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Assisted living fines go uncollected in California

By: The Associated Press
December 15, 2013 Updated: December 15, 2013 at 5:16 pm
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — California regulators fail to collect half the fines levied on assisted living homes for failing to properly care for elderly residents and, when they do, payments often arrive late, a newspaper reported Sunday.

The California Department of Social Services has collected only half of the $2.9 million in penalties it levied against facilities statewide since July 2007, U-T San Diego reported (http://bit.ly/196ljb7 ). One reason is there is no penalty for late payment.

Tender Care of San Marcos was fined $6,750 for a series of violations, most related to the home's failure to provide employee background checks and fingerprints to regulators. Administrator German Zamora Jr. said he regretted the oversight and is making payments on the debt.

"This is a small, family-run home," Zamora said. "We're trying to make arrangements and trying to make it work on both ends, for the residents and for our family."

Golden Joy Residential Care, an El Centro assisted living home owes $8,300. The state is unlikely ever to collect because the home is out of business.

State officials said they do their best to collect but violators often close and move away.

"Frequently, in these cases the entity dissolves and there's no one to collect the penalty from," said Michael Weston, a California Department of Social Services deputy director.

With limited resources, Weston said, state social workers have to juggle responsibilities, and collecting penalties is not always at the top of their list.

The maximum penalty for a violation is $150, even when a resident dies due to negligent care. For nursing homes regulated by the California Department of Public Health, fines run as high as $100,000.

The assisted living sector began as an alternative to nursing homes, which face heavy federal regulation, said John O'Connor, editorial director of industry publication McKnight's Long-Term Care News.

Each state sets its own rules and regulatory environment. O'Connor said he doesn't understand why California has not recovered half of the fines.

"It makes a reasonable person wonder what's going on," he said. "It's not necessarily an indictment, but it's reasonable to ask why this money is not being collected."

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