Nursing home regulators set stricter rules for elderly care

By Jennifer Coleman The Associated Press
Wednesday October 16, 2002

SACRAMENTO – State regulators announced Tuesday measures to add volunteers to help monitor nursing homes and to expand a consumer assistance program for residents and their families. 

The Davis administration will also seek legislation to double or treble fines for nursing homes with repeat violations, said state health officials. 

California’s Health and Human Services Agency will expand to statewide a pilot program that puts volunteer ombudsmen in nursing homes to advocate for patients, said Grantland Johnson, secretary of the agency. 

The Department of Aging’s long-term care ombudsman program currently has 1,300 volunteers who monitor patient care and complaints at nursing homes, and the expansion will add another 650 ombudsmen. 

Created in the 1970s, the program is paid for by fines collected from nursing homes, said Brenda Klutz, DHS’ deputy director for licensing and certification. 

The agency will also expand the Health Facility Consumer Assistance program, which Johnson called “a one-stop shop for help and questions on nursing homes.” 

Now a pilot program in 23 Northern California counties, the assistance enter will be able to respond to more than 200,000 calls annually once it is expanded, Klutz said. It received 2,000 in its first two months. 

“These are folks who go to facilities on a weekly basis,” Klutz said. “They’re wonderful at resolving issues. They’re community resources who help families with questions about Social Security, Medicare, and are overall resident advocates.” 

The changes are part of Gov. Gray Davis’ Aging with Dignity Initiative. 

Davis will ask lawmakers to approve doubling fines for nursing homes with B violations, those infractions that don’t cause any harm to residents, to a range of $200 to $2,000, said Department of Health Services Director Diana Bonta. 

Fines for A violations, which result from a resident being harmed or a situation that has the potential to cause serious harm, will triple for repeat violations within 24 months, she said. 

Fines for A violations can range from $2,000 to $20,000. Under the proposal, if a violation is repeated, the second fine would be treble the original amount, Klutz said. 

Additionally, nursing homes will be required to notify DHS of any pending court actions, Bonta said. 

Legislators will have to approve the proposal to increase fine, but the state can change the consumer information center and ombudsman program immediately, Klutz said.