Budget cuts put elderly at risk of abuse


Christopher C. Walton

When California’s state budget was recently signed, a little-publicized line-item veto eliminated 100 percent of state funding for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. This served as a devastating blow to several nonprofit agencies that provide critical services to our elderly population.

California’s Ombudsman Program serves as an advocate for the rights of elderly patients who reside in nursing homes. Many of the elderly in our society have no friends or family who visit or advocate on their behalf. The Ombudsman Program attempted to fill this void by receiving and investigating complaints regarding the quality of care. Many elder advocates consider the program a vital watchdog for a very vulnerable portion of our society, and the first line of defense against the rampant abuse and neglect that unfortunately plagues many of the nursing homes operating within the state.

The elimination of this funding came at a particularly bad time considering the Department of Health and Human Services had just released a report that found more than 90 percent of nursing homes were cited for violations of federal health and safety standards. Problems included infected bedsores, medication mix-ups, poor nutrition and abuse and neglect of patients.

In California, conditions were even worse where 99 percent of nursing homes were found to have received stated deficiencies.

For those with family members or friends in nursing homes, there is no better time to visit them regularly and be observant. Having potentially lost a great advocate, we must all work together to stop the mistreatment that regularly plagues our elderly population. Many of the elderly individuals in the nursing facilities are living out their remaining years and deserve to be treated with the utmost care, dignity and respect.

Christopher C. Walton lives and works in Carmel Valley as an attorney with the firm Berman & Riedel, LLP, where he concentrates his practice in the area of elder abuse and neglect.