Bills to boost oversight of assisted living homes pending

This article originally appeared in the U-T San Diego

Ten bills that tighten state oversight of assisted living homes are headed to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature, the most significant overhaul since regulations were first enacted in 1985.

One bill increases the maximum civil penalty to $15,000 from its current $150 if poor care leads to the death of an assisted living resident.

Two bills require more rigorous training for the staffs at the 7,570 homes in the state, including 638 homes in San Diego County. A fourth creates a Bill of Rights for residents similar to the law for patients in nursing homes.

“If these bills are signed, I think it’s historic,” said Pat McGinnis, executive director of California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, the state’s best-known watchdog for residents.

Not only will seniors have new rights, she said, but tools will be added for the Department of Social Services to protect the lives of facility residents.

“We made a lot of very good progress this year,” said Sally Michael, president of the 500-member California Assisted Living Association, the state’s largest industry group. “We’re looking at stronger oversight.”

Overall, the Legislature approved 12 proposed reform bills this year and defeated five. Brown has already signed two of the bills.

For a complete list of the bills, click here.

One big defeat for consumer advocates: A bill to require the state to post online all inspection reports and related documents for every facility in the state. Such records are now kept on paper in unindexed files stored in offices scattered around the state, forcing families to travel long distances and rifle through voluminous reports if they want to compare homes they are considering for aging relatives.

Legislators also blocked a bill that would have required DSS to inspect facilities every year — not every five years, as the law now requires — after administration officials raised budget concerns.

A newly formed industry group called 6 Beds Inc. targeted bills that it said would unfairly impose regulatory and financial pressures on small, less expensive homes, forcing some to close and close off options for seniors.

“We were very successful in voicing our concerns,” Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for 6 Beds, said Friday.

She echoed the disappointment of other advocacy groups in the defeat of the bill to require annual inspections, saying the once-every-five-years schedule was not effective.

The bills were sparked by a 2013 burst of news reports on problems in assisted living facilities in California, including an investigative project produced by U-T San Diego and the CHCF Center for Health Reporting.

The “Deadly Neglect” investigation found that at least 27 seniors died because of neglect or abuse over five years in facilities in San Diego County. Of those, the state fined 12 homes $150 each for the deaths, the highest penalty allowed under state law. The highest penalty for similar deaths of residents in nursing homes is $100,000.

The investigation also found that the state collected only half of the $2.9 million in fines it levied against facilities from 2007 to 2013.

Four county legislators — Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, and Assembly members Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, and Marie Waldron, R-Escondido — introduced a total of six reform bills following the series.

Brown has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bills. He has not expressed his views publicly about their contents. However, he has already signed Atkins’ bill requiring homes to have liability insurance, and his office was involved in guiding several of the current group of bills to passage.

Assisted living homes once primarily served healthy, active residents. That that has changed significantly in the past 20 years, with facilities now housing many seniors who would once have lived in more expensive nursing homes.

Two of the 10 bills just approved by the Legislature require more administrator and staff training. One, introduced by Block, would increase training for administrators from 40 to 80 hours, 60 of which would involve in-person training.


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