Report Shows Deficiencies In Elder Abuse Investigation In California

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A recent report paints a startling portrait of the sorry state of investigations of nursing home abuse throughout the state of California.  For anyone that lives in a care facility or who has a loved one that lives in such a residence, the report from The Center for Investigative Reporting is a must-read, even if it’s a heartbreaking read.

The story points to a track record of case dismissals and inadequate closures since 2009, when a backlog of theft and abuse cases got so bad that the Department of Public Health reportedly made the decision to close 1,000 cases without further investigation.

Things haven’t gotten better since then.  The report notes that most instances of abuse that have come in to the department since that time have not led to action from the state, as investigators are being asked to look into reports of abuse by placing phone calls rather than getting up and visiting the facilities and suspects in question.  Even fewer cases are being handed over to the state’s Justice Department.  The report even claims that caregivers suspected of physical and sexual abuse have been able to carry on in their jobs, often transferring to other care centers while maintaining their licenses.

Without a full investigation being carried out, it’s difficult to determine just what played out in the cases in question.  Shoddy logging of incidents has led to a patchwork system wherein cases get noted merely by the words “physical abuse” alongside a date, or they’re simply marked with brief but horrid descriptions of accusations without attendant location information.

This is despite the fact that the California justice system is supposed to have a remarkable framework in place for the prosecution of cases that do come in to the office of the attorney general.  41 attorneys in total compose the department’s Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, and any criminal suspicions uncovered by the health department are supposed to be handed over to these attorneys for investigation.

That duty is simply not being carried out.  Despite the hundreds and maybe even thousands of instances of suspected fatal abuse, only 14 reports of death were referred to those attorneys between 2010 and 2012.  That’s compared to 88 deaths in the three years prior to that, which is still quite small given the seriousness and prevalence of the issue.  Only three cases were shuttled to lawyers last year.

That same year, more than four in every five cases were closed out without any kind of action being taken against the party accused of perpetrating the abuse.  And in 2009, only 7% of accused caregivers lost their licenses.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for the shocking information uncovered in the report, so please check out the link above for the full investigation.