There are several types of complaint you should consider filing, and I will discuss each in turn.
In California, most nursing homes are regulated by the Department of Public Health, Licensing and Certification division ("Licensing"). If you believe a loved one has been neglected or abused by a nursing home and suffered injury as a result, you can contact the local Licensing office to file a complaint against the nursing home. Once you have filed your complaint with Licensing, it is obligated to perform a prompt investigation of your complaint. Upon completion of its investigation, Licensing will let you know in writing if your complaint was either substantiated or unsubstantiated. If the complaint is substantiated, the nursing home may be fined and issued either a Citation or a Notice of Deficiency. If the complaint is unsubstantiated, you will be provided a notice advising you of your right to appeal. Unfortunately, however, in recent years, the promptness and quality of the investigations by Licensing have deteriorated. It is not uncommon for Licensing to conclude that the complaint is unsubstantiated even though the nursing home neglected a resident and caused injury to the resident. If you believe a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse or neglect, do not give up just because Licensing disagrees. As set forth below, you may still file your complaint with the Superior Court.
Residential care facilities, assisted living facilities, and board and care facilities in California are regulated by the Department of Social Services ("DSS"). If an elder has been neglected or abused by one of these facilities and suffered injury as a result, you can contact the local DSS office to file a complaint. The DSS will investigate and advise you in writing whether the complaint is substantiated or unsubstantiated. Unfortunately, even if the complaint is substantiated and the neglect resulted in death, the maximum fine the DSS can impose is $150.00. As a result, DSS is completely ineffective in deterring elder abuse or punishing those facilities that neglect or abuse their residents. Further, just as with Licensing, the quality of the DSS investigations has deteriorated in recent years. If you believe a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse or neglect, do not give up just because DSS disagrees.
Regardless of whether you file a complaint with either Licensing or DSS, and regardless of whether the complaint is substantiated or unsubstantiated, you should promptly speak to an experienced California elder law litigation attorney to discuss the merits of your complaint and to determine whether it is prudent to file a civil lawsuit in court. If the case has merit, the attorney can file a written complaint against the nursing home via a lawsuit in the Superior Court of the county in which the nursing home is located. In many instances, a civil lawsuit is the only effective way to hold the nursing home accountable for its elder abuse or neglect and to protect the residents of the nursing home.
Disclaimer: This answer was provided by an attorney selected to Super Lawyers, and is intended to be an educated opinion only. This answer should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.
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