It can be a very nerve-racking experience to put a loved one in a nursing home or long-term care facility, particularly knowing of so many horror stories about how residents and patients are treated by staffers at facilities around the country. This is why due diligence of these facilities ahead of time is so vital and can make all the difference. In performing such due diligence, though, we rely on third party consumer groups that investigate and rate homes, but also rely heavily on our own government, both state and federal.
As many know, the Illinois Department of Public Health has a vital role in watching over our state’s nursing homes and facilities. In general state and federal health and/or aging departments and agencies take a tremendous role in implementing and enforcing key rules and regulations as to how nursing homes can operate and the quality of care expected from the workers in those facilities. Government health agencies are responsible for conducting regular audits and inspections, hearing complaints and responding to them with further inspections, and sanctioning homes that do not meet certain standards or that are found to allow for abuse and neglect to persist against their patients. It is scary to think about, but what happens when our government fails at that very job? Unfortunately, according to recent reports, California has failed a recent test as to its regulators’ responsibilities to investigate and address allegations of nursing home abuse and neglect.
It has been reported that the California Department of Public Health has failed to properly investigate complaints about abuse at nursing homes, and as a result there have been more than 11,000 complaints piling into a ridiculous backlog that might make one remember the years and years of backlogged claims at the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
The good news, at least, is that another government agency, the California State Auditor, has been the watchdog that issued a report on these shortcomings. Designated “high priority” cases, for example, went without resolution for almost a year on average while patients and their families simply waited and waited for proper investigations. And as also detailed, part of the problem in timely completing investigations was a failure to monitor the status of claims and ensure they would be addressed as promptly as possible. A representative of a group called the California Association of Health Facilities was one of many that reacted strongly to this report, and estimated that it should not take more than two months to address and resolve nursing home abuse complaints, and that if it is practically impossible, then the health department needs more resources.
It is plainly clear on the cover of the auditor’s report where it states that the Department of Public Health “Has Not Effectively Managed Investigations Related to Long-Term Health Care Facilities.” It acknowledged that so many of the ignored or delayed investigations pertained to complaints that entailed substantial safety risks to patients, and therefore needed to be addressed quicker. It is fortunate that an auditor is in place to conduct such inquiries, but in order for consumers and citizens to rest easier, the core government agency responsible for oversight of nursing homes must be on top of its game to ensure patient residents’ safety and well-being, and to ensure nursing homes are held to task.
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