California judge orders state to respond to nursing home complaints

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Despite protests from regulators, a judge has ordered California state officials to drastically speed up investigations of nursing home complaints.

The judge ordered the agency to clear nearly half its backlog and start investigating at least 80% of new complaints within four months. The agency must entirely clear its backlog within eight months, said San Francisco Superior Court Judge Peter Busch. Advocates of the elderly sued the state in October for its failure to aggressively investigate complaints.

A spokeswoman for one of the state's provider associations praised the ruling, saying it would help providers learn "what went wrong" and what corrective measures should be taken.

As of mid-August, the agency had at least 460 cases, some dating from January of this year, that had not been investigated, according to its records. Agency leaders have said they have too few inspectors to investigate allegations by the 10-day deadline and would not be able to start clearing the backlog until spring. A recent $20 million budget boost, however, is allowing more investigators to be hired.