State Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Irwindale) said Wednesday he plans to draft legislation that would allow the Department of Social Services to move more quickly to shut down troubled board-and-care homes.
Gallegos' comments followed a meeting between his staff members and social services officials to discuss the department's handling of Dahlia Gardens Guest Home for the mentally ill in El Monte.
"The department was not the culprit here and was not so much the ones at fault," Gallegos said. "Rather it was the standards and procedures they were having to work under."
On Feb. 28, the department ordered Dahlia Gardens Guest Home for the mentally ill to close, citing chronic and serious violations. Since the home opened in 1987, it has received nearly 150 citations for state code violations, including inadequate staff, filth and poor nutrition.
The latest violation followed a Feb. 8 incident, in which one diagnosed schizophrenic resident allegedly beat another to death. At the time, a housekeeper--the only staff person on duty for 73 residents--was washing dishes in another building. That violation of state code, which requires that residents be directly supervised by staff, led to the home's 78th citation within a year.
In a March 3 letter to department Director Eloise Anderson, Gallegos asked for "a full-scale investigation of its own practices regarding its standards for suspension or revocation of board-and-care home licenses. Clearly, a facility which has received 78 violations from the state in one year alone is a facility which is unsafe for all patients which resided at Dahlia Gardens."
Anderson was unavailable for comment.
In an interview, Gallegos said he would call for an outside investigation of the department if its internal review is unsatisfactory. He also said he would consider pursuing legislative action to tighten licensing standards for board-and-care homes.
In addition, Gallegos said he will ask the department to make all reports on board-and-care homes immediately available to the public. The department's public licensing files do not include "incident reports," which describe unusual occurrences such as deaths or assaults.
In the case of Dahlia Gardens, an unsupervised resident died in 1992 after she was able to gain access to the home's store of medications and took a lethal overdose, according to papers released by the state this month. But no reference to the death appears in the home's public file.
Incident reports are withheld from public files because they include confidential information, such as a client's name and mental capacity, state officials said. However, upon request, state officials will black out the confidential information and provide the reports.
Gallegos said he also wants to improve communication between county social workers and state social services officials.