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Joint Statement from Senator Victoria Steele and Senator Christine Marsh on Arizona's DHS Failure

June 21, 2022

In an explosive report released by The Office of the Auditor General, it concluded that DHS has not implemented any of the OAG’s 5 recommendations from its 2019 audit report. Further, in the course of its 30-Month Follow Up work, the OAG identified additional “significant complaint-prioritization and investigation failures that have continued to put long-term care facility residents’ health, safety, and welfare at risk.”

Arizona's Department of Health Services failed some of our state's vulnerable members in long term care facilities. The legislature's failure to adequately fund every level of government has led to massive destruction in our state. Ensuring quality care for every Arizonan must be of paramount importance for every legislator as we work to pass a budget.

Today, Senator Steele read the following remarks on the Senate floor:

"The Auditor General published a report in May 2022, detailing accusations that the Arizona's Department of Health Services didn’t investigate serious complaints at long-term care facilities quickly enough, downgraded complaints, and, in some cases, closed complaint allegations without investigation.

On June 16th, in a nearly three-hour hearing, we all learned that the extent of neglect on behalf of ADHS was far worse than we could have imagined - ADHS failed to properly investigate complaints for years.

The level of incompetence was astonishing and for so many families, it turned fatal. One of those families being of former state lawmaker Herschella Horton.

Horton’s son, Jon, and her daughter, Cheryl Walker, say their mother was recovering well from spinal surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital, but that changed after she was transferred to Sabino Canyon Rehabilitation & Care Center.

“She was a fully functioning person before surgery, she was recovering well in the hospital but, when she went to that facility, all of that stopped,” Walker said in explaining why she has asked the Arizona Department of Health Services to investigate what happened.

DHS not only failed to stop the needless death of my friend and a former lawmaker, but this facility alone has had a string of fatal incidents.

I recognize the seven major recommendations for ADHS on behalf of the Joint Committee, which are as follows:

  1. The department will provide quarterly updates on its progress on implementing the auditor general’s recommendations.

  2. The department will create clear criteria and a transparent process for how the priority complaint process works so it is known who makes what decisions.

  3. The legislature will make the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services aware of the auditor general’s report.

  4. The department will look into the feasibility of contracting with independent entities to help with complaint investigations and then report back to the legislature.

  5. The department will allow the auditor general access to data related to the complaint process.

  6. The auditor general will report on that data to the legislature.

  7. Lawmakers will encourage the auditor general to ask the attorney general to investigate the findings of their report.

But is this enough?

Members, we must now take responsibility for the role this body played in this failure. Consistently, this legislature has underfunded the whole of government in Arizona, and we are now reaping that reward. Moving forward, we must remember that the decisions we make every day – especially when we pass a budget – have real-life and death consequences. Please ask yourself before we rush to pass a budget, what is missing? What are we failing to fund? Because frankly, what was dropped last night is a budget failure. We can do better to make sure every government department is fully funded, responsive to our constituents, and thriving. It is our job to ensure that this never happens again."


Press Contact: Calli Jones

Communications Director | Arizona Senate Democratic Caucus

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