County Pulse

County Pulse: State bills call for tougher regulation of residential elder care facilities

kcarlson@modbee.comApril 4, 2014 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textKen Carlson
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: County government, health and medicine, air quality, the environment and public pension systems
    Bio: Ken Carlson has worked 13 years for The Bee, covering local government agencies in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties. His in-depth reporting has focused on access to health care and public employee pensions.
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Democratic lawmakers in California are proposing reform bills to strengthen oversight of residential elder care facilities, an issue brought into sharper focus in Modesto last year.

The state bills are going to policy hearings in the Assembly and Senate next week. They would require annual inspections, make it easier to shut down the worst facilities, increase fines, require staff training and provide for online access to enforcement records for the 7,500 facilities overseen by the California Department of Social Services.

The proposed legislation was spurred by reports of awful conditions in assisted living homes and weak enforcement by state regulators. In October, more than 15 residents of a facility in Castro Valley were abandoned when the state took action to close the center over license violations. Most of the employees walked out, leaving the remaining residents in miserable conditions.

The owners of the Bay Area center, Hermingilda “Hilda” Manuel and Mary Manuel, also operated the 96-unit Sundial Palms Assisted Living & Memory Care on McHenry Avenue in Modesto. The state has taken action to revoke their licenses and, since November, a management company has operated Sundial Palms while the owners appeal the state action.

The appeal hearing before an administrative law judge is set for June. The reform bills are supported by California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform.

“These facilities are completely unregulated,” said Pat McGinnis, the group’s executive director. “They have inspections once every five years. They can accept anyone regardless of their medical conditions.”

McGinnis cited investigative reports last year on neglect and abuse of residents in assisted living facilities, as well as inadequate staffing and training, and the inability to revoke the licenses of facility owners. McGinnis charged there is virtually no oversight of the 7,500 elder care centers in California and families have no way of knowing the track record of facilities.

Residential care facilities may continue to receive residents even if they are seriously out of compliance with state laws. A bill introduced by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would require such facilities to pay fines before they can accept new residents. A consultant for the Community Residential Care Association of California, representing the owners of assisted-living homes, did not respond to a request for comment Friday.

The temporary management at the Sundial is what should be done when the state takes action against an owner, so that residents are cared for during the revocation process, McGinnis said.

The violations at Sundial Palms included insufficient food for residents, broken freezers and dirty kitchen utensils, and failing to provide modified meals for diabetic residents. Sometimes, there was not enough staff to clean rooms and maintain sanitary conditions or supervise residents in the memory care unit.

Robert Law of Patterson, whose mother was at Sundial Palms, said tougher regulations are essential, especially to require sufficient staffing. He said his mother was left unsupervised in the wing for seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“There definitely was not enough staff,” Law said. “We were there three or four times a week to help out.” Law decided to move his mother from the facility in early November. She died in February at another facility, he said.

More information about the specific bills is available at www.canhr.org/legislation/rcfe_reform_act.html. Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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