Cycle of Tragic Loss of Life Demands Immediate Action
SACRAMENTO — At an oversight hearing held by the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee, the Department of Health Care Services provided details on their processes for licensing and oversight of residential treatment facilities. As Chair of the Committee, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris questioned their history of enforcement and poised questions around the recent tragic deaths that have occurred in the Orange County community.
“As substance abuse has skyrocketed all across the country and the need for treatment has exploded, this industry has been plagued by unscrupulous operators who are exploiting patients for profit,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Irvine). “The blood of these kids who are dying is not only on the hands of these operators but on the department as well. It is past time we break this cycle of dysfunction. It is important that we make sure these treatment facilities are up to the best possible standards so that patients can focus on their recovery.”
A 2018 report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that approximately 20.3 million people ages 12 or older nationwide had a substance use disorder related to their use of alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year. According to the California Healthcare Foundation, in 2018 about 8% of Californians, or roughly 2.7 million people, meet the criteria for substance use disorder. Tragically, only 10% of Californians with a substance abuse disorder will receive any type of assistance on the road to recovery. Like any other chronic illness, a substance use disorder can be prevented, treated and managed to help people recover. In California, as of November 2021, we have over 900 licensed residential treatment facilities, which combined have a 20,464-bed capacity. These facilities provide care to people from all over the state, and even from around the country, as they work towards recovery.
The following panelists presented information to the committee: Michelle Baass, Director of Department of Health Care Services (DHCS); Katrina Foley, Orange County County Supervisor; Todd Franssen, Orange County District Attorney Investigator; Dr. Mario San Bartolome Jr., California Society of Addiction Medicine; and Jennifer Lohse, Vice President and General Counsel of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.
In the fiscal year 2020-21, there were 61 complaints of deaths and during that time DHCS received approximately 540 jurisdictional complaint inquiries. The state spends more than $600 million on drug treatment for Medi-Cal recipients and millions more are spent through private insurance.
Legislative Bi-partisan Substance Abuse Working Group Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) commented, “Operators of substance abuse facilities take on a responsibility for both the wellbeing of those in treatment and ensuring their families that they are provided with a safe environment to work through the process of recovery. Substance abuse facility operators must be accountable. Appropriate oversight is quintessential to the safety of those seeking treatment.”
Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee Vice-Chair Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said, “The State of California must do a better job of regulating substance abuse treatment facilities. It is obvious there are too many bad-actors where people are not getting the care they need. We also need to recognize that there are many substance abuse treatment facilities that do a remarkable job of helping people free themselves from addiction. My hope is, we can end the abuses, while encouraging those facilities that are examples of the care and compassion addicts desperately need.”
“Some of our most vulnerable Californians are those struggling with addiction and sadly, lack of oversight and enforcement has resulted in the exploitation of these individuals for far too long. It’s obvious that we must explore solutions that protect those who are most desperate for support in fighting their substance use disorders,” said Assemblywoman Marie Waldron (R-Escondido), member of the Legislative Bi-partisan Substance Abuse Working Group.
The full hearing can be viewed on the Assembly website.