These are the facts: More than 225,000 seniors in California are victims of elder abuse in nursing homes every year, and that number is no doubt increasing as the state’s elderly population continues to grow. Some are hit, shaken or otherwise physically assaulted; some are sexually or emotionally abused; some are neglected and go without proper food, hygiene or medical care; some have their property or even their life savings stolen from them. Nearly one-third of nursing homes caring for Medicare/Medicaid patients have been cited for serious violations and more than 90% (pdf) have been cited for health and safety violations. Isn't it about time we protected our elders? In 2003 the Consumer Attorneys of California, working with seniors’ advocates, formed the coalition “Protect Our Parents” to protect patients from nursing home abuse. The coalition passed AB 634 (Steinberg) to prevent nursing homes from secretly settling elder abuse cases and sweeping the evidence under the rug.
CAOC is continuing the fight against elder abuse with SB 558 (Simitian). It helps prevent physical abuse of elderly and dependent adults by requiring stricter civil enforcement of the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (EADACPA). Existing law required that victims prove abuse or neglect by “clear and convincing evidence.” The problem with requiring such a high burden of proof is that in many elder or dependent abuse cases the victim may be unable to testify as to the specific facts of their abuse due to advanced age or illness; in some cases the victim is dead before the complaint can be heard. SB 558 allows civil cases to be pursued using the preponderance of evidence standard, a legal standard that is used in almost every other civil case.
In one of the largest class action lawsuits in recent history, a jury in Humboldt County found a national nursing home operator, Skilled Healthcare, had intentionally failed to meet legally mandated minimum staffing levels in 22 of its California facilities. California law requires that nursing homes provide patients with a minimum of 3.2 hours of nursing care per day. After the 2010 jury verdict, the case was eventually resolved for $68.2 million, with Skilled under an injunction to meet minimum staffing requirements going forward. A clear message was sent: These facilities must follow the law. Nursing home operators around the country have taken notice and taken steps to meet staffing requirements, knowing they will be held accountable in the civil justice system.Additional Information:
California Department of Justice Statistics on Elder Abuse
SB 558 Bill Analysis
SB 558 Fact Sheet (pdf)
AB 634 Bill Analysis
Skilled Healthcare Lawsuit