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County News Service

March 16, 2014 (San Diego)--San Diego County officials took action Tuesday (3/11) to improve the level of care and oversight at nursing homes and other elder care facilities in the wake of troubling reports of poor supervision and treatment.

The Board of Supervisors voted to back a package of initiatives that include the expansion of a patient advocacy program, creation of a special prosecution unit and the development of a seal or grading system for residential care homes.

“While many assisted living homes and skilled nursing facilities do right by our elderly, others are a source of shame,” said board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob. “The conditions at some homes are deplorable. There’s not enough staff training. There’s not enough supervision. There’s not enough state oversight. And when the state does act, the penalties lack punch.”

Jacob called for the reforms in her recent State of the County address, following a series of watchdog reports in U-T San Diego and other media outlets that documented disturbing gaps in treatment and supervision, leading in some cases to serious illness and even death.

“We can’t wait for the state to take action, not when vulnerable people are at risk,” said Supervisor Greg Cox. “We need to take action at the local government level, right here, right now!”

“Protecting senior citizens in our community is one of my priorities as District Attorney,” DA Bonnie Dumanis said. “Thanks to Chairwoman Dianne Jacob and the Board of Supervisors, we can concentrate more of our efforts over the next year on investigating and prosecuting crimes against our most vulnerable citizens and raising public awareness about preventing and reporting abuse at residential and long-term care facilities. Our goal is to obtain permanent funding to keep up these efforts for years to come.”

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to:

• Beef up the county’s long-term care ombudsman program. The number of full-time patient advocates would double, from four to at least eight. These advocates investigate patient complaints and serve as the county’s eyes and ears in the field.

• Create a special eight-person unit in the District Attorney’s Office to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against residents of long-term care facilities.

• Develop a seal or grading system to help families find quality care for their loved ones. A group of residential care operators has agreed to work with the county, the Better Business Bureau and other groups to create the consumer yardstick.

• Advocate for legislation in Sacramento that would increase state inspections and fines, institute a patient rights program and make other improvements aimed at boosting the health and safety of residents.

"It is imperative that our county and state elected officials work hand-in-hand to protect vulnerable seniors,” said Aaron Byzak, founder of Hazel’s Army, an elder care reform group. “The county Board of Supervisors deserves tremendous credit for promoting such collaboration."

Underscoring the need for reform, a federal study released last week found that one out of three patients in skilled nursing facilities has suffered an infection, medication error or other harm related to treatment.


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