We’re also advocating that complaints about a facility be in plain language and aggregated for more effective monitoring and to detect potential trends. Annual reporting could include: the top five complaints by category, total number of complaints, how many complaints resulted in fines or sanctions and how many fines were paid or collected. We know from the AJC’s reporting that there were more than 600 allegations of neglect and 90 of abuse by caregivers in the past four years. We also know from the paper’s deep digging that, in many cases, the worst offense resulted in a $601 fine, the current maximum.
Now is the time to address the need for the Department of Community Health’s Healthcare Facility Regulation division to have more people on the ground conducting inspections of these facilities. Inspections could be done more frequently and DCH staffing could keep pace with a growing resident population. It’s a critical job – not only so the state can ensure compliance but also so consumers can identify and avoid making bad choices.
The AJC’s report underscores what we and our partners at the Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly (CO-AGE) have been saying since 2017 – tougher fines and sanctions need to be imposed on facility operators who fail to follow state regulations. We’ve suggested a fine of $5,000 a day for each violation of the law, up to a maximum of $50,000. That’s more in line with the fines imposed in other southeastern states for serious violations, resulting in death or serious physical or emotional trauma.
Lastly, the staffing ratios of these facilities must be addressed. Clearly, a 1-to-25 staff-to-patient ratio in non-waking hours is insufficient. The AJC outlines why adequate staffing is important, finding that breakdowns in care were often rooted in facility staffing shortages, poor training of staff or high staffing turnover rates.
The senior population is exploding here in Georgia and across the nation. There’s data to suggest that Georgia has not kept up with other states in terms of care and service. According to a 2017 national report, Georgia ranks 48th in quality of life and care for long-term services and supports and 41st for choice of setting and provider.
Let this be a time for corrective actions. Georgia seniors deserve no less.
State lawmakers can be contacted directly through the CO-AGE Action Alert, an online messaging system: http://ciclt.net/sn/gre2/oc.aspx?ClientCode=gca&campid=8DgUQBOoRr
Vicki Vaughn Johnson is chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, which advocates for seniors.