CARR co-founders can tell you what a terrific experience our internship program offers; but, it is more illustrative to hear from our actual interns. Eugene Willis, Jr. connected with us via Linkedin this past fall and volunteered to do file surveillance for CARR on RCFEs in Nevada County. Read on to learn more about Eugene's goals and discoveries:
Volunteer Internship Experience with CARR Fall 2014, Nevada County File Review
This letter is to share my recent experience reviewing Nevada County RCFE files on behalf of Consumer Advocates for RCFE Reform (CARR). At the outset of this letter, I would like to thank Chris Murphy for the opportunity to join this outstanding organization and also the Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division “DSS/CCLD” for their assistance in completing the file review. The primary reasons I voluntarily participated in CARR’s internship program were to enhance my personal knowledge, as well as promote transparency and dissemination of material issues related to California’s RCFE industry. RCFE residents are sometimes forgotten. I completed law school specifically to give a voice to those who are forgotten.
On Thursday December 11, 2014, I began the file surveillance at DSS/CCLD’s office in Sacramento. I came into the process with an emphasis on objectivity. Similarly, I wanted to let the 15 file(s) subject to review, guide my views. I reviewed approximately 2-3 files the first day, which were trivial at best; however, day two and beyond was a markedly different experience. The files revealed residents alleging and substantiating the following:
- Roach and rat infestations for long periods
- Unqualified staff – Performing duties outside their scope
- Physical abuse
- Missing/Stolen Property
- Missing Medications
- Persistent and pervasive unresolved corrections
- Unsupervised residents
- Fraudulent practices i.e., underfunded food, supplies, clothing
As an exercise, I considered these findings from a legal perspective. Chief among my conclusions was many of the allegations lacked substantiation by DSS/CCLD due to insufficient evidence and were deemed “inconclusive” or “unfounded”.
“Inconclusive” and “unfounded”, however, did not mean the allegations were not true, but rather the investigation failed to produce evidence. Many residents do not have the resources and/or capacity to bring forth compelling evidence to validate their assertions and allegations. And, there is also present a balancing test that must allow for fairness (due process) to the facility and its employees with a presumption of innocence. These two themes seem to significantly influence outcomes and should be considered when negotiating DSS/CCLD policies and practices.
My Sacramento file review raises a number of issues for consideration:
- Whether the burden of proof is too high to substantiate allegations by residents?
- Whether DSS/CCLD has sufficient investigators to address the concerns?
- To what extent does DSS/CCLD have a duty to ensure that persons are not (a) retaliated against by agents of the facilities and/or (b) maliciously treated by agents of facility while such agents are under investigation?
- How much training is being provided to personnel in facilities and DSS/CCLD investigators?
- What responsibility does DSS/CCLD have to preemptively ensure that personnel are not acting outside the scope of their authority?
In conclusion, allegations require evidence to be acted upon. I acknowledge that evidence can be difficult to obtain, even in an ideal environment with the most competent legal counsel; however, accountability and justice should always be the goal. My review of DSS’s investigations, made me acutely aware that transparency can help to prevent the abuse of discretion and subsequently protect the basic human rights of RCFE residents.
This internship with CARR and the resulting file work was truly a rewarding experience; one that I will continue and encourage others to join.
Eugene Willis, Jr.
Learn more about CARR's internships here.