REGION — San Diego County is increasing the oversight of residential care facilities for the elderly with a new pilot program from the District Attorney’s Office that includes expanding the ombudsman program and the development of a facility rating system.
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the initiatives at its March 11 meeting.
“I believe the county must do all it can to safeguard our elderly,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, at the meeting.
In her state of the county address in January, Jacob made advocating for the county’s growing population of people over 70 a priority for the board.
The District Attorney’s one-year pilot program will focus on investigating and prosecuting crimes against residents of long-term care facilities.
Currently, the local branch of the state’s community care licensing division handles residential care facility complaints and violations.
According to Chief Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan, incidents at these facilities are handled administratively or with fines and are not reported to police for criminal investigation.
As a result, the District Attorney’s Office is unable to prosecute criminal activity.
“We can’t make a decision about whether a case can be prosecuted if we don’t see the case at all,” she said.
With the pilot program, the District Attorney’s Office will work to educate social services officials about when to report incidents for criminal investigation and prosecution and partner with law enforcement on investigations.
“With this special prosecution unit, we would set up systems of collaboration with our law enforcement partners and with the department that oversees the licensing and oversight of skill nursing facilities and residential care facilities,” she said.
“We know that crimes committed in RCF (residential care facilities) are rarely referred to outside law enforcement or the Department of Justice,” said Chris Murphy, executive director of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform.
The program is also designed to raise awareness about elder abuse.
The $1.5 million cost of the pilot will be covered by money from Proposition 172, which generates county funds for public safety.
Recognizing that the number of people over 75 years old is expected to almost double by 2030, the County Board of Supervisors also approved the expansion of the ombudsman program and the development of a rating system for long-term care facilities for the elderly.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman program advocates for elderly residents of residential and nursing facilities.
In 2009, the number of full-time ombudsman was halved from eight to four due to budget cuts.
The board’s action directed the chief administrative officer to strengthen and increase employees of the program.
Board support was also given to residential facility stakeholders to develop a rating system so consumers can be better informed about the quality of such facilities.