Officials at the California Department of Social Services should be embarrassed that journalists at the Contra Costa Times did what the state agency overseeing the care of our most vulnerable residents has been unable to accomplish. That was to make information about violations at state-licensed facilities in which the elderly live available to the public.
The reporters requested data from the state, and then did the tedious, but important, work of plugging it into a database. The result was published last week on the newspaper's website — a searchable database into which anyone can plug in the name of one of the 7,000 licensed senior care facilities in the state and find out if it had been fined by the DSS and, if so, how many times and how much. It doesn't say what those fines are for; one would have to call the DSS to find out.
It's not much information, but it's one bright light shining on an otherwise dark landscape.
The publishing of the database was made more significant in that it came days after a legislative hearing to discuss how the department can better monitor residential care facilities. This was a few months after more than a dozen mentally ill and elderly residents of a Castro Valley residential care center essentially were abandoned after DSS shut it down for unfixed violations.
After the closure and abandonment of residents at Valley Springs Manor was reported, it turned out that the facility had a history of poor management and debt. That was something the public should have been able to find out online.
What is holding DDS back is that, technology-wise, it is stuck in the early 1990s. Posting the full incident reports online, as the department would like to do, requires an expensive system upgrade and more employees.
Right now, the only information DSS posts online is basic. You can search for a residential care facility on its website, and then get back a short citation with name, contact information and address, license number and number of clients. If you want more information, the website directs you to contact or visit the local and regional offices to get the facility's licensing file as well as complaints.
This spring, the agency will include slightly more information, as it will give either an "A" or "B" grade to the violations listed. "A" grades aren't good; they represent a violation that poses an immediate threat to the health and safety of residents. A "B" violation may only involve paperwork.
These distinctions are a start, but for a complete view, the department must find a way to get more information to the public.
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