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Tomorrow, a California judge could decide if Gloria Single will be reunited with her husband, Bill. She's 83. He's 93. The two lived in the same nursing home until last March. That's when Gloria Single was evicted without warning. NPR's Ina Jaffe covers aging and reports that in California, complaints about nursing home evictions have jumped 73 percent in just a few years.
INA JAFFE, BYLINE: Gloria Single has dementia. So when her son Aubrey Jones visits her in her new nursing home, he brings old photos. She still recognizes faces from years ago, like when her three sons were little kids.
AUBREY JONES: Look like troublemakers there, the three of us.
GLORIA SINGLE: You are troublemakers.
JAFFE: But then Jones shows her a recent photo. It was taken at Pioneer House, the Sacramento nursing home where Gloria Single and her husband, Bill, lived before her eviction.
JONES: I love this picture of you and Bill together.
SINGLE: Because he's got his hand on my knee.
JAFFE: In court documents, Pioneer House paints a different picture of Gloria Single. They say she was aggressive with staff. When she threw some plastic tableware, they sent her to the hospital for a psych evaluation. The hospital said she was fine, but Pioneer House wouldn't take her back. They said they couldn't care for someone with her needs. So Aubrey Jones protested to the California Department of Health Care Services. The department held a hearing, and Jones won.
JONES: I expected action - definitely expected action.
JAFFE: Instead, Jones got an email explaining that the department that held the hearing has no authority to enforce its own ruling. Enforcement is the job of a different state agency. Jones could start over with them. That's why the legal wing of the AARP Foundation is now suing Pioneer House on Gloria Single's behalf. William Alvarado Rivera is the foundation's senior vice president for litigation.
WILLIAM ALVARADO RIVERA: There is a lesson to be learned by facilities that there will be accountability for their failure to respect the due process rights of their residents.
JAFFE: And by law, nursing home residents do have rights. For example, they get 30 days' notice before they're moved involuntarily. And if they're in the hospital, the nursing home must hold their bed for a week. Rivera says Gloria Single didn't get any of that and was stuck in the hospital for four and a half months.
RIVERA: In the absence of state enforcement, it will depend on individuals like Mrs. Single having to advocate for themselves to get their rights respected and enforced.
JAFFE: Public records obtained by NPR show that California nursing homes rarely pay a price for illegally evicting residents. Just 7 percent of facilities that violated the law were fined. Most of the fines were $1,000 or less, and most were not paid in full. California's Secretary of Health and Human Services declined NPR's request for an interview. But Jim Gomez defends the way the state enforces the law.
JIM GOMEZ: It's not lax. I think it's about right.
JAFFE: He's the CEO of the California Association of Health Facilities, which represents most nursing homes. He says that some residents are evicted because they're a danger to others.
GOMEZ: When the Department of Public Health reviews that, they say, this was a reasonable decision because it does not make sense for that person to come back here.
JAFFE: Pioneer House and its parent company declined to be interviewed. Their written statement says, in part, we intend to vigorously defend the allegations set forth in the lawsuit. As for Aubrey Jones, he says the suit isn't just about his mother anymore.
JONES: If anything, I want the dial to be turned a little bit so this actually is less likely to happen to someone else.
JAFFE: Though most of all, he wants to see his mother and stepfather reunited for the little bit of time they have left. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.
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