Articles Posted in Nursing Home Abuse

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The Biden administration is promising increased scrutiny and tougher penalties against nursing homes that fail to meet strict standards  and expose residents to the risk of abuse and neglect.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently stated that the federal administration is increasing its commitment to reducing the rate of violations of nursing homes across the country, through increased scrutiny and tougher enforcement of existing standards.  The Department says that it has created a watch list of more than 80 nursing homes that have performed poorly on parameters of quality and care. The watchlist is just one part of a series of steps that the Department of Health and Human Services is taking to toughen safety standards at nursing homes, thereby ensuring better quality of care for residents.

The steps are part of President Biden’s State of the Union Action Plan for Protecting Seniors by Improving Safety and Quality of the Nation’s Nursing Homes.  The reforms include an overhaul of the Special Focus Facility program.  The Special Focus Facility program already tasks inspectors with increased monitoring of poorly – performing nursing facilities. However, the number of inspections is only likely to increase with the administration’s new plan. The reforms also include an increase in fines or penalties for nursing homes that continue to commit violations. The penalties could even include moves to terminate the facility’s Medicare or Medicaid funding. The reforms also include an increase in the standards that nursing homes will have to meet in order to qualify for continued funding.

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As nursing homes continue to accept new residents into their facilities, it is important that staff members get vaccinated against Covid-19 in order to prevent the kind of outbreaks that devastated these facilities this past year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that all staff members of long-term nursing care facilities be vaccinated to keep themselves and staff safe.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to ensure that all long-term care facilities across Georgia and across the country have access to these vaccines. It is imperative that these vaccines be provided to long term care facility staff members, because the pandemic has not resulted in a break in admissions of new patients. After some long-term care facilities stopped taking admissions in the middle of the pandemic, many have now opened up admissions for new residents. These long-term care facilities look after senior Georgians who may be unable to live independently. Most of these persons live with chronic health conditions and may be medically fragile, and therefore, may be prime candidates for the kind of Covid infections, and even the kind of breakthrough infections post-vaccination, that are being seen.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that it is imperative that all nursing facility residents be protected by healthcare personnel who have been completely vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reiterates that it is important that infection control strategies continue to remain in place even after all staff members have been vaccinated.  This is to minimize the risk of breakthrough infections, or infections that can set in even after both doses of the vaccine have been administered.

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On the surface of it, it would seem that private nursing homes would be able to deliver the kind of high- quality care that residents require. However, when nursing homes are run for profit, care may not necessarily be at the top of the agenda. In fact, according to a recent investigation, the opposite may be true.

Nursing homes, especially those that are taken over by private equity firms, actually seem to have lower standards of care compared to facilities that are not taken over by such buyout firms.  Private equity firms are companies that take over struggling companies or companies that are close to bankruptcy in order to turn them around.  Often, that turning around comes at great cost to employees and other stakeholders in the nursing homes. In recent years, a lot of private equity investment has flowed into the healthcare and nursing home industries.

The investigation by CBS found that there was a higher risk of death for residents of nursing homes that were taken over by these buyout firms. According to the investigation, these residents had a risk of dying during their stay at the nursing facility and approximately 3 months after leaving for home, that was 1.7 percentage point higher, compared to residents in other types of nursing homes. A 1.7% increase might not seem like a significant increase, but according to the investigation, this can mean an excess of 20,000 deaths over 12 years.

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Recent headlines across the country have revealed that a significant percentage of COVID-19 deaths in the United States have involved residents of nursing homes.  One of the key reasons for this unfortunate result is understaffing at these facilities.

For decades, elder care advocates have tried to spotlight the problems involving understaffing in the nation’s nursing homes. In far too many nursing facilities that cater to the elderly or the infirm, staff numbers are far too low to ensure adequate care for their residents.

At several nursing homes across the country, the COVID-19 outbreak has raged unchecked. At these facilities, advocates say that the protocols for prevention of infections are simply not being followed as stringently as they should be in order to avoid a massive outbreak. Basic protocols like wearing of personal protection equipment have not been followed at these homes. In addition, hand-washing and hygiene protocols have also been neglected.

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If you have a loved one or an elderly family member currently residing in one of Georgia’s nursing homes, there is plenty that you can do to check and monitor to make sure your loved one is not being physically abused. However, monitoring for emotional or psychological abuse is always as straightforward.

Recently, two nursing aides in a nursing home were fired after they posted a video on Snapchat taunting a 91-year-old resident with dementia who had a fear of hospital gowns.  The video shows the two aides mocking the woman as they pushed a hospital gown towards her, even as she resisted their attempts to do so. The video was posted on Snapchat, and was brought to the attention of the resident’s family members. They brought it to the attention of the nursing home, which suspended the aides, but promptly put them back on work barely 6 days later, citing insufficient evidence of any abuse.

Rightfully, the family has gone ahead and filed a lawsuit against the nursing home for damages. They claim that the psychological trauma has harmed their loved one, and that her mental condition has actually regressed.

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There may come a time for many of us when we need to think about caring for our elderly loved ones.  Georgia residents who want to place their loved ones in nursing homes need to be sure to do their due diligence to find facilities that meet acceptable quality standards.  This is especially so since, according to federal ratings, the Georgia’s nursing homes rank poorly on care indices.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has developed a ranking based on three care parameters. Georgia nursing homes were placed on the bottom of the list for their care standards.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services rating was based on how facilities performed on three parameters – health inspections (evaluating the number and scope of defects found in the last two inspections), staffing measures, and quality measures. Staffing rankings were determined based on the number of resident nurses per resident per day, and the total staffing per resident per day. Quality ratings were determined on the basis of 16 quality measures.

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The Trump administration’s efforts to relax federal regulations could impact the ability of nursing home residents across the United States to hold the facility responsible for abuse or neglect.

President Trump has issued an executive order that requires federal agencies to relax regulatory expenses. This action could result in CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) rescinding an Obama era rule that makes it easier for residents of nursing homes to sue these facilities in cases involving abuse and neglect. In September 2016, the Obama administration banned arbitration agreements that residents were required to sign before admission into nursing homes. That move came in response to the need for greater protection of the rights of elderly residents of nursing homes. The rule was challenged in court by nursing homes, and a trial is still pending.

The Trump administration proposes to require that all residents sign an arbitration agreement upon admission to the nursing home which would eliminate their right to sue the nursing home in case of abuse or neglect, and would impose neutral arbitration as the only means of dispute resolution. A typical arbitration agreement will inform the resident that signing the agreement removes his right to legal recourse via a trial by jury or court trial.  It would also work to establish that any dispute will be resolved through a process of arbitration.

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The explosion of social media has unfortunately meant more ways for unprofessional staff members at nursing homes to abuse vulnerable residents. A shocking exposé by ProPublica documents evidence of instances in which nursing home staff uploaded embarrassing, humiliating or degrading images or videos of vulnerable elderly residents in their care.

Many of these images were uploaded on social media networks like SnapChat, which displays pictures posted on it for a few seconds before deleting them. The ProPublica exposé investigated such instances, and found a total of 35 episodes that have occurred since 2012 alone. In all of these instances, staff members at nursing homes took pictures of residents in some of their most vulnerable states, and shared them on social media. Sixteen of the pictures or images were uploaded on SnapChat.

In some of these pictures and videos, residents were either totally or partially naked. In one instance recorded in 2014, a worker at a Washington-based nursing care facility uploaded a video of a resident sitting on a portable toilet. In yet another horrifying video, one worker can be seen slapping the face of an elderly resident using a nylon strap, to which the woman protests. In the background, other employees can be heard laughing.

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It is always unfortunate when reports arise of abuse occurring in our nations nursing homes and other assisted living facilities meant to make the lives of our elders more peaceful. Many are disturbed by elder abuse or nursing home abuse because it involves elderly individuals, who are particularly vulnerable, being taken advantage of, either medically, physically, financially, or emotionally. When individuals and facilities that are responsible for this type of abuse are held responsible, it is refreshing. However, unfortunately, one Minnesota nursing may escape liability for the abusive actions of employee against an elderly female patient.

As reported by the Star Tribune, a female resident of a St. Paul, Minnesota nursing home was sexually assaulted repeatedly over a period of months by a staff member, according to a state investigative report released Tuesday March 20, 2012. The abuse, which not only included physical abuse, but included sexual abuse, such as forced sexual acts and fondling, as well, occurred at Highland Chateau Health Care Center in St. Paul. The Health Department report did not give the age of the resident or the employee. Fortunately for the resident involved, as well as all of the other residents of Highland Chateau, the employee was fired. The administrator of the nursing home has yet to comment on the incident to the press.

According to the Star Tribune, St. Paul police tried to question him, but the phone numbers he provided weren’t working. Officials with St. Paul police were checking Tuesday afternoon to see where the investigation stands. A spokesman for the Ramsey County attorney’s office said the Health Department forwarded a case for consideration of charges but prosecutors have yet to make a determination.

According to the Health Department’s report, which did not reveal the identities of the staff member or the resident, the abused resident had limited mobility and needed help dressing, bathing and with her bathroom needs. The report also revealed that when confronted by a state investigator, the staff member responsible for the abuse denied the allegations, saying that the woman would at times not make sense and was under the impression he would marry her. However, other staff members described the woman as “alert and oriented.” One said the woman told her “she just wanted it over,” the report said.
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As an increasing portion of the United States’ population reaches its golden years, it would seem that more safeguards would be put in place to advance and protect the interests of aging Americans. However this seems not to be the case, especially in the state of Tennessee. Earlier this year, Tennessee lawmakers passed new legislation that limits the non-economic damages that a victim of nursing home abuse or nursing home malpractice may recover. This legislation comes only two year after the Tennessee legislation passed measures that greatly reduced the oversight and regulation of nursing homes in the state. Needless to say, victims of nursing home abuse, and their families, are outraged.

Dennis Matthews, whose mother, Verdie Matthews, died from dehydration and malnutrition at a nursing home owned by Life Care Centers of America, sued the Tennessee based company. At trial, the jury found the nursing home negligent, and awarded Matthews 11.5 million dollars. However, after the trial, the judge overruled the verdict, and Matthews and the company reached a private settlement. For Matthews, his ordeal did not end ideally. He did not receive the compensation he was originally awarded by the jury at trial. The company was not held fully accountable for the nursing home abuse that Matthews’ mother suffered. But, this nursing home was indeed held responsible. However, for plaintiffs bringing this type of case in the future in Tennessee, holding nursing homes accountable for their malpractice may not be a realistic possibility.

According to The Tennessean, earlier this year, Tennessee law makers passed a measure placing strict limits on the rights of nursing home patients and their families to sue nursing homes for poor care. This new law, which caps the amount a jury can award, is slated to go into effect before October. This new law comes just a couple of years after lawmakers vastly reduced oversight of the state’s nursing homes by eliminating regulations mandating that nursing home operators file detailed reports on adverse events affecting patients. The previous law also eliminated requirements that the state investigate those incidents. Combined, these laws mean lessened regulation of nursing homes, and the decreased ability of injured patients or their families to hold negligent nursing homes responsible for their actions. Overall, this seems like a poor state of affairs. So, the question is why is Tennessee choosing to take this route?

According to state politicians and state Health Department officials, the laws reducing the regulations on nursing homes were designed to decrease the backlog of nursing home abuse cases that had gone uninvestigated, and to streamline the whole investigatory process. Although this change came at the request of Health Department Officials, attorneys who regularly handle nursing home abuse or nursing home malpractice claims argue that this new law, which caps the amount plaintiffs can recover in a lawsuit, in conjunction with the previous law which resulted in lessened regulations of nursing homes, will lead to nursing homes operating negligently with impunity.
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