Federal Investigation Reveals Nursing Home Abuse is Often Not Reported to Police
More than one-fourth of serious cases of nursing home abuse are not reported to police, despite federal and state laws requiring these cases be immediately turned over to law enforcement.
The disturbing revelation was reported in an alert released Monday by the Office of the Inspector General in the Department (OIG) of Health and Human Services.
The OIG’s alert is an early release of preliminary findings in an ongoing investigation into nursing home abuse and neglect in the U.S. The OIG says that it released the alert early because the agency believes there needs to be immediate changes in how nursing homes handle cases of abuse.
Nursing Homes Consistently Fail to Report Cases of Abuse
The OIG’s investigation examined 134 cases of nursing home abuse that occurred between 2015 and 2016 that were severe enough for the resident to require hospital treatment.
Ninety-six of the cases (72 percent) were reported to police within two hours. However, the OIG found that 38 cases (28 percent) had no evidence to support that the incident was reported to law enforcement.
The cases included in the OIG’s report spanned 33 states, the majority of which involved sexual assault and abuse against a resident.
According to the OIG’s report, Illinois had 17 incidents of potential abuse or neglect in nursing homes between 2015 and 2016, the highest number of any state, followed by Michigan with 13 cases.
Although the OIG investigation focused on 134 cases between 2015 and 2016, the agency believes this figure is only a small amount that occurs among the 1.4 million nursing home residents in the U.S.
CMS Procedures Are Not Adequate to Identify and Report Nursing Home Abuse
The OIG alert states that the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that regulates nursing homes, does not effectively identify incidents of abuse or neglect.
Under Social Security Act §1150B, federal law requires that anyone who suspects nursing home abuse report his or her suspicion to local law enforcement within two hours of the incident. If you do not suspect the abuse involves serious bodily harm, you must report the abuse within 24 hours. Failing to report nursing home abuse within these time limits can result in fines up to $300,000.
However, the CMS does not have official authorization from the Secretary of Human and Health Services to enforce these penalties. OIG Investigators noted that the CMS only requested the authority to enforce these measures in 2017.
Investigators also do not yet know if nursing homes were fined or punished when an act of abuse took place. These findings will be included in the OIG’s completed report, which is expected to be issued in 2018.
OIG Suggests New Method to Identify Nursing Home Abuse
In order for the CMS to effectively identify cases of nursing home abuse, the OIG suggests the agency use the method its investigation did when compiling the report. This includes cross-referencing Medicare claims from nursing home residents with claims from the emergency room.
This process enabled investigators to see if a resident on Medicare filed claims for both nursing home care and emergency room services. Investigators were then able to determine if the emergency room diagnosis identified physical or sexual assault or another crime.
Cases of Abuse Are Often Grossly Mishandled by Nursing Homes
Several cases examined by the OIG’s investigation revealed that nursing homes attempted to cover-up allegations of abuse or tampered with evidence.
Such an incident occurred when a male resident of a nursing home facility was caught sexually assaulting a female resident who suffered from a medical condition that caused verbal and mobility limitations.
Emergency room records note that the victim suffered two large bruises on her breast and that nursing home staff members cleaned the victim and changed her clothing after the incident, effectively removing any evidence police could use to identify the assailant.
Furthermore, the nursing home neglected to report the incident to law enforcement, and instead informed the victim’s family the next day, who then notified police.
Contact Our Dedicated Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys
Nursing home residents are guaranteed certain rights that protect them from suffering serious harm and ensure they are provided quality care from their facility.
Nursing home facilities are entrusted with the care of our elderly loved ones and should be held accountable when they fail to adequately handle cases of abuse and neglect.
The Milwaukee nursing home abuse attorneys at PKSD are ready to help you take legal action against a nursing home facility that neglects to ensure the safety of its residents. We will provide you with a free, no obligation consultation to determine if you have a valid case. Our attorneys work only on a contingency fee basis, which means we only charge for our services if we recover compensation for your claim.