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Advocates for nursing home residents were stunned by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto of a bill that would have required state nursing home inspectors to complete complaint investigations of abuse and neglect in a timely manner. The bill, which required that investigations be completed in 40 days, had broad support in Sacramento.

“I think its garbage,” said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), a nonprofit consumer advocacy group. “Obviously, he hasn’t looked at the bill. We had to file a lawsuit to get them to do what they were supposed to do.”

Last year, McGinnis’ group sued the Department of Public Health’s licensing division to force it to begin consumer complaint investigations as required by state law. The division was ordered to start chipping away at thousands of backlogged complaints, plus begin investigating new complaints within 10 days as required.

The licensing division’s policy is to complete investigations within 45 days. No state-mandated deadline exists.

Without the law, it’s impossible to determine whether investigations are being completed in a timely manner, or whether wrongdoing is being found.

Department data indicates the Public Health Department’s inspectors are following the law, said Mike Connors, of the nursing home reform organization. No one knows how long the investigations last or how many consumer complaints are validated because that information doesn’t have to be reported.

“We don’t know if it is conducting timely investigations of facility-reported incidents of abuse and neglect, which outnumber public complaints,” Connors said. “The court order doesn’t address facility-reported incidents of abuse and neglect because current state law doesn’t establish investigation timelines for them.”

Incredibly, California’s state auditor recently found that of the approximately 17,000 nursing home complaints filed in the previous two years, fewer than 40% were completed in an acceptable amount of time. The problem with slow complaints is self-evident. Evidence gets lost or stale, witnesses disappear, and, sadly, residents die.

The failure to promptly investigate complaints of nursing home abuse and neglect is a growing problem and Californians should be thankful a group like CANHR is working hard to protect this vulnerable segment of our society.

For more information on this subject, please refer to the section on Nursing Home and Elder Abuse.

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