Nursing Home Abuse Largely Underreported
November 15, 2017
According to a report compiled by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) through the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), over one-third of nursing home abuse cases fail to be reported to law enforcement agencies. As a result, vulnerable patients who should be receiving comprehensive care continue to be put at risk for nursing home neglect and abuse.
Nursing homes are intended for individuals who cannot live at home alone because they require medical, physical and/or emotional support care, but not in a full-fledged hospital setting. Nursing homes typically employ skilled nurses and other staff members who are able to provide different types of care, such as occupational and physical therapy. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 4 million Americans become new residents in nursing homes annually.
Federal and state law requires nursing homes to report all allegations of abuse and neglect. Throughout the OIG’s investigation, 134 unreported cases of potential neglect or abuse were uncovered in 33 states across the country. One of the OIG’s regional inspectors revealed that in at least one instance, a skilled nursing facility tried to cover up the sexual assault of an elderly female patient and even told police officers that it was unnecessary to visit the facility in order to conduct an official investigation.
The laws that require reporting cases of nursing home abuse and neglect have become stricter in recent years. Since 2011, any individual who suspects that a nursing home resident is experiencing serious bodily injury is required to report it to their local law enforcement agency within two hours of discovering the abuse. If they suspect abuse that does not involve serious bodily injury to a patient they have a total of twenty-four hours to report it.
There are supposed to be substantial financial penalties in place for individuals who fail to report abuse, but the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversee and regulate nursing homes, were never given permission by DHHS to enforce the $300,000 fine. Perhaps CMS will be given the authority to issue the financial penalties in light of the OIG’s report.
Nursing home abuse and neglect are similar to one another but are not exactly the same. In cases of nursing home neglect, a patient is harmed because of substandard care or a breach of duty that stems from a lack of attention to a patient’s needs. There are different kinds of nursing home neglect, such as medical, basic needs, emotional/social and personal hygiene neglect. These failures are often due to inadequate care and substandard supervision. When it comes to nursing home abuse, the specific intention of harming the patient is present. Sexual assault and other kinds of physical abuse are examples of this.
According to data from the OIG, somewhere around 5 million elderly adults suffer abuse, neglect or exploitation every year in care facilities. The importance of addressing this issue is already at a critical level, but as the elderly population in the country continues to grow, more and more senior citizens will be at risk. A Census Bureau report estimates that by 2050 there will be approximately 88.5 million Americans over 65-years-old; that is double the amount of 65-year-old individuals that were alive in 2010.
Nursing home residents commonly face serious medical issues such as malnutrition, dental problems, unexplained injuries and poor personal hygiene as a result of neglect and abuse in their care facilities. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) reports that as many as 20% of all nursing home residents experience varying degrees of malnutrition, and the New York Times reported on an “epidemic” of substandard dental care. Studies have indicated this may contribute to the development of potentially lethal medical problems.
The CDC reports that in what it calls LTCFs – or long-term care facilities, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities (housing for those requiring basic but not intensive medical care) – that anywhere from 1 to 3 million serious infections occur every year. These infections include antibiotic-resistant staph infections, diarrheal diseases and urinary tract infections, among others – and the CDC estimates that 380,000 elderly individuals die from these infections annually. To read more on the statistics in LTCFs from the CDC, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/longtermcare/index.html.
OIG officials revealed that 28% of all cases of nursing home abuse or neglect failed to be reported to police officials.
It is crucial that the CMS steps in and increases its fight against nursing home abuse and neglect in order to protect elderly patients. According to the OIG, the CMS needs to increase its monitoring of these cases to establish better patient safety in skilled nursing facilities.
It is also important that individuals keep an eye out for signs of nursing home abuse or neglect that may be occurring. Some of the common warning signs that an elderly patient is being abused or neglected by nursing home staff members can include:
- Physical issues from lack of nutrition;
- Unsanitary living conditions;
- A sudden loss or lack of mobility;
- The development of bed sores;
- Changes in mental status;
- Psychological issues;
- Becoming prone to developing infections – including sexually transmitted diseases
- Unexplained injuries like bruises, broken bones or head injuries and:
- Poor personal hygiene
If you suspect that any type of abuse or neglect is present, you should immediately contact a local law enforcement agency and discuss any concerning issues that you witnessed.
Although the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) acknowledges that more research is necessary, data indicates that officials miss or underrepresent cases of abuse or neglect. In fact, the NCEA found that officials who inspect LTCFs mistakenly overlook cases involving serious harm to residents approximately 15% of the time and that 70% of the time, other issues in care facilities are missed. The NCEA also found that when elderly patients are abused, their chance of mortality triples.
We can expect more information on nursing homes in the new future. The OIG is writing another report that it plans to publish within the next year. This upcoming report will deal with whether or not financial penalties – or any other type of punishments – were ever enforced against individuals who failed to report nursing home neglect or abuse to officials. Ensuring that the elderly populations in nursing homes and other types of care facilities are well taken care of should be a priority on both state and federal levels. If you have any concerns about the level of care one of your loved ones is receiving in a long-term care facility, please contact a representative at our firm.
Philadelphia Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Victims of Nursing Home Abuse
If you or a loved one has experienced nursing home abuse or negligence, please contact our nursing home abuse lawyers in Philadelphia at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.