SACRAMENTO — The Assembly voted unanimously Tuesday to approve legislation by state Senator Lois Wolk, D-Davis, to increase penalties for long-term care providers that hinder investigations by California’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. The Senate must now vote to approve amendments taken to the bill in the Assembly before the measure can be sent to the Governor.
“I applaud the Assembly’s support for SB 609,” said Wolk. “Current penalties are not deterring bad actors from violating state and federal law. By increasing the penalty for interfering with an Ombudsman, SB 609 will help the state’s ombudsman program better defend the rights, safety, and welfare of the state’s vulnerable long-term care residents.”
Wolk’s SB 609 would increase the penalty, unchanged for 30 years, for long-term care providers that inhibit the Ombudsman program’s access to residents or otherwise interfere with state efforts to investigate facilities. SB 609 would increase the penalty from $1,000 to $2,500.
Federal and state law authorizes Ombudsman staff to enter long-term care facilities, tour facilities unescorted, and speak unhindered to residents. Yet some facilities in California have, on several occasions, prevented representatives of the Ombudsman’s office from walking into residents’ rooms without an escort, prevented the Ombudsman’s staff from meeting privately with residents, or refused access to residents altogether.
SB 609 would authorize the California Department of Aging to issue a penalty for each incident of willful interference—and would also enable local ombudsman to notify law enforcement of acts of willful interference when complaints need immediate attention.
The bill is being cosponsored by the California State Long-Term Care Ombudsman and California Long-Term Care Ombudsman Association, and supported by groups including California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), California Senior Legislature, Consumer Federation of California, and Older Women’s League of California.
Wolk also authored legislation last year to strengthen the independence and accountability of California’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program.