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Nursing Home Abuse As a “Crime Against Humanity”

October is Residents’ Rights Month. The Consumer Voice, an important elder advocacy group, explains that this years theme is “Speak Out Against Elder Abuse.” It is worth repeating that much more abuse takes place than is ever reported. Far too many seniors suffer in silence. We must all speak up every single time that we suspect mistreatment. It is only then that accountability will be had in many cases and those in positions of power will take real steps to minimize the risk of abuse before it happens, instead of merely reacting to each individual case.

Speaking Out for Neglected Seniors
In honor of the this month’s awareness campaign, we’d like to highlight one advocate who does not pull any punches when it comes to speaking up against inadequate care. Recently, Jan Scherrer, a member of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform published a powerful editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Scherrer is a speech pathologist, having formerly work in geriatric and nursing home care settings.

The editorial mentions real-life scenarios that play out every day across the country, from seniors who are slapped because they are difficult to dress (through no fault of their own) to having objects shoved into their mouths if they say things that a caregiver finds annoying. Every day seniors go hungry because they need help getting food out of their tray but there are not enough caregivers to provide that aid.

It was noted how much actual support in long-term care facilities are provided by “overworked and underpaid caregivers who’ve been known to relieve their own despair by withholding […] pain medication and taking it themselves.”

Of course, not all (or even most) blame need be directed at front-line care workers. The owners and operators of these facilities are the ones who decide staffing issues, compensation levels, training, the availability of resources and more. Yet, far too often these individuals are focused on one thing: profit. Often owned by large investment groups with little personal regard for resident well-being, the “business’ side of long-term care facilities frequently lead to little regard for quality.

In discussing the interconnected nature of so many legal and legislative affairs, the editorial explains how “corporations [that own nursing homes] respond to wrongful death lawsuits, not with lessons learned and corporate mandates to improve care, but with tort reform, introduced and passed into law by unscrupulous and recompensed lawmakers.”

That is an issue on which our elder neglect attorneys frequently discuss. We have worked with families for decades to hold these facilities accountable for their conduct. Yet, at the same time, these big interests groups pursue every avenue available in an attempt to make it harder for them to be held responsible for their actions and take steps to prevent future mistreatment.

It is important to point out that the vast majority of nursing home care is paid for out of public funds–via the Medicare and Medicaid programs. That means that all of us are the ones footing the bill. Beyond the human element of demanding adequate care for all vulnerable seniors, there is a financial element: we deserve quality services when we pay for it.

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Celebrate Nursing Home Residents’ Rights Month!