March 20, 2014

Another State Seeks to Beef Up Statutory Protections for Seniors

by Levin & Perconti

If elder abuse and neglect strikes you or someone you love, it is important to ensure there is full, legal accountability. But how is that done? The accountability can take different forms, both under the civil law and criminal law.

If the misconduct is intentional or particularly abhorrent, then criminal charges may be filed against those involved. Prosecutors make the determination as to whether the situation involves the breaking of a law in the state criminal code. Potential penalties in these cases may include jail time, probation, fines, or various other punishments.

Alternatively, those individuals directly harmed by the mistreatment (or their families) decide to pursue accountability under the civil law. In civil lawsuits alleging elder neglect, the potential outcome is usually not a “punishment” for the wrongdoer but instead compensation to help the one harmed.

Within the civil justice system, there are various legal arguments or avenues that can be pursued to have one’s rights vindicated. On one hand there are general “common law” negligence claims. This refers to general rules built up over the centuries that allow all those harmed by misconduct in different situations--from car accidents to elder neglect--to recover from those responsible.

Increasingly, however, Illinois residents affected by elder abuse take advantage of statutory laws that protect residents and provide a “cause of action” for those hurt to pursue remedies under the civil law. These elder law statutes were specifically debated and passed by legislators in Springfield, signaling the importance placed on the issue

Of course, deciphering all of this is the work of nursing home neglect attorneys. But it is important for all residents to know that Illinois has particularly robust statutory laws in place protecting seniors. The State of Illinois Department on Aging published a helpful brochure online that discusses our Elder Abuse and Neglect Act in addition to other laws that affect the rights of seniors. It is worth browsing the statute to get a feel for the issues involved.

A New Trend?
Unfortunately, not every state takes elder abuse and neglect as seriously as Illinois. Across the country there are different rules regarding how nursing homes must act, what rights residents have, and many other senior-related manner. However, likely spurred by demographic trends which suggest a “graying” of America, many more states are passing laws like those in Illinois to explicitly protect the elderly community.

For example, policymakers in our neighboring state of Iowa are working this spring to change laws to better protect seniors. A Globe Gazette story notes that while Iowa is one of the “oldest” states on average, they do not have many statutes on the books protecting elderly residents. In an effort to correct the imbalance, many senior-care advocates are working to pass laws there that protect more individuals, particularly seniors who are at risk but not necessary fully dependent on others. For instance, this may include changing state laws related to powers of attorney affecting older residents and other efforts to prevent the financial exploitation of seniors.

Hopefully these measures pass in Iowa and elsewhere to better protect seniors in all living situations.

See Other Blog Posts:

Illinois Nursing home Negligence Case Filed As a Result of Leg Amputation

Five Tips for Detecting Elder Abuse or Neglect in Nursing Home Facilities

December 19, 2013

Improving Dementia Care in Chicago Nursing Homes

by Levin & Perconti

The total number of elderly Illinois residents rises on a daily basis. Coinciding with the demographic change is a rise in instances of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Cognitive decline in seniors is a striking problem. One of the main reasons that local families help their loved ones into nursing homes is specifically because of these issues which make it impossible for the senior to live on their own.

Understanding that these dementia issues are on the rise, it is incumbent upon long-term care facilities to take steps to provide the absolute best memory care possible to this community. It is well known that a one size fits all approach to this treatment is unacceptable. Each resident has different needs, struggles, vulnerabilities, and limitations. It is critical for caregivers to provide individualized care both to prevent harm as well as maximize the senior’s well-being.

New Dementia Care Program
As reported recently by McKnight’s, there are some new training courses which seek to help prescribers and non-prescribers who care for dementia patients. The programs were created by the group ADMA-Dedicated to Long-Term Care Medicine. According to the report, “the aim is to equip caregivers so that they can provide person-centered care and scale back on the use of antipsychotic medications.”

While the program itself includes many detailed examinations and protocols, the main idea is that drugs should never be the first resort with this care. For a variety of reasons, seniors with cognitive conditions have “behavioral” problems, often requiring more individual time from caregivers. To deal with those problems many residents are immediately given drugs which mellow their mood, almost to the point of being put in a stupor. This is often referred to as a “chemical restraint,” and should be avoided at all costs.

Fortunately, medical professionals are learning that there are alternative to medications. In many cases, use of different activities, mental engagement exercises, and social engagement opportunities can drastically improve resident well-being and behavior. Instead of dulling the senior out of the community, the opposite--integrating them--can prove to be the best approach.

The actual online training courses--available for free online here--deals with more than just antipsychotic medicine avoidance. The comprehensive course offers counsel on virtually all aspects of the care of seniors with dementia in long-term care setting. That includes the initial recognition of affected seniors, assessment of vulnerable residents, treatment options, and continued monitoring.

Each of those details are important, and preventable harm can befall residents if any step is missed. For example, the best individualized care in the world can be provided but if dementia residents are not properly monitored they may wander, suffering serious injury after leaving the facility unattended, falling, or otherwise failing to recognize the dangers around them.

Our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers have worked with many families after their loved ones with dementia and Alzheimers were harmed by inadequate care. Too many seniors and their families have suffered as a result of poor caregiving practices for dementia residents. We can only hope that new programs like this are the needed spur to raise standards at long-term care facilities throughout Illinois.

See Other Blog Posts:

Preventing Pressure Sores with Foam Mattresses

Aging Behind the Wheel

November 18, 2013

Self-Neglect -- When Seniors Ignore the Care They Need

by Levin & Perconti

Senior care is a complex issue. When discussing lawsuits related to nursing home neglect, elder financial exploitation, or other matters, it is easy to over-simplify the larger problem. Obviously, all community members deserve reasonable care that is free of mistreatment and allows them the best chance to thrive in their golden years. But it is an error to assume that anyone has a magic formula that will automatically ensure that the widespread problem disappears overnight.

Elder care includes a combination of family support, aid from professional caregivers, long-term care providers, health insurance companies, public policy-makers, and more. There are many different pieces to the puzzle, and those working on the problem appreciate that much work needs to be done in each sphere.

Recently, an Examiner story took a look at one piece which is almost always forgotten: when seniors neglect themselves.

That turn of phrase is a bit more provocative than it needs to be, because it actually refers to a concern of which elder care advocates are well aware. As the story explains, self-neglect usually refers to the situation when “adults are losing the capability of their day to day needs” and do nothing about it. In other words, many seniors need help with basic tasks--cooking, eating, dressing, using the facilities, taking medication, and more--but fail to do anything to receive support. This is referred to as self-neglect because the harm is not necessarily caused by a third-party not providing support they had a duty to provide.

The article refers to one recent study released by a state department for aging and rehabilitative services highlighting the extent of this self-neglect. The authors are quick to point out, however, that it is important not to use this definition as an excuse for massive cases of elder neglect that occur nationwide. On many occasions, those who do breach their duty of care may try to pass off liability by using some version of the “self-neglect” claim.

That is not the point of the study. Instead, one hopes that advocates use this idea as a reminder of the need to be vigilant about the care needed by friends and loved ones--even when they do not specifically ask for support.

There are many reasons for the self-neglect. For example, cognitive decline caused by dementia and Alzheimer’s is an obvious problem that can lead a senior to fail to appreciate the help they need with daily tasks. Similarly, depression is far more common among seniors than most realize. When in the depths of despair, self-care is often ignored. In fact, the story points out that elderly males are far more likely to commit suicide than any other demographic group.

The bottom line: We must be proactive in efforts to ensure proper care and support for our elderly friends and neighbors. We need to hold those who fail to provide proper care accountable. But it is also critical to check on those who are not yet receiving help but may need it. Self-neglect only ends when concerned individuals stand up and make a difference.

See Other Blog Posts:

Help: My Widowed Parent is Being Financially Exploited

Want to Participate in a Long-Term Care Focus Group?

September 11, 2013

New Law Helps Residents of Assisted Living Facilities with Diabetes

by Levin & Perconti

A news release issued by the National Community Pharmacy Association notes that a new law has been proposed which would aid Medicare beneficiaries to get diabetic testing supplies that are residents of assisted living facilities and who are homebound. The Diabetic Testing Supply Access Act (H.R. 2845), allows community pharmacies to provide same-day delivery services of diabetes testing supplies to residents of assisted living facilities or those who receive long-term care.

The new law was put forward in response to a ban on diabetic testing supply deliveries by community pharmacies which went into effect on July 1, 2013. This ban was created when the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented a national mail order program which prevented senior citizens who live at assisted living facilities from getting diabetic testing supplies from community pharmacies. CMS instituted the new policy in order to prevent large drug suppliers from getting around the mail order process for shipping the supplies in order to receive high reimbursements. The ban incorporated uniform payment rates for both retail and mail-order pharmacies.

Widespread criticism of the ban centered on concern that elderly people with diabetes living in assisted living facilities would no longer be able to get the benefits of face-to-face counseling and adherence services that are offered by community pharmacies that deliver diabetic testing supplies. There were also concerns expressed by many people in the healthcare industry that the ban would leave diabetic residents in assisted living facilities without the means for self-monitoring of glucose. Many small pharmacies expressed concern that because of the ban, many diabetic patients would be forced to switch to lower-quality products in order to monitor their diabetes. The ban put the health of many diabetic residents of assisted living facilities in jeopardy because they rely on small pharmacies to provide face-to-face consultation to make sure that are using their blood glucose monitoring devices correctly and that the results that the devices give are being interpreted correctly.

The new proposed law was introduced by U.S. Congressman Peter Welch of Vermont after many residents of assisted living facilities sent in complaints about the new CMS policy. Many of the complaints were based on the fact the new policy made it burdensome on caregivers at assisted living facilities to make sure that all diabetic residents had their glucose monitoring supplies. Many caregivers at these facilities noted that after the new CMS policy was enacted, some diabetic residents were not notified of the changes by Medicare and were left without supplies. The new proposal was spurred by the actions of Senator Welch and forty-three members of Congress, including U.S. Representative Aaron Schock of Illinois, who sent a letter to CMS in May questioning the prohibition on community pharmacy delivery of diabetic supplies.

Diabetes Monitoring and Assisted Living Facilities

Diabetics who live in assisted living facilities and nursing homes must constantly monitor their blood sugar every day through a variety of methods because having a safe blood sugar level is very crucial to their physical health. Depending on blood glucose test results, people with diabetes may need to act accordingly to bring their blood sugar levels under control. Caregivers in assisted living facilities must assist with treatments that may include insulin shots, eating, or drinking. Most assisted living facilities have an RN in the building at all times. The RN may be required to act on written orders from a diabetic resident’s doctor to manage the diabetes and this new legislation will aid staff in assisted living facilities with these tasks.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Chicago Nursing Home Resident Drowns in Bathtub

Illinois Nursing Home Failed to Prevent a Resident Drowning

July 25, 2013

Consumer Voice Testimony on Bed Rail Safety

by Levin & Perconti

Bed rails have been a hot topic among elder care advocates in recent years. Yet for all the discussion and mounting evidence about the dangers of these pieces of equipment, there has yet to be any far-reaching federal actions targeted at this safety risk.

That may change soon.

That is because the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is exploring the issue and may created updated rules. Different options are on the table, from editing safety warning labels and mandating only certain designs be used to banning the products in some locations all together. The CPSC recently had a public hearing on the matter, where all of the “priorities” for the next two fiscal years were discussed. Bed rails were on the agenda.

Fortunately, one of the leading advocates for nursing home residents--The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care--was on the scene, providing testimony which hopefully will educate the members on the dangers and need for change.

Consumer Voice Testimony
A full copy of the Consumer Voice testimony related to bed rails given on July 10th can be found here.

Robyn Grant, the group’s Director of Public Policy and Advocacy explained how a myth about bed rails persists, “that they are a safe, benign and effective means of fall prevention in the elderly.” It is understandable that this perception remains, as the rails seemingly keep individuals from rolling out. But a closer look reveals a myriad of problems. Far from being a safety tool, the rails can be a killer.

Grant noted how the CPSC’s own review identified at least 155 fatalities attributable to the bed rails over less than a ten year period. Over roughly the same period of time there were a staggeringly 37,000 bed rail injuries. Another review from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over a longer period pointed to 480 deaths. And it is important to keep in mind that all of these incidents are likely low estimates, only referring to reported cases.

To tackle the problem the Consumer Voice identified five specific priorities for the CPSC in the coming years. Those recommendations include the creation of new, mandatory standards for bed rails “that reduces the unreasonable risk of asphyxiation and entrapment.” If further study reveals that no design can entirely protect the public, then all adult bed rails may need to be banned. Any rail design that is deemed to pose an unreasonable risk of injury should also be recalled.

In addition, Grant’s testimony argued that there should be an expanded public outreach effort to educate about the dangers of bed rails. At the very least, the public should know about the risks, particularly because the product is actually purchased specifically for safety reasons. As part of the effort, the Consumer Voice urges the creation of a safety guide that can be easily distributed to spread the message

All elder care professionals should follow these CPSC developments closely and be ready to share information about bed rail dangers to friends and family.

See Other Blog Posts:

Consumer Voice “Comments” On Proposed Rule Changes

April 25, 2013

Nursing Home Illnesses Caused By Mattress Infection

by Levin & Perconti

Seniors in nursing home are in a fragile state of health. Sometimes nursing home providers will use that to argue that subsequent injuries or illness that residents contract are expected and unpreventable. In most cases that is nothing more than an excuse. The truth is that the resident’s medical vulnerabilities are the very reason why they are in the home to begin with, and the reason why care providers need to be incredibly vigilant about controlling all of the risk factors to allow the senior to remain in as good a condition as possible.

When proper care is not provided, it may be a sign of nursing home neglect, and residents and their families may be able to seek legal accountability. In many cases, the root neglect is in the action (or inaction) of care providers--like failing to monitor a change in condition or not providing supervision which leads to a fall. In other cases, the underlying issue is more complex, perhaps involving use of defective or dangerous products in resident care.

Dangerous Mattress Covers
For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a safety alert on some products that may be used in nursing homes, leading to illness and death: infection-riddled mattress covers.

The alert was directed at long-term care providers, nurses, doctors, aides, and others who have control over the care setting of medical patients and skilled long-term care residents. The Administration explained that they wanted to warn these individuals that “damaged or worn covers for medical bed mattresses can allow blood and body fluids to penetrate medical bed mattresses, posing a risk of infection to patients.”

As with so many medical objects, the mattress covers themselves are intended as a safety tool--to prevent substances and fluids from seeping into the core of the mattress. Yet over the past few years, the FDA has received hundreds of reports where the mattress covers failed in that role, allowing infected substances from making their way onto the mattress. This was usually caused by tears in the cover, a thinning of the material or improper use, with exposed portions or opening near the zipper.

All of this exposing the individual using the bed, like nursing home residents, to infection risk because of coming into contact with the body fluids of another. Considering seniors inherent vulnerability, those subsequent infections can be life-threatening. Because this risk is known, it is critical for caregivers to ensure these cover defects are caught and senior residents are not placed in risk situations.

The FDA safety alert includes a list of recommendations that caregivers can use to ensure that the covers do not pose a risk. In addition, the Administration includes contact information where others can report concerns and problems with mattress cover use.

Chicago Nursing Home Neglect
Providing inadequate care to local nursing home residents should never be tolerated. However, our neglect attorneys know that it happens every day in Chicago and throughout state of Illinois. The problems can range in scope from outright abuse to sloppy caregiving--like the use of defective mattress covers. If you suspect such care at a nearby facility, please don’t stay silent. Stand up and demand accountability.

See Other Blog Posts:

Illinois Nursing Homes & Special Focus Facility List

Defending Against Nursing Home Arbitration Clauses

February 5, 2013

Understanding the Importance of Contingency Fee Agreements

by Levin & Perconti

Many portrayals of attorneys in TV, movies, and even newspaper stories paint the picture of legal professionals who are greedy and only out for maximizing their own pocketbook. Unfortunately, these stereotypes actual influence public opinion and sometimes seep into actual policy matters affecting the legal professional and the civil justice system as a whole.

For example, contingency agreements are often looked at with suspicion. Many personal injury cases, including Chicago nursing home neglect matters, are taken via contingency fee arrangements. This basically means that the plaintiff does not have to pay for attorney fees, court costs, or other expenses unless they recover. The payments are then made out of this recovery.

CJ&D Study
Recently the Center for Justice and Democracy issued a new report which emphasizes the critical role of fee arrangements. The full report is entitled Courthouse Cornerstone: Contingency Fees and Their Importance for Everyday Americans.

The report notes how the fee arrangement has been around for hundreds of years. The purpose of the arrangement is clear: allowing everyone harmed by negligence access to the civil justice system regardless of their economic situation. Justice should never be available only to the wealthy. This fee system ensures that legitimate injuries do not go without recourse simply because the person hurt does not have enough money to hire an attorney. Not only that, but plaintiffs are often able to pursue the most able of attorneys related to their specific need--not just those who happen to be charging the least. You can be sure that large insurance companies are hiring the best legal defense they can find, and it seems logical to support a system that allows injured parties the same, even though their coffers do not even run a fraction as deep.

For example, consider a nursing home neglect case where a resident is left in bed without proper nutrition or hydration for weeks on end. She is not properly re-positioned or cared for and she develops bed sores down to the bone. The neglect by caregivers is obvious, as the senior’s condition is abysmal. She lives in constant pain. As with most local nursing home residents, the senior is on Medicaid, having virtually no money of her own or means to make additional income. There is no way that the senior can afford to hire an attorney to hold the nursing home accountable. The costs and fees associated with pursuing these cases is well beyond her means--and that of most middle class families. Should the nursing home get off without any accountability because the resident that they harm is financially poor? Contingency fee arrangements change that by providing a clear path for the senior to hire supremely competent attorneys experienced in these cases to pursue justice.

The Filtering Role
One often overlooked side effect of contingency fee arrangements is the way that they filter questionable cases from ever being filed. In all of these cases, the attorneys bear the risk of loss. If a case does not result in a favorable settlement or verdict then the attorneys receives nothing for the time spent on the matters and lose the costs already doled out. This has the effect of incentivizing lawyers not to take cases that might be questionable. For all the talk by those pushing tort reform, they forget that the attorneys themselves are the ones who stand to lose financially if a case is brought without the means to fairly prove the claims.

See Other Blog Posts:

Understanding Medicaid and Long-Term Senior Care

Levin & Perconti Settle Illinois Nursing Home Fall Case

January 30, 2013

The Cost of Nursing Home Care & Future Challenges

by Levin & Perconti

Yesterday we discussed a new report which provides helpful summary information about long-term care payments and the role of public support programs like Medicaid. As noted, the majority of nursing home residents are on Medicaid and the majority of all long-term care services (both at home and in facilities) is covered by Medicare and Medicaid jointly. One of the main reasons that these insurance options are so critical is because the actual cost of long-term care is prohibitive for many lower and middle income families.

Expensive Services
Nationwide, nursing home care averages over $83,000 per year. For a senior resident without the ability to work, it does not take much imagination to realize that the cost is likely impossible to pay out of pocket for most. Even assisted living facilities--which usually have no professional medical staff or skilled care-- cost nearly $40,000 annually. Unfortunately, the majority of seniors do not have retirement nest eggs that can cover those costs for very long (or at all). Private long-term care insurance exists, but only a few ever purchase the insurance and it is usually incredibly expensive. The same financial challenges that prevent seniors from paying for care out of pocket make it not feasible to purchase long-term care insurance out of pocket.

State Differences
It is important to appreciate that Medicaid is a joint state and federal program. That means that there are significant differences in costs and available services between states. In other words, an individual who is using Medicaid in New Mexico may have vastly different options that one who lives in New York. State public officials are the ones who make most decisions about how to operate their programs and what to provide to residents.

There are certain federal requirements or “bare minimums” that states must provide. For example, skilled nursing home care and basic at-home support must generally be covered under a state’s Medicaid program according to federal rules. But there is still significant leeway for states to make other decisions about how the program operates.

The Kaiser report notes that many states are now seeking to limit Medicaid costs by expanding “home care based services” (HCBS). The idea is to provide more robust help to seniors living in their home (nurse’s visits, meals on wheel, travel assistance, etc.) so that seniors can actually avoid the need to move into a nursing home. This usually has two benefits. First, studies consistently show that most people prefer to age in pace and are happier when they do not need to move into a nursing home. Second, the cost of HCBS are far lower than the costs of traditional nursing home stays. By delaying the time before a senior needs to enter a nursing home (or preventing it altogether) the state can see considerable cost savings.

However, one challenge is coming up with the immediate funds to pay for HCBS in the short-term. Public officials are still obligated to provide traditional nursing home care to those residents who need it. And so pumping more money in HCBS in the short term is proving a challenge. It may save money in the end, but tight budgets today make it difficult to come up with any immediate infusion of funds to see the idea through.

See Other Blog Posts:

Flu Risk for Seniors in Nursing Homes

Chicago Senior May Be Example of Brutal Family Abuse

January 4, 2013

Fiscal Cliff Deal Includes Federal Elder Care Changes

by Levin & Perconti

Unless you shut out all newspapers, online articles, and television programs over the last week, you’ve probably heard about the “Cliff Agreement” that was reached by Congress on New Year’s Day. The compromise measure surprisingly passed both chambers with support from members of both parties--though Republicans were more likely to be opposed to the bill.

The majority of focus on the details of the plan relate to taxes. After all, the bill is actually entitled the 2012 American Taxpayer Relief Act (ATRA). That major provisions include elimination of the payroll tax, increases in the capital gains and income tax for high-earning Americans, and changes to the estate tax. There are also alterations to long-term retirement accounts, with 401(k)s converted into Roth IRAs for the purpose of generating more short-term tax revenue for the federal government.

However, taxes were not the only thing at issue in the ATRA. In fact, one issue related to elder care was included as part of the compromise bill. A Forbes story provides some helpful details of the situation. In particular, the bill does two different things which may affect long-term care services, including proper access to quality facilities void of Illinois nursing home abuse and neglect.

First, the cliff agreement repeals the CLASS Act. The Act was created in 2010 and was intended to create a “voluntary long-term care insurance system.” However, the program as written never had much of a chance of survival. That is because the numbers did not add up. Actuaries found that the premiums would be too high for most to join and without changes, the program would not be financially viable. In fact, the Obama Administration, via the Secretary of Health and Human Services Department stopped implementing the program not long after its passage. In other words, the repeal via the ATRA does not come as a huge surprise.

Alternatively, on top of axing the CLASS Act, the cliff agreement created a new federal commission to plan for better financing and delivering of long-term care services. The legislation explains the purpose of the commission thusly: “develop a plan for the establishment, implementation,and financing of a comprehensive, coordinated, and high-quality system that ensures the availability of long-term services and supports for individuals in need of such services and supports… and individuals desiring to plan for future long-term care needs.”

The new commission would be a panel of 15 members appointed by the White House as well as the Congressional leaders from both parties. Those panel members would include a diverse range of interests, from those receiving the care and providing care to front-line care workers and Medicaid administrators.

While the idea of a commission crafting novel policy to actually improve the cost and access to care for seniors is encouraging, we will have to wait and see if any of it results in real change. As virtually everyone knows, there is a big difference between creating a panel to “study” an issue and actually passing legislation that changes things. As it now stands the commission has six months to create a proposal, and Congress can then vote or not vote on any of their recommended changes.

See Other Blog Posts:

The Year of Elder Abuse Prevention

Protecting Senior Pocketbooks

December 31, 2012

The Year of Elder Abuse Prevention

by Levin & Perconti

Senior abuse is so widespread because those affected are often voiceless. One of the consequences of this dynamic is that solving the problem usually requires the action of outsiders. While educating elderly themselves is helpful, doing that alone will not end the problem. All of us need to come together, commit to be vigilant about the safety and well being of seniors in our lives, and speak up when we have suspicions.

Fortunately, there are some great advocacy groups and public entities leading large-scale programs aimed at organizing around this problem and working to end it. For example, the U.S. Administration on Aging (AOA) recently published information on the “Year of Elder Abuse Prevention.” The project includes dissemination of many different resources all seeking to educate community members about the facets of the abuse, the risk factors, prevention tips, and the best ways to report problems once they are identified.

There are many different ways to to help, and we hope you use the start of a new year to learn more about the problem and commit to ending it.

Be Vigilant About Elder Abuse
One of the simplest ways to start is by signing a pledge card--available at the project website--to promise to do something extra to prevent neglect or exploitation of a senior in the coming year. In addition, you should download many of the free resources available on the page to remind yourself of the ways to act and improve seniors. Some of those simple action steps include:

--Increase the frequency of calls or visits to senior loved ones. Obviously the longer the gap between check-ups, the higher the risk that a problem can go undetected.

--Ask group leaders (i.e. faith based communities) to share information with their organization about the dangers of elder abuse. While those of us steeped in this field talk about the problem all the time, many people never hear about it. Lack of awareness is still a problem and the more time spent spreading even basic information about the risk, the better.

--Ensure tellers at your local bank are trained in identifying possible suspicions activities with elderly customers. There has been great success stories in recent years related to bank tellers and others connected to seniors finances identifying possible exploitation and stopping it in its tracks. When these individuals ask a few more questions and try to check that withdrawals and other transactions are legitimate, much work can be done to stop some theft in its tracks.

--It is also helpful to provide support, companionship, and projects for seniors. For example, if a senior loved one has a special skill, ask him or her to share that skill with you or your children. So much abuse and exploitation is caused by isolation, and ensuring that seniors are engaged in our community is one general way to limit the problem. This sort of thing can go hand-in-hand with nursing home trips and other visits. Sharing a cup of coffee, a conversation, and some laughs can go a long way.

We hope everyone is able to do at least one thing this year--big or small--to improve the life of an elderly community members. And if at any time you suspect that a senior was harmed as a result of abuse, neglect, or exploitation, please contact our senior abuse lawyers to see how we can help.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Protecting Senior Pocketbooks - Who Is At Risk?

Consumer Voice Passes Along Bed Rail Petition

November 25, 2012

Medicare Fraud Prevention to Save Money on Senior Care

by Levin & Perconti

It is well known that most nursing home residents are participants in the Medicaid and Medicare programs. Medicare is the health insurance program for seniors while Medicaid provides support for those with low-incomes. Medicare generally only pays for short, rehabilitative nursing home stays. Residents who need to move into a nursing home for a longer period of time usually need Medicaid support to pay for that care.

All of this means that the constant policymaking confusion and budget concerns about these programs understandably worry local seniors. So many actual lives hang in the balance with support for these programs, and so everything possible needs to be done to preserve the stability of the institutions. Undoubtedly this might involve large-scale restructuring of tax rates, reimbursement details, and similar matters. However, another facet is simply working to cut down on wasteful medical spending and fraud.

Fighting Medicare Fraud
In an attempt to ensure no spending is wasted, since his election in 2008 President Obama has been particularly aggressive about rooting out wasteful Medicaid billing. That includes pursuing those who abuse the system in order to maximize their own profits. Billions of dollars are spent each year on unnecessary, inefficient, and fraudulent services.

Crain's Chicago Business discussed the stepped up efforts to tackle this problem in our city. According to the story, the number of criminal prosecutions of medical professionals in Chicago has gone up steadily in recent years. In the past there were only a handful of such prosecutions total, but there have been twenty in the last year alone. This is not a sign of a growing problem but is instead indicative of stepped up enforcement efforts to tackle a problem that has been raging for some time.

The stories coming out of Chicago alone are shocking. For example, there are criminal cases for fraud in our area related to billing for more than 24 hours of service in a single day by a single person. At other times home health aides are billing for care provided to individuals who were dead at the time that the services were supposedly performed. At other times certain medical industry workers bill for use of expensive equipment when in reality the patient actually only received substandard equipment.

The root motivation in all cases is the same: get more money from public coffers by doing less for actual patients. Not only does this problem affect the bottom-line budgets of these fragile programs, but it also often leads to serious harm to patients. It is imperative that seniors using Medicare actually recieve the quality of equipment and full extent of services that they need. Medical professionals should never be able to get away with providing less and billing more.

Fortunately, the increased effort to root out Medicare fraud seems to be working. For example, nationwide statistics indicate that since 2009 the U.S. Attorney General's office has been able to re-coup over $11 billion in funds. Those stats shouldn't be underestimated. Thousands and thousands of seniors might now receive care thanks to those funds which otherwise would be a significant dent on the program budget. All serious efforts seeking to preserve Medicare and Medicaid for the long-haul must take these fraud issues into account.

See Our Related Blog Posts:
Doctor Accused of Fraud in Illinois Pharmaceutical Kick-Back Scheme

November 9, 2012

Consumer Voice on Election Results and Long-Term Care

by Levin & Perconti

Much of the nation went to the polls on Tuesday to cast a vote in the myriad of elections scattered across the country. Of course, the most high-profile contest was the Presidential election; it was hard to watch television, walk down the street, or check you social media status without being reminded of the election in the last few months. All of that ended this week with U.S. President Barack Obama reelected for a second term, to serve for the next four years until 2016.

Some might hope that with the election over, the political talk will end. However, in reality, the election is just the beginning, and the administration (along with the public) will hopefully be engaging in long discussions in the coming months and years about the best way to help solve the various problems and challenges that lay before us. Some of those issues relate directly to the health, well-being, and care of Americans seniors.

Many might naturally be wondering what the President's re-election means for those who need long-term care, like nursing home residents. Helpful, the Consumer Voice--one of the nation's leading advocacy groups for seniors--sent an email to supporters after the election discussing a few of the major impacts of the President's re-election. Of course, the candidates had different ideas for how they would handle certain issue which impact seniors and their families. And while we do not know for sure how these things will shake up in the coming months once dragged through the political process, we can make some assumptions based on what the President has done in the place and said he plans to do in the future.

For one thing, the most high-profile aspect of the re-election is that most details of The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will likely remain law. Governor Romney had promised to try to repeal this on "Day One," but that won't be happening now.

The same rings true for the Elder Justice Act. The important measure may have been cut back or eliminated if certain officials have been brought to office who had different ideas about its use. With the President's re-election, this measure will likely remain law and, hopefully, be fully implemented.

The Consumer Voice also suggested that with the President's re-election, it is likely that more options will be on the table for home health care. That is because programs like the Community First Choice Option and Medicaid's HCBS State Plan Option will be preserved and alter so that they can best serve consumers.

Beyond those specific programmatic details, the general direction of President Obama's budget decisions will likely impact some very important senior care issues. Yet, it is impossible to say with certainty what those changes might be, because the President does not have sole control of these decisions. The President will likely push for full funding of the Elder Justice Act, but he will be required to work with a U.S. House of Representatives (as before) that is made up of members of the opposing party.

Also, it would be remiss not to mention that, no matter who was elected, some tough budgetary decisions might need to be made. We continue to operate on an annual budget deficit, year after year. Both candidates for President expressed the reality that things will have to change so that we are not in the red every year. However, changing things will require both spending cuts and revenue increases. Both candidates agree in theory, though, in general President Obama was more comforable with an even balance between speding cuts and increases while Governor Romeny's plan more heavily emphasized cuts. All told, the President's re-election might mean more reasonable cuts, but seniors and their loved ones should still be prepared for some of these changes in the coming months and years.

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September 13, 2012

Illinois At-Home Nursing Lawsuit Following State Support Cuts

by Levin & Perconti

Another nursing home related lawsuit was filed against the state of Illinois, alleging unfair treatment of residents with disabilities. We can likely expect more of these types of suits as very tough budget decisions are made at the state and federal level. With public budgets deeply in the red very difficult decisions will need to be made--much may hinge on who wins local, state, and federal elections this cycle. Those policymakers will decide how to deal with the financial trouble. Considering that public support for the sick and those with disabilities is such a large share of the budget, certain changes to that support is likely.

But it is one thing to say that financial change might be necessary, and it is another to say that all cuts or rules are fair, logical, or even legal.

Nursing Support Over 21
The critical issues in this latest suit, as discussed in an “Opposing Views” article, is the state support to individuals with disabilities who turn 21 years of age. The argument is that the state”illegally and drastically” cuts support to individuals who need at-home nursing support as soon as they reach 21 years old. It doesn’t take much to imagine what severe cuts have on the lives of these individuals who have come to count on the support to get by each day.

The latest suit was filed in federal court as a class action matter and names a young disabled man as lead plaintiff against the defendant Illinois Department of Health and Human Services. The plaintiff is set to turn 21 years old this month. He is developmentally disabled and is blind. On top of that he faces seizures, severe scoliosis, and spastic quadriplegia.

His mother describes that he need about 12 hours of at-home skilled care a day. This costs about $12,000 per month. Yet, the mother suggests that that alternative--institutionalized care--would cost $55,000 a month.

The Program & Problems
The plaintiff here receives at-home support via the “Private Duty Nurse” program (PDN) Yet, PDN is only available to those under 21. Once the age threshold is crossed the individual generally loses half of their government support. That is because that age triggers a shift to a different state program. That alternative program comes with very steep caps on support. This places local families in a terrible position. They are required to either move their child out of the house and into an institution or try to care for them at home without the resources, often an impossible option which places the child’s life in danger.

Interestingly, the family leading the charge in this suit claims that five other Illinoisans with disabilities have filed similar suits in the past--and won. The complaint also notes that a 2010 class-action lawsuit along the same lines resulted in 23 medical patients receiving interim relief.

Yet, despite these legal losses, the state continues to reduce medical funding to others in a similar situations. That is why this latest class-action suit was brought, hoping to settle the matter once and for all to ensure these individuals receive the care they need.

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October 27, 2010

US Chamber Uses Justice System Itself While Blocking Justice Rights of Others

by Levin & Perconti

The American Association of Justice issued a new report today regarding an unfortunate example of hypocrisy when it comes to major interest groups interfering in the justice system.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent millions of dollars and focused immense resources on lobbying campaigns aimed at limiting regular consumers’ access to the courthouse. The group has its own affiliate, the Institute for Legal Reform, which works every day to add barriers and restrictions to the right of individuals harmed by corporations to file lawsuits against those corporations.

Our Chicago nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti continually work for the opposite cause: to allow all victims the same balanced access to the nation’s justice system. We do not believe that there is anything wrong with allowing our truth-finding judicial process to play out. There is nothing to fear from allowing potential victims, no matter where they come from or how much money they have, to enjoy their day in court. In that way, the system truly creates a level playing field where single individuals can stand up to anyone and seek justice. It is that same process that allows a vulnerable nursing home senior who is abused by his caregivers to stand tall and seek redress against the abusive nursing home company that caused his suffering.

Groups like the U.S. Chamber have worked to limit the rights of victims in that way—working hard to bar the courtroom door. But a new AAJ report explains that the Chamber only likes to bar the door to regular individuals, because the organizations itself files hundreds of lawsuits each year to advance its own interests. Apparently the justice system is only fair to the Chamber when they are doing the suing.

The National Chamber Litigation Center, the part of the organization charged with filing lawsuits on behalf of the group, annually files over 130 suits. Nearly 2 times a week, the group is at it again using the court system to advance it goals—while at the same time claiming that regular individuals shouldn’t have fair access to that same court system.

To read more about this shameful example of unequal access to American Justice, check out the full AAJ report Here.

October 18, 2010

Standing Up For Seniors Report: Scams

by Levin & Perconti

The American Association for Justice released a comprehensive new report entitled, “Standing Up For Seniors: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans.” We continue our look at the forms of senior abuse discussed in the report by considering the ways in which insurance predators scam vulnerable seniors.

Many elderly community members are faced with a complicated array of offers, demands, and questions that involve their financial affairs. In too many cases, insurance companies are behind the attacks, attempting to use the senior’s unfamiliarity to swindle them out of their savings.

For example, over the 1980s and 1990s agents from the Inter-state Service Insurance agency signed up many seniors for insurance policies at rates that they thought would stay the same price. However, using deceptive maneuvers, the company continually increased the rates. Some victims ultimately found that their rates had increased by a staggering 800% in a few years. Regulators could not help the victims, because the policies were technically legal. As a result, many seniors were forced to simply drop from the insurance roles—essentially allowing the company to keep thousands and thousands of dollars from the victims without ever having to pay even a dime for their policy.

Unfortunately this is simply one of many examples of vulnerable seniors being taken advantage of by insurance companies. National Heritage Life Insurance Company, Prudential, and United American Insurance have all been implicated in company-wide practices that take money from the elderly.

Our Chicago elder care attorneys at Levin & Perconti are proud to be a part of a profession that has continually worked to assist seniors taken advantage of in their scams. We work every day to ensure that all those who would use our elder citizens as a way to enrich themselves are held accountable. If you or someone you know may have fallen victim please contact a senior abuse lawyer today.

Please Click Here to view the full copy of the AAJ report.

October 12, 2010

Standing Up For Seniors Report: Neglect

by Levin & Perconti

Today we continue our examination of the American Association for Justice’s comprehensive new report entitled, “Standing Up For Seniors: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans.” We will consider the general neglect that many seniors endure at nursing home and similar locations.

Very frequently on this blog, we discuss the tragic cases of elder neglect that claim the lives of our vulnerable seniors. Unfortunately, we never go a day without hearing news of another resident who has died or been severely harm because they were denied even the most basic level of care and comfort while stuck at one of these facilities.

A hidden truth is that when seniors dies of neglect at problematic nursing homes a different label is always used---malnutrition, dehydration, bed sores, infections, and others. Far too often these health problems are simply the natural outcome of a lack of basic medical care that all seniors deserve. If cleanliness, nutrition, exercise, and other staples of proper nursing home treatment are observed on a daily basis than these types of deaths rarely, if ever, occur.

But when that care is ignored, neglectful deaths are prevalent. For example, 78-year old Margaret Hutcheson eventually died from severe pressure sores, malnourishment, and dehydration. Other heinous examples abound: a leg that had to be amputated when health care workers allowed maggots to infest a wound or Alzheimer’s patients trapped in a kitchen freezer.

Nursing homes continue to try to hide the problem. Over 14,000 residents die each year due to malnutrition and dehydration alone. Yet, many nursing home conglomerates claim that it is nothing to be alarmed about because it is a natural part of the dying process. Medical experts, however, will explain the truth that, “people should not be dying of malnutrition or dehydration. It’s really neglect, and we should call it what it is.”

Our Chicago nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti are experienced in handling unacceptable treatment of residents at these facilities. Our lawyers have been involved with these cases for decades and understand that many new “for-profit” nursing home continue to reduce the quality of the care they provide to boost their bottom line. Discouragingly, government regulations of this problematic care are only a minor inconvenience for these large nursing home chains. They can afford to pay minor fines and move on without changing their practices.

That is exactly why our nursing home lawyers are committed to seeking real justice when these businesses destroy the lives of seniors or add to their suffering. In that way, real problems are addressed and future victims are spared similar loss.

Our look at the new AAJ Report will continue next time with consideration of the very common problems associated with bed rails.

Please Click Here to view the full copy of this report.

October 11, 2010

Standing Up For Seniors Report: Insurance Denials

by Levin & Perconti

The American Association for Justice released a comprehensive new report entitled, “Standing Up For Seniors: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans.” In this post we will consider the devastating effect of many unfair insurance denials.

The report shares the tragic story of a victim of this form of abuse named Rudy. After decades on a farm, raising his children and sharing his life with his wife, Rudy was eventually persuaded to move into a nursing home. His wife had passed away and he risked too much by living alone on his farm.

Luckily, Rudy was prepared for this possibility. Years before he had bought long-term care insurance. He had paid his premiums dutifully and the insurance company at first honored his far-sighted planning and paid the costs of his care. However, after three years the company decided they no longer wanted to pay for Rudy’s care. They sent him a letter explaining that his benefits were being cut off; they used the excuse that his stay in the nursing home was suddenly “no longer necessary.”

Unfortunately, Rudy’s story is shared by thousands of other seniors who have fallen victim to insurance companies who place profits over fulfilling their obligation to their clients. Our Chicago nursing home attorneys at Levin & Perconti have decades of experiences dealing with the intricacies of insurance companies and their policies. Our lawyers are trained specifically to deal with all facets of the insurance process, from collecting on wrongfully terminated nursing home care benefits to ensuring that claims are properly negotiated.

Unfortunately, many insurance companies have finely tuned tactics to delay paying out on claims—often leaving vulnerable seniors in the lurch. One former insurance company executive explained, “The bottom line is that insurance companies make money when they don’t pay claims. They’ll do anything to avoid paying, because if they wait long enough, they know the policyholders will die.”

Many companies have also been found to knowingly mail the wrong forms and then terminate payment because of paperwork errors.

Our nursing home attorneys work every day to fight that shameful approach to insurance protection. There is simply no excuse for the scheming means by which many of these companies place profits over proper care. Be sure to contact nursing home lawyers to help fight these practices.

Tomorrow we will continue our look at the new AAJ Report and consider the very common forms of neglect inflicted upon seniors at nursing homes.

Please Click Here to view the full copy of this report.

October 8, 2010

Neglect Running Rampant in Alden Village North, a Chicago Nursing Home

by Levin & Perconti

The nursing home lawyers at Levin & Perconti have handled all types of abuse and neglect lawsuits against Alden nursing homes throughout Illinois for many years. Today's Chicago Tribune tells the story of at least thirteen children in the Chicago area who fell victim to abuse and neglect at Alden Village North, a nursing home located at 7464 N. Sheridan Road in Chicago.

The Tribune's article exposes the sad truth that abuse and neglect not only happens to the elderly living in Illinois nursing homes, but also to younger residents who require ongoing medical treatment that they cannot receive at home. Parents and family members place their trust with nursing home staff to care for their loved ones, but unfortunately neglect and abuse occur, often due to negligent hiring and short-staffing. One of the victims in the Tribune article was just two years old when he died of asphyxiation because staff at the facility failed to properly monitor his tracheotomy tube for over 3.5 hours. The child had a habit of playing with the tube but staff did nothing to prevent this behavior and did not notify his physician of his actions.

In another sad case, a nine-year-old boy who suffered from severe cognitive deficits died due to nursing home neglect. Staff failed to properly care for his g-tube, failed to notice a change in his condition and failed to communicate these changes to his doctor. As a result, he died from bowel obstruction and an infection at a local hospital.

Continue reading "Neglect Running Rampant in Alden Village North, a Chicago Nursing Home" »

October 7, 2010

New Report: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans

by Levin & Perconti

The American Association for Justice released a comprehensive new report today entitled, “Standing Up For Seniors: How the Civil Justice System Protects Elderly Americans.” This valuable new document offers a great overview of the specific instances in which many seniors are victimized and the ways that attorneys, like our Chicago nursing home lawyers at Levin & Perconti, can help vindicate their rights.

As the report indicates, many people are unaware that a majority of nursing homes are run as for-profit businesses, often part of large chain facilities owned by single corporations. Unfortunately, the drive for profit typically means that senior care is sacrificed. In many ways the need to cut expenses automatically sets up many of these facilities for negligent care. For example, for-profit facilities have 32 percent fewer nurses than their non-profit counterparts which has led to 47 percent more deficiencies in elder care at the business driven homes.

There have always been some problems with the quality of care at many nursing homes. However, as this report documents, the problem is actually on the rise. In the last eight years, between 2000 and 2008, there has been a 22% increase in breaches of elder care that are deemed likely to cause death or serious bodily harm to residents. The problem is not limited to only a few bas facilities, however, as over 90% of nursing homes have been found guilty of at least one violation.

The best way to help stem the tide of abuse, neglect, and mistake is to remain vigilant about enforcing nursing home laws. Rules and regulations are in place that demand high quality care be provided at all of these facilities. It is vital that we properly enforce those standards. Enforcement requires a combination of strong legal advocacy and vigilant community members, willing to seek legal help when they suspect violations have occurred at facilities nearby.

Over the next several days, we will take a closer look at this helpful new report and publish a series of posts that examine the specific concerns raised in this legal analysis of senior care.

Please Click Here to view the full copy of this report.

February 13, 2010

Studies Show that Too Many Elderly Patients with Dementia Get Feeding Tubes

by Levin & Perconti

Studies show that larger hospitals and for profit nursing homes are more likely to use feeding tubes in patients with advanced dementia. This contradicts with the evidence that feeding tubes does not prolong life nor do they help with bed sores and other problems. Research shows that most people and family members of people with dementia would rather die than receive a feeding tube. However, according to research, one-third of nursing home residents with advanced dementia have feeding tubes. Two-thirds of these tubes were inserted during an acute-care hospitalization. On average, feeding tubes were placed in 7.9 per 100 patients. Nursing homes have added incentives to send patients to hospitals because someone else will pay for their developing problems. These problems include bed sores and low caloric intake. Families and patients should consider all the options before allowing a feeding tube.

The Chicago nursing home lawyers of Levin & Perconti have seen the problems that feeding tubes can create. In January of this year, Steven Levin and Margaret Battersby filed a nursing home negligence lawsuit against the Renaissance at 87th. This nursing home had failed to properly care for a woman’s gastic feeding tubes. Complications were so severe that the woman died one day after being transferred to the hospital. Attorney Levin noted that this was once again an example of a nursing home putting profits before patient care. If you or a loved one has had difficulties with a nursing home and feeding tubes, please consult a Chicago lawyer. To read more about the feeding tube study, please click the link.