It’s extremely tough in California to find out if a senior housing facility (assisted living or board and care) has been disciplined by state regulators.

The agency responsible, the state Department of Social Service’s Community Care Licensing Division has come under blistering criticism for— among other things— not having a database of complaints and actions that is easily accessible to family members or potential residents.

Records of senior housing actions are not even online. You can book a trip around the world more easily than you can find out about actions taken against the place where your parents or grandparents live. They are still in paper form. That means family member must travel to CCLD regional offices to inspect the paper records.

Even for diligent researchers, that’s asking a lot. There are only eight regional offices in a state that’s 163,696 square miles big, third-largest in the country.

One of several bills to improve the senior housing system under consideration in Sacramento addresses consumer access to senior housing information. Says the nonprofit California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CAHNR):

Although there are over 7,500 licensed Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFEs) in California, theDepartment of Social Services, Community Care Licensing Division has absolutely no information about thequality of care and enforcement actions against facilities available to consumers. Consumers seekinginformation on RCFEs in California are simply out of luck if they hope to compare facilities regarding ownership, enforcement actions or complaints, since none of that information is available to the public

But meanwhile, intrepid journalists Katie Nelson and Daniel J. Willis of the Contra Costa Times have compiled their own database of fines levied against California RCFEs (Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly) over the last two years.

The paper and the reporters deserve hearty applause from family members and other interested parties.

There are some limitations on the data— you can’t see what violations a senior housing facility did to merit disciplinary action— but the database nonetheless is a valuable resource where before, there was nothing.