Though the state of California makes very little information on residential elderly care facilities available online, this news organization has assembled what is available into an exclusive database of the fines levied against hundreds of facilities during a two-year period.
The database at www.insidebayarea.com/senior-care allows Californians, for the first time, to see how home care facilities in their cities stack up. Among the 10 homes in the state with the highest number of fines, and with the highest fine amounts, five are in the Bay Area.
The Department of Social Services currently makes such information about residential facilities available in two ways -- on a website that includes only contact information and licensing status, and in more detailed reports that are stored in regional and district offices across the state and must be accessed in person.
In November 2013, this news organization asked the department for all its records on senior home facilities dating back to 2004. Even though the Department of Public Health makes such information available on its website for skilled nursing facilities, which provide a higher level of care, Social Services department officials said that providing the information for residential care facilities would take several years and require a payment of nearly $30,000.
What they released, instead, was a list of the fines against facilities across the state for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years. That information has now been assembled into a searchable database at www.insidebayarea.com/senior-care.
Administrators for some facilities with the largest fines in the Bay Area said they are aware of the issues behind the fines and are working to fix citations as quickly as possible.
John Olivarez, administrator at Colonial Acres Residential Care Home in Hayward, said the facility was fined in 2012 for not having complete documentation readily available for patients living at the facility.
In 2012, the state levied $11,800 in fines to Colonial Acres. In 2013, the home had no fines.
The director of the center with the most fines, Ophelia Alvarez from J A I Residential Care Home in Millbrae, said the fines were primarily for safety concerns, such as a leaky water heater.
It takes time to find the right repairmen and the money to finance the fixes, Alvarez said, noting that the violations have been addressed and the fines are being paid. Alvarez admitted she does not know the total amount they were fined during the past two years -- the state says it's $27,750 -- but that she is using the department's payment plan to chip away what the facility owes.
While the only way to get details about why facilities are fined is to contact facilities directly or get records from regional Department of Social Services offices, experts caution that facilities aren't always forthcoming about the circumstances or severity of the violations.
"Administrators say it's for little things like 'the water is too hot,'" said Patricia McGinnis, spokeswoman for California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform. "But people have been scalded and died because water is too hot."