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Questionable Care: Navigating the challenges of finding the right care facility


We received an overwhelming amount of phone calls, emails and even letters in reaction to I-team Reporter Karen Devine's Questionable Care story that aired in February.  

The focus was an in-depth look at our local skilled nursing facilities after we had received a number of complaints about care.  

Devine did some more investigating and spoke with people in the Valley who help senior citizens navigate through the process of finding the proper Skilled Nursing Facility for themselves or family members.  

One viewer, John Stefani, of Sky Valley told Devine that after staying at a local facility he was very disappointed in the care. 

 "They don't have enough people for the job, they have very few RN's, they have a lot of just bodies so to speak, and it's a shame, but that's the system they have there."

A Korean War Veteran, Stefani, had a massive heart attack, and was sent to a local skilled nursing facility to prepare for a stent surgery. Instead of recovery, he says the facility enrolled him in end-of-life hospice care. 

"They signed me up right there to get my money, that's the only reason they did it, they didn't do it for my benefit, they did it to get my money."

Another caller to the I-team phone line was Palm Desert resident Mildred Simmons.  Simmons is a registered nurse and was at one time the Deputy Director of the California Department of Health Services. She helped write regulations for Skilled Nursing Facilities and also took part in inspections. 

"I had over 1200 nursing homes to inspect and 600 hospitals and home health agencies and so forth."

Simmons, a Stanford University nursing program graduate says back when she was working in facilities the ratio of licensed nurses to patients was much higher.

“What I’m afraid of is that the license nurse ratio to patient is going down.” 

Simmons says when she was nursing she spent a lot of time getting to know the patient, giving personal attention. She says now the care is administered by nurses aids or entry-level vocational nurses and that registered nurses do very little patient care. She says if a patient isn’t getting what they need they have to speak up and if that doesn’t work:

"I’d be on that call button very frequently, I’d beep it and beep it and beep it because what is it?  The squeaky wheel get’s the oil.”

She also told Devine from her personal experience, if a patient is not happy with their care, filing a complaint with the California Department of Public Health does make a difference. The State must look into it.    

Here in the Coachella Valley there are several agencies that help senior citizens navigate all the information on local skilled nursing facilities, assisted living homes and board and care. 

Devine spoke with Leann Dale, owner of Senior Living Options of the Desert. 

"You need to be sure you have someone who can help you out," says Dale. 

Dale, has spent more than a decade doing her homework on local facilities and eventhough she says there are some really good ones in the valley she's not surprised about the amount of negative feedback.

"I wouldn't recommend them all, there's some that have some issues and some that aren't following the rules and I don't work with those."

As a family advisor, Dale emphasizes how important it is for her elder clients to have an advocate and to do their research before a crisis happens. 

"Most of us don't expect to ever be there, honestly it is one of those things where I guess in the back of your mind you figure you're gonnaget old and probably gonna need some help at some point but that's a long way out. Well before you know it, a crisis happens, somebody falls and breaks a hip or some dementia or Alzheimers starts to appear"

If you are currently in a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living home and you are unhappy with your care you can get help by calling for a local ombudsman.  This is a federally funded group that will come in free of charge and look at your situation and help you get things sorted out.  One other tip, keep a notebook.

Contacts if you have problems:

Senior Living Options of the Desert

  • Leann Dale  - (760) 322-0322 or  (760) 898-5139

To file a complaint with the California Department of Public Health

Ombudsman Information:

The Ombudsman poster is displayed in every long-term care facility and our contact information is listed there. Their office number is 833-772-6624. If there is an after-hours issue, a call may be placed to the State CRISISline at 800-231-4024, which is available 24-hours a day. They strive to return calls within 24 to 48 hours, depending on urgency. Utilizing the numbers on the posters is the best way to reach us immediately.

Their website is and the Council on Aging, Southern California also has a presence on Facebook. 

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Karen Devine

Karen Devine is celebrating her 27th year delivering the local news as an anchor and reporter in the Palm Springs television market. Learn more about Karen here.


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