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California to Strengthen Investigations into Elder Abuse

Negligent and abusive nursing home workers in California will soon face stepped up charges. The state attorney general’s office recently announced plans to crack down on elder abuse by filing criminal charges in more nursing home cases . In California and other states nationwide, criminal trials of nursing home employers or workers are rare, with charges of neglect or abuse often settled in the civil courts.

One high-profile criminal prosecution of a nursing home staffer involved a 77-year-old woman who died in a Placerville nursing home about 4 years ago. Her husband blamed the nursing home for negligence and held them responsible for his wife’s death. He maintained that it was not enough to settle the matter via a civil lawsuit and the state agreed to move forward with criminal charges.

More than four years after the woman’s demise, one of the two nurses was indicted for felony elder abuse in connection with the woman’s death and pleaded no contest. She also consented to cooperate with prosecutors in the ongoing criminal case against her former nursing supervisor.

Though the bereaved husband died last month and was not alive to witness this development, his relentless determination made its mark in California.

The attorney general contended that the indicted nurses delivered sub-standard care and fell short of properly overseeing the staff. This led to the woman’s deterioration and death.

The criminal investigation in this case was reopened last year after The Sacramento Bee provided a historical narrative of the family’s story in a series that studied the issue of doctored records in nursing homes. The family’s civil lawsuit contended that the woman’s medical chart was shoddy, failed to correctly reflect her condition, and appeared to be falsified.

The attorney general’s office is building three specialized teams, two in Southern California and one in Sacramento, to pursue criminal indictments against nursing home staff and administrators where systemic and profound issues are suspected.

The attorney general herself noted that the abuse of elders in nursing homes is becoming more widespread, so it is necessary to adopt stricter measures for protecting them.

State statistics reveal that the number of complaints filed by California’s attorney general in connection with elder abuse fell to 60 in 2011-12 from 112 in fiscal
2002-03. The AG’s move may possibly turn around this situation with more nursing home abuse cases likely to be filed. The goal is not to target isolated incidents, or simple mistakes. Rather, the focus is on employees who systematically fail to deliver quality care.

There are some who doubt whether the attorney general’s office would be able to meet expectations, especially when it comes to initiating legal proceedings against corporate owners. Regarding the woman who died at the nursing home, the attorney representing the woman’s family said that she was astonished that the state did not attempt to punish the chain’s owners.

Defending the state, the AG spokesman maintained that investigators found the corporate owners to be incredibly co-operative and that they took action immediately after they came to know of the situation.

Though the move is a bold step on the part of the California government, it is fraught with challenges. State officials say that elder-abuse investigations are very arduous and costly. Other challenges are incomplete medical records, frail or dead key witnesses, strong legal representation for defendants and death certificates signed by those under investigation. Then there is the confusion arising over who to prosecute. This problem stems from the various shifts, and different people handling care at different times.

However, if the owner of a nursing home is criminally prosecuted for elder
abuse, the sentence would be heavy. The facility would be denied the benefits of Medicaid or Medicare funding. A single conviction could also cause an entire group of nursing homes to lose their business.

If your loved one suffered nursing home abuse, it is up to you to decide whether you want to go for a civil lawsuit or push for criminal proceedings. A competent nursing home abuse attorney can assist you in this matter.