Governor Agrees To Finish State Makeover of Long-Term Care Ombudsman's Office

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law legislation (SB 609) to strengthen the enforcement power of the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

It's the second bill in two years to change the ombudsman program, both of them authored by Sen. Lois Wolk (D-Davis).

SB 609 will hike penalties for any long-term care providers who interfere with investigations by the ombudsman's office.

"Penalties haven't changed for 30 years," Wolk said, and those penalties are "not deterring bad actors from violating state and federal law."

Last year, Wolk's SB 345 gave the long-term care ombudsman more of an advocacy role and called for creation of an annual report. It was designed to make the office both more independent and accountable. At first, the state ombudsman opposed that bill but eventually came to support it. This year, the state ombudsman co-sponsored SB 609.

Wolk said some workers at long-term care facilities have prevented ombudsman representatives from entering the rooms of facility residents without an escort or meeting privately with residents -- something those representatives are allowed by law to do.

The penalty for interference would more than double, to $2,500 per incident.

This new law, Wolk said, "will help the state's ombudsman program better defend the rights, safety, and welfare of the state's vulnerable long-term care residents."

It goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Don Donaldson
A $2,500 penalty means nothing if the fine is never assessed. If the fine is assessed and never collected - it still means nothing. This has been a big problem in California and this bill does nothing to change that. And does the 5th paragraph sound odd to anyone? SB 345 was designed to make the ombudsman office more independent and accountable, and it was initially opposed by the stated ombudsman. Did the state office have a problem with being more independent, or with being held accountable?

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