The U.S. Department of Justice is looking into complaints of lax care at Northern California nursing homes, and threatening civil or criminal charges against serious violators.
The federal investigators will look at inappropriate use of psychiatric medications and poor care that results in injury or illness, according to a statement about the probe. Investigators are also looking at nursing homes that discharge sick patients or refuse admission to patients returning from a hospital.
The investigation was, at least in part, spurred by a provision of the federal health reform law signed by President Barack Obama in March. That law includes the Elder Justice Act, which calls for coordination between the U.S. attorney general’s office and other government agencies to prevent elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The San Francisco office of the Justice Department hired a consultant who asked local elder care ombudsman offices about quality-of-care complaints. (The ombudsman offices can accept and investigate such claims but have no power to sanction nursing homes.)
Christina Jewett/California Watch
The consultant compiled a report and submitted it to prosecutors. DOJ spokesman Jack Gillund said the report is not publicly available because it’s part of an ongoing investigation. The statement says the public can still submit complaints about their own experiences to a local ombudsman office or to the California Department of Public Health.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s office hired the consultant about two months ago, which was about the same time that California Watch reported on a recent decline in elder abuse prosecutions in the California Department of Justice.
That report detailed statistics showing a decline in prosecutions and an increase in case dismissals. It also described a case that was dismissed with no charges even though prosecutors had accused a nursing home owner of attempting to bribe a state inspector.
“My office is in the process of evaluating the complaints our consultant gathered and will prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, those individuals who are in violation of federal statutes," Haag said in a statement.