Report Shows California Regulators Closed Nursing Home Abuse Cases without Investigations

Nursing Home-HallwayLos Angeles, CA- An in-depth story from the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed that regulators in California “quietly” closed well over a thousand cases of nursing home abuse and neglect occurring in the state over the past decade.

According to the report, the California Department of Health received 900 complaints of abuse, neglect and suspicious deaths in Southern California alone between 2004 and 2008. And in 2009, the department ordered its investigators to close 1,000 pending cases of abuse and theft, after conducting only cursory investigations over the phone.

The Center for Investigative Reporting also discovered that investigators often opened and closed cases from their desks without ever actually going to a facility or speaking with potential witnesses.

“I would tell anybody, do not count on the government taking care of you,” said Brian Woods, former director of the Department of Public Health’s West Covina office told the Center. “They are overworked. They can’t get in there. Your case might get looked at 10 years later.”

Woods, who left the Department of Public Health in 2008, said the department is under staffed and underfunded and have a backlog hundreds of cases long. He also said that investigators are not trained to handle cases and there are too few of them to actually deal with the scope of the problem.

The Center also discovered that number of abuse where no action was taken against a long-term care facility or an employee has soared from 58 percent in 2006 to 81 percent in 2012. Furthermore, only 14 cases of suspicious deaths were forwarded to the Attorney General’s office in between 2010 and 2012, a dramatically reduced number when compared to the 88 cases between 2007 and 2009.

The Department of Public Health’s current head, Ron Chapman told the Center he is “disturbed” by the backlog and that a plan was implemented in 2009 to address the shocking backlog.

“In the two years that I’ve been in the job, there’s now new management from top to bottom,” Chapman said. “We’re staying on top of all the complaints as they come in.”

But the former head of investigations for California’s Department of Health, Marc Parker said the agency was forced to cut corners and he doubts they are able to conduct thorough investigations. Parkers says the budget cuts restricted field investigations and when investigators are unable to see a facility or speak directly with people they miss important cues that would reveal the truth behind nursing home abuse allegations.

If the issue of elder abuse in long term care facilities is falling through the cracks in California, it could leave one to wonder if this is an issue in other states, which are also facing budget crunches. When the families of nursing home patients cannot turn to state agencies for help, they sometimes have no other option than to turn to a nursing home abuse attorney to get jet justice through the civil courts.