did an article describing the types of delays that have prompted the bill.
In July 2006, 81-year-old Octavio “Nito” Jimenez (pictured here) was rushed from an Oxnard nursing home, Maywood Acres, by ambulance to an acute care hospital, where doctors found advanced, infected wounds on his heel and buttocks. The nursing home had told Octavio’s family only that he had “a little sore” on his foot.
His granddaughter Josie Valdez (pictured here) asked the county Ombudsman to investigate. The Ombudsman referred the matter to the state Department of Health Services, stating, “the family is very concerned that they will lose their father from neglect.”
Unfortunately, they were right. A few days later, Octavio passed away from an apparent heart attack. In the 15 months since the complaint was filed, the Department of Health Services still hasn’t investigated the complaint. “To this day, nobody has been able to tell me what the findings were.” Josie Valdez is quoted as saying. “It hurts families and it hurts the person unable to care for themselves.”
The Department of Health Services has proved time and time again that they will not complete investigations on their own accord. They need the fixed deadines provided by 399 to force them to complete investigations on time.
Consider these other delays documented by The Los Angeles Times:
“* One year to investigate and impose a $100,000 fine against Westgate Gardens Care Center after an unattended 77-year-old resident choked on a grape and later died. Instructions in the resident's records indicated she was not to be served whole fruits or left alone when she ate.
* Eleven months to investigate and fine Beverly Healthcare Center in Stockton $80,000 after its air conditioner failed during a heat wave in July 2006. One resident died from hyperthermia caused by the high temperatures, and another resident was taken to the hospital with the same condition, the state said. The home has since changed its name to Golden Living Center-Stockton.
* Fourteen months to cite Manorcare Health Services in Hemet after an 83-year-old dementia patient fell out of his wheelchair, suffered a brain hemorrhage and died. He was supposed to be placed in chair with a lap cushion to prevent falls. The home was fined $75,000.
As Assemblyman Feuer says, the bill is needed to quickly flag problems at nursing homes and ensure they are corrected.”
"A timely investigation with timely results can make the difference literally between life and death sometimes," Feuer said. "Forty days is plenty of time to conduct a meaningful, finely grained, detailed investigation."
Arnold, residents of nursing homes need your help. Tell Department of Health Services, “Don’t procrastinate,” “I own you. You are mine now.” Give them some deadlines.
Let the Governator know what you think - send him an email – click here.
Friday, April 13, 2007, 06:33 PM - Cal. Dept of Health ServicesThe California State Auditor issued a report today criticizing the California Department of Health Services for its handling of complaint investigations of nursing homes. Department of Health Services (“DHS”) is the state agency that investigates complaints of neglect and abuse on behalf of nursing home residents.
The State Auditor criticizing Department of Health Services is like Claude Rains, as Inspector Renault in the movie Casablanca, saying that “I am shocked, shocked to find out that there is illegal gambling” going on at Rick’s Casino. The problems with Department of Health Services are of long standing, and have been long ignored as well.
California law requires DHS to investigate complaints involving death, injury, abuse or unsanitary conditions within 24 hours to 10 days, depending on the severity of the complaint. (See Health & Safety Code § 1420(a)(1)). The DHS operating manual says that investigations should be completed within 45 days from the date a complaint is received. The 71-page audit, which looked at about 17,000 complaints lodged over a 21-month period ending April 2006, found that DHS failed to start an investigation within the required time limits in 51% of the cases, and that it failed to complete investigations as required by the DHS operating manual in 60% of the cases.
The audit also found instances in which the agency investigators did not take safety violations seriously enough, by issuing low-level citations, with paltry fines, to nursing homes for serious violations of safety regulations.
The audit also found that DHS has not established a website with licensing and citation information about each nursing home in the state, which was mandated by the legislature FIVE YEARS AGO.
The State Auditor’s office is just the latest in a series of reports that have criticized the Department of Health Services. State lawmakers ordered the audit after a report last year from the State Legislative Analyst’s Office found that DHS inspectors failed to detect problems during nursing-home inspections, failed to follow up on problems, ignored state standards and performed predictable inspections. Last year, the federal Government Accountability Office also issued a report saying that California’s inspectors often overlooked or downplayed serious safety violations.
The delay in DHS investigations has a profound impact on nursing home residents. The total number of complaints against nursing homes increased from about 8,000 in 2000 to 12,000 in 2005. Yet, at the same time, the portion of complaints that were substantiated by DHS investigators fell dramatically, from 41 percent to 16 percent. That is, in the period surveyed, DHS investigators found that they could not prove that the nursing home had done anything wrong in 84% of the cases. Yet, we know that nursing home care is, if anything, getting WORSE not better. The audit attributes the change in substantiated complaints to the agency’s slow response time, which makes it difficult for DHS investigators to determine what actually happened when they finally investigate.
Hats off to the Auditor for calling DHS on the carpet. The ball is now in Governor Schwarznegger’s and the Legislature’s court.
To read the State Auditor’s Report on Department of Health Services, click here.