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Attorney General Lockyer Announces "operation guardians" to Combat Abuse and Neglect of Elderly Californians in Nursing Homes

Monday, March 27, 2000
Contact: (415) 703-5837

(LOS ANGELES) – Attorney General Bill Lockyer today announced "Operation Guardians," a new partnership of state, local and federal agencies working to combat abuse and neglect of elderly Californians in the 1,500 nursing homes in the state.

"We have a responsibility as public guardians and a compassionate society to look after the safety and welfare of our frail elderly and disabled adults living in nursing homes," Lockyer said. "This is a vital responsibility when you consider that California is graying rapidly and an estimated 43 percent of all 65 year olds will use a nursing home at some time in their lives."

Lockyer said the first target of Operation Guardians will be Los Angeles, where the US General Accounting Office and congressional investigators recently reported serious problems with nursing home care. Other Operation Guardian teams are being developed elsewhere in the state, including San Diego and the San Francisco Bay Area.

According to a November 1999 GAO report, nearly one-third of the nursing homes in California caring for Medicare/Medicaid patients had been cited for serious care violations. A congressional report also issued last November found less than three percent of the 439 nursing homes serving 34,000 residents in Los Angeles County were in full or substantial compliance with federal standards during their most recent annual inspections. Almost one in five of the nursing homes had violations that caused actual harm to residents or placed them at risk of death or serious injury.

Joined by Los Angeles City Attorney James Hahn and other local, state and federal government partners at the Robert Wilkinson Senior Center in Northridge, Lockyer said the multi-agency team will provide for the first time a coordinated pooling of resources to correct problems in nursing homes.

"Operation Guardians will focus new scrutiny on nursing homes through surprise visits at any time, including evenings and weekends," Lockyer said. "In addition to any resulting enforcement actions for health and safety violations, the unannounced on-site visits will create new incentives for nursing homes to deliver quality care all the time, not just before an anticipated inspection."

Operation Guardians is a cooperative effort of the Attorney General's Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse; California Department of Aging, State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program; Los Angeles District Attorney's Office, Los Angeles City Attorney's Elder Crimes Unit; Los Angeles Fire Department; Los Angeles City Code Enforcement Bureau; and Office of Inspector General, US Department of Health and Human Services.

In the operation, state investigators, local fire marshals, code enforcement officials and patient-care specialists will make random, unannounced visits to nursing homes. Local inspectors will review physical structures for sanitation, safety and fire hazards, while health experts will help detect any abuse and neglect of nursing home residents.

State and local prosecutors on the team will be available to bring legal action if evidence of abuse or neglect warranting criminal action is discovered. Additionally, any health quality violations will be referred to the state Department of Health Services, which would respond within 48 hours. Other local, state and federal agencies will assist the team by providing necessary information and investigative assistance.

According to state economists, there are about 3.7 million people age 65 or older living in California. With baby boomers nearing retirement in 20 years, the number of people age 65 or older is expected to increase to 6.3 million or 14 percent of the state population.

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