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Unreported Nursing Home Abuse

More than 25% of serious cases of nursing home abuse are not reported. According to the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services, the state of Illinois topped the list with 17 unreported cases of abuse.

What Does the Law Say About Nursing Home Abuse?

The law states that nursing homes must turn over all serious cases of abuse occurring in nursing homes to the police. Through nursing home audits, the Office found these unreported cases of serious abuse. Next, additional review and probing will begin into these nursing home cases. Additionally, HHS will begin investigating nursing home reporting practices as a whole. This alert triggered immediate action and fixes.

According to the Office’s alert, the federal law was strengthened but does not state in what way it was strengthened. The law requires that “someone who suspects abuse of a nursing home resident causing serious bodily injury, to report their suspicion to local law enforcement in two hours or less. If their suspicion of abuse does not involve serious bodily injury of the nursing home resident, they have 24 hours to report it. Failure to do so can result in fines of up to $300,000.”

However, the Office of the Inspector General’s alert did not specify what constitutes a “serious injury.” Some of the cases cited in the alert provides some examples. According to investigator Curtis Roy, 134 cases from 2015 to 2016 required medical attention. Unfortunately, most of these cases were incidents of sexual assault. Roy’s investigation spanned 33 states including Illinois.

This is clearly a problem concerning the health and well-being of elderly citizens.

Unreported Nursing Home Abuse

To start, of the 134 unreported cases of abuse found out by Roy and his investigating team, Roy decided to report them all to authorities. He stated, “we’d rather over-report something than not have it reported at all.”

Next, HHS states that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) need to do more to track these cases of abuse. The Office recommends cross referencing Medicare claims from nursing home resident with hospital claims from patient visits. This allows investigators and nursing home alike to note if an individual on Medicare filed claims for nursing home care and emergency room services. The hospital report would then indicate whether the victim received medical attention after a crime including physical abuse or sexual assault.

Currently, the Office of the Inspector General states that Medicare has inadequate procedures. HHS argues that they cannot ensure that incidents of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries residing in (nursing homes) are identified and reported. However, not only Medicare has flawed procedures when dealing with abuse.

Recommendation: Better Training for Nursing Home Personnel

HHS recommends that nursing homes  provide better training to nursing home personnel. These individuals work the front line when dealing with potential abuse victims. In one unreported example, a female nursing home resident was sexually assaulted. Nursing home staff proceeded to bathe and clean the woman. These simple behaviors washed away any evidence that police could utilize in a criminal investigation. Therefore, the perpetrator remained unpunished. Additionally, the resident’s family was not notified until the following day. The family then contacted police first to get the investigating going. But the police could not do anything about it because of the loss of the evidence.

Many continue to debate the implications of the alert. The full report is not due out until the end of the year. In the meantime, nursing homes should not take the alert lightly. However, many people continue to suffer nursing home injuries.

R.F. Wittmeyer

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