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Protecting the vulnerable Greg Cox | Tue, Apr 01 2014 02:20 PM

America is getting older.

By 2030, the number of people who are at least 75 years old is expected to nearly double, rapidly outpacing the growth in the rest of population. This drastic rise in the number of residents living long into their 70s, 80s and older will lead to dramatic changes in the way we as individuals, and collectively as a community, take care of our elderly.

Nowadays, most families, mine included, have a loved one who requires additional care and assistance. Many long-term care facilities are doing a great job. But over the past year, the media has exposed significant problems and flaws with the long term residential care industry.

That’s why I recently joined with Supervisor Dianne Jacob to take a series of actions at the local level to improve the quality of care and the oversight at local nursing homes.

Over the last year, a package of bills was introduced in Sacramento to target the poor quality of care. But our proposals, which were approved by the County Board of Supervisors, take action right now, right here, to address this critical issue.

Our proposals include expanding our Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. The Ombudsman Office speaks up on behalf of residential care residents and looks into complaints of neglect and abuse. These patient advocates make unannounced visits to residential care facilities, talk with staff and residents and check medical charts and living conditions. State funding cuts forced us to slash the program in half in 2009. By restoring the program to the level it was, we can put more eyes and ears into the field to safeguard residents and advocate for their needs.

There’s more. We want to help families find the best care for their loved ones.  Many long-term care facilities do a great job. But there is currently no easy way for the public to tell the excellent facilities from the troubled ones. It would be very helpful to families to have a grading system or even a seal of approval program to assist consumers who are searching for quality residential care. We will work to develop such a program.

Supervisor Jacob and I are also partnering with District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to create a special eight-person unit in the District Attorney’s Office to investigate and prosecute crimes committed against residents of long-term care facilities. This unit would operate as a one-year pilot program and would coordinate with state and local administrative agencies, law enforcement, medical experts and advocacy groups to enhance the enforcement of required standards of care in long-term care facilities, and to investigate incident reports and referrals of potential criminal activity at these facilities.

Lastly, we will advocate for legislation in Sacramento to increase state inspections and fines, institute a patient rights program and make other improvements aimed at boosting the health and safety of residents.

These steps, along with state bills to reform the system, will make a substantial difference in the care of elderly who are placed in long-term homes.

We shouldn’t have to worry when we put our parents, grandparents or loved ones in nursing homes. We should trust that they will be taken care of. At the County of San Diego, we will work to restore that trust and protect our elderly.

Cox is on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

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