LEGISLATIVE REPORT: An act to amend Sections 9714, 9714.5, and 9732 of the Welfare and Institutions Code, relating to public social services. Introduced by Senator Wolk (D-Solano) on February 22, 2013.
Elder Law & Advocacy strongly supports the passage of Senate Bill 609.
PURPOSE OF LEGISLATION
The bill increases civil penalties against long-term care facilities from $1,000.00 to $2,500.00 for each willful interference to hinder investigations by the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. The bill also establishes a special fund for collected civil penalties to be used by the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program ombudsman volunteers.
BACKGROUND AND JUSTIFICATION OF POSITION
Since 2010, there have been six reported incidents of willful interference in which ombudsman representatives have been prevented from entering a facility or securing confidential access to residents.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program protects and advocates for the rights of long-term care facility residents by:
- Investigating and resolving individual complaints, allegations of abuse, and other issues; and
- Developing policy, education, and training within the long-term care system.
A statewide network of 35 local ombudsman programs rely on countless trained volunteers to conduct site visits and to meet with residents confidentially. The fund for civil penalties will supplement training and travel costs of ombudsman volunteers. In 2008, the state budget cut funding for ombudsman programs by approximately $3.8 million. Many local ombudsman programs lost approximately 50% of their funding. The budget cuts translated into staff layoffs, overstretched remaining staff members, fewer visits to nursing homes, and increased reliance on volunteers, which jeopardized the health and safety of countless nursing home residents.
In addition, a civil penalty increase will create a stronger deterrent effect for facilities and more accurately reflect the rising costs of assisted and skilled nursing. According to the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, the statewide average daily private pay rate for nursing facility care increased from $42.89 in 1980 to an estimated $240.83 in 2013. In the meantime, in the last thirty years, the $1,000.00 penalty has remained the same.
The bill was read in the Assembly for the second time and placed on the consent calendar on August 14, 2013. The consent calendar consists of noncontroversial bills with no significant costs that received no dissenting votes in the Assembly. The bill may be voted on without debate with one rollcall vote. However, any Assembly Member may unilaterally remove a bill from the consent calendar. Once removed from consent, the bill will be read and considered for a third time. During the third reading stage, the bill is eligible for Floor debate and final passage by the entire membership. The bill was passed by the Assembly on June 25, 2013 and referred to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The bill was passed by the Senate on April 22, 2013.