By California Attorney General Bill Lockyer
"Let me know if she is dead." That's what a nurse's assistant said she was told after three trips back and forth between the elderly patient and the in-charge nurse in a California nursing home last year. The response was from the in-charge nurse. The resident was dying, suffocating on her own bodily fluids. The assistant asked several times to have the tube going into the patient's mouth checked and cleared, but the nurse refused. The patient drowned. This case, investigated by the California Department of Justice's (DOJ) Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, is currently being prosecuted.
This devastating incident is just one of the approximately 225,000 cases of elder abuse that occur every year in California. Elder abuse includes physical abuse, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation or neglect.
California is graying rapidly with an estimated 43 percent of all 65-year-olds needing a nursing home at some time in their lives. We have a responsibility as public guardians to ensure the safety and welfare of our frail elderly and disabled adults living in nursing homes.
This spring, my Crime and Violence Prevention Center (CVPC) is releasing Your Legal Duty... Reporting Elder and Dependent Adult Abuse, a core training curriculum with accompanying video, to educate long-term care facility staff about their legal obligation to report known or suspected cases of abuse or neglect.
The curriculum, developed in cooperation with the Department of Health Services and the Department of Social Services, was mandated by Assembly Bill 1499 (Chapter 414, Statutes of 1999), sponsored by the Attorney General's Office.
California law mandates that certain individuals termed "mandated reporters" report known or suspected instances of elder or dependent adult abuse. Failure to do so is a crime.
Mandated reporters of elder abuse include: elder care custodians, health practitioners, designated employees of adult protective services agencies and designated employees of local law enforcement agencies. All health practitioners and employees in long-term care facilities are mandated reporters and have a legal responsibility to help assure that residents in the facility are kept safe from harm. Possible signs of abuse include:
Reports of abuse should be made to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 1-800-231-4024 or to local law enforcement. For additional information on the new training curriculum, write the Attorney General's Crime and Violence Prevention Center, 1300 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814. All Californians can join in stopping the shame of mistreating this vulnerable population Awareness and action can save a life.