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Handling of L.A. County nursing home complaints under scrutiny

HealthLos Angeles County Board of SupervisorsMichael Antonovich

Los Angeles County supervisors ordered an audit Tuesday of the way the county's public health department investigates complaints about health and safety issues at nursing homes.

The officials sharply criticized public health officials over a report that complaints about health and safety issues at nursing homes are not always thoroughly investigated.

An investigation by Kaiser Health News found that public health officials told inspectors to close certain cases without fully investigating them in an effort to reduce a backlog.

The report cited documents indicating public health supervisors told inspectors to close complaints that were submitted anonymously as "no action necessary." Other cases were to be closed by looking at previous reports on the facility in question, rather than conducting an investigation of a new  complaint.

During their weekly meeting, members of the county Board of Supervisors said they were caught off guard by the report.

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich noted he successfully pushed for a publicly posted grading system for nursing homes, similar to that used for county restaurants. "These actions by the public health department make a mockery of that whole system," he said.

Public health director Jonathan Fielding and division chief Ernest Poolean said the department investigates all complaints about nursing home conditions, initiating a probe within 24 hours for serious cases and within 10 days for less urgent allegations. They said final reports sometimes are not completed.

"We've done the actual work," Fielding told the board. "What we've not done is issued all the reports."

Fielding said he only learned Monday night that the state was launching an audit of the county's investigation process.

Anita Gore, a spokeswoman with the California Department of Public Health, said the county's complaint investigation process had not been properly approved by the state and conflicts with state protocols. The county was ordered to suspend the process, and state officials are investigating, the spokeswoman said.

Gore said that more than half of the state's 4,725 open cases involving nursing home complaints are in Los Angeles County.

Fielding and Poolean declined to answer reporters' questions after Tuesday's meeting, but agreed to prepare a response to the report for board members. 

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abby.sewell@latimes.com

Twitter: @sewella

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