Live chat: Caring for America's aging population

UPDATE, Sept. 11, 2013: This piece updates to include information on our investigation into patient abuse cases.

As America’s aging population grows, we’re forced to ask: Where do we turn when we can no longer care for ourselves?

The question has created an industry of elder care in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. But what began as a well-intentioned solution has left a hole in regulating the medical treatment and overall care for vulnerable senior populations.

The nation’s two largest nonprofit investigative journalism organizations, The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, are teaming up to answer your questions on how we can better protect aging Americans.

Join the live chat on Thursday, at 11 a.m. PT/2 p.m. ET, with CIR reporter Ryan Gabrielson and A.C. Thompson, a ProPublica reporter and PBS FRONTLINE correspondent, to discuss how to regulate elder care in America and why current laws are so tricky.

These problems have affected many in California, where there are huge gaps in regulating senior patient care.

A new CIR report by Gabrielson finds significant failures by the California Department of Public Health to regulate and monitor the estimated 160,000 nursing assistants and in-home health aides working in California hospitals, nursing homes, mental facilities, developmental centers and private home homes.

For the past decade, the Southern California division of the Department of Public Health, which is supposed to oversee some of the most serious allegations of rape and abuse, has virtually shut down, the CIR report shows.

“In 2009, the California Department of Public Health quietly ordered its investigators to dismiss nearly 1,000 pending cases of abuse and theft – often with a single phone call from Sacramento headquarters,” writes Gabrielson in the investigation, published Monday.

In fact, “the attorney general has an entire division – the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse, which has 41 lawyers – that specializes in investigating crimes of abuse and neglect.” The CIR investigation shows that when reported, allegations of abuse and neglect were investigated by phone and rarely resulted in an on-site visit.

The same lack of regulation is also seen in private assisted living facilities, which serve patients who are able to afford more customized care.

A recent investigation by Thompson of ProPublica and PBS FRONTLINE examined the assisted living industry’s leading player, Emeritus Senior Living, which operates about 500 facilities capable of housing some 50,000 people. In print and television reports, Thompson and his colleagues looked at a series of mishaps, injuries and deaths at Emeritus facilities, raising questions about whether the company’s drive for profits is putting seniors at risk.

Thompson and Gabrielson will be taking your questions about the state of protecting elders who require extra care. What are you most concerned about for your loved ones? What kinds of laws are in place to protect them? And what challenges do you see facing vulnerable elderly Americans?

Submit your questions and comments now, and join us for the live chat Thursday.

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