3 Tips for Issuing Public Records Requests in WA Nursing Home Neglect Cases
The Residential Care Services Division of DSHS licenses, inspects, and investigates complaints relating to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and adult family homes in Washington. Obtaining records from DSHS can be particularly useful in nursing home neglect cases because these files contain descriptions of violations found during inspections of the facility as well as the penalties that were imposed by DSHS. Washington courts have said that prior citations by DSHS are relevant and admissible to show the subpar practices at a facility. Conrad v. Alderwood Manor, 119 Wn. App. 275, 298 (2003). Below are three tips to consider when making requests to RCS:
1) Make Two Requests
The first request should ask for all inspections and investigations for the relevant time period. More specifically, this request should ask for copies of the DSHS complaint investigation summaries, statements of deficiencies (SODs), and enforcement letters. After reviewing the SOD’s to see if any particular violations help to show that the facility was on notice about the problem at issue in your case, issue a second request for the working file on these particular SODs (containing the investigator’s notes). If you ask for the working file for all SOD’s up front, it may take DSHS months to fulfill your request and will likely yield thousands of irrelevant records. [Note: working files may only be obtained for assisted living facilities and adult family homes due to applicable federal rules relating to nursing homes]
2) Ask for Signed Copies
Ask that DSHS produce signed copies of the SOD’s. This will help show the administrator of the facility was on notice of the violation, and that the administrator promised to take corrective action to fix the violation and maintain compliance.
3) Ask for Copies With Your Client’s Name Unredacted
DSHS will redact all resident names in the records, so you may consider including a release form allowing DSHS to produce copies of the records with your client’s name unredacted, particularly if you know DSHS investigated your client’s incident.