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Earlier this month, the daughter of a Virginia woman was awarded $300,000 in damages after a wrongful death trial against the nursing home where she had fallen 8 times in less than a year, plus another fall that ultimately caused her death in August 2012.

The deceased, 87 year old Alice Allen, fell in her room at Colonial Manor on Pocahontas Trail in Williamsburg, VA. She suffered a subdural hematoma and was not taken to an emergency room until the next day, despite taking blood thinners. A nurse who served as an expert witness for the plaintiff stated during trial that “Any prudent nurse with an unwitnessed fall with a possible head injury on [a blood thinner] would be sent to the emergency room immediately following the fall. Time is of the essence.”

The nurse also testified that it did not appear that the facility had a well developed plan for fall prevention or treatment, which was evident by the number of falls Ms. Allen had endured and by the manner in which she was treated after her fatal fall in August 2012.

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The family of a woman who died after suffering from malnourishment, dehydration and a urinary tract infection (UTI) is suing Alton Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Alton, Illinois. The lawsuit alleges that before her death in June 2015, Judith Bates was visibly sick and was not sent to a hospital for treatment, despite lowered oxygen saturation, an abnormal heart rate, breathing difficulties, lethargy, low blood pressure, and excessive sweating. She had also lost 42 pounds in less than 6 weeks. By the time she was tested for a UTI on June 24, 2015, Ms. Bates’ condition had deteriorated and she died the next day.

For-Profit Nursing Home Rated Much Below Average

Alton Rehabilitation and Nursing Center is a privately-owned, for-profit nursing home located in the southern Illinois town of Alton. The nursing home is owned by Integrity Healthcare of Alton and according to Nursing Home Compare, the rating system developed and maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the home is rated 1 out of 5 stars. A one star rating is considered much below average. The facility received one star for its health inspection, one star for its staffing practices, and two stars (below average) for quality measures.

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Cahokia Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Cahokia, IL, is yet again defending themselves against a lawsuit filed by the family of a resident. According to the lawsuit, Pauline Purifoy, 86, died in April 2015 from multiorgan failure and septic shock. In the days leading up to her death, Ms. Purifoy was suffering from a painfully severe urinary tract infection that was left untreated. As the pain progressed, Cahokia Nursing & Rehab did not notify Ms. Purifoy’s doctor, instead choosing to treat her on their own. When their efforts didn’t work and Ms. Purifoy was becoming physically and vocally agitated, they resorted to lorazepam, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. The Illinois Department of Public Health made a visit to Cahokia and saw Ms. Purifoy covered in her own urine, feces, and vomit and forced the facility to contact her physician. The physician ordered her to be transferred to a local hospital, during which time she died in the emergency room.

Cahokia Nursing and Rehabilitation on Federal Watch List

Just this past January, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released their latest list of Specialty Focus Facilities, those nursing homes that are considered severely deficient and in danger of losing federal funding. We analyzed the list and found 3 Illinois facilities named, one of which was Cahokia Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. Shockingly, Cahokia Nursing & Rehab had just been upgraded to the ‘shown improvement’ category of Special Focus Facilities after a December 2016 visit by CMS.

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Last year, several nurses at Lake Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Indian Trail, North Carolina walked in on nurse’s aide Douglas Steven Little sexually assaulting an elderly resident suffering from dementia. Little, a 10 year employee of Lake Park Nursing & Rehab, admitted to the assault and is now serving a 19 year prison sentence. After the news of Little’s crime broke, other Lake Park families began coming forward with similar allegations of rape and assault of their loved ones.

Repeat Offender

An affidavit by a former Lake Park Nursing & Rehab nurse states that in 2012, the facility was made aware of sexual assaults committed by Douglas Steven Little and covered them up from victim’s families. The affidavit was included as part of a lawsuit filed by the daughter of another alleged victim of Little’s. The woman’s daughter, Annette Foster, says her mother was a dementia resident who spent two years at Lake Park Nursing & Rehabilitation before her death. She says that after the news of Little broke, she began examining her mother’s medical records and coupled with the behaviors she observed in her mother before her death, she is certain that she was assaulted on multiple occasions and strongly believes it was by Douglas Steven Little. While her mother was still a patient, Foster knew something was amiss after her mother reported being raped on two separate occasions. She requested that only female staff members treat and visit with her mother and despite the request, she still saw Little wandering around the dementia unit.

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On Friday, the White House Office of Management and Budget met with long term care groups and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to discuss a revision of an Obama era rule that banned arbitration agreements as a condition of admission for nursing home residents. By signing an arbitration agreement, a nursing home resident waives their 7th amendment right to a trial. It has been found that by forgoing a judge and jury, arbitration heavily favors nursing homes.

Taking Away the Rights of the Elderly

CMS intended to begin implementing this rule at the end of last November, but not before being halted by a federal court in Mississippi. The court ruled that the agency lacked the authority to impose such a rule and since then, CMS has been working on appealing that decision. However, it seems CMS is ready to abandon their appeal in favor of siding with the Trump administration. Trump has been vocal about removing regulations and barriers that interfere with business operations and nursing home owners and advocates have long argued that arbitration agreements are the only way to avoid costly legislation and potential closure of their facilities. While arbitration agreements might seem like a savvy business move, consider who is paying the price on the other side of this argument. The nursing home industry has a history of low pay for employees, long hours, overcrowding, poor care and minimal staff training. Nursing homes are an extremely lucrative business, which explains why over half of all Illinois nursing home residents are in a privately-held facility. Requiring a nursing home resident and/or their loved ones to sign hefty admission packets with a small clause requiring arbitration feels more than a little deceitful. What’s worse, considering the atrocities that occur as a result of the troubles nursing homes face, it seems unfair to require some of society’s most vulnerable to give up their right to a trial.

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It is a growing concern as the population of elderly prison inmates continues to rise: What happens to inmates who require more care than an infirmary at a standard correctional facility can give? The cost of treating inmates in prison, at specialized psychiatric facilities and at local hospitals is making the cost of long term care an expense that states are having a hard time managing. Federal funding is not given to prison inmates treated at any of these locations.

Enter facilities like 60 West, a combined nursing home and correctional facility in Rocky Hill, Connecticut that has become the first nursing home of its kind to be granted funding from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Several states hoping to receive federal funds for similar facilities are clearly pleased with the news and experts hope that the success of 60 West will spur other nursing homes to adopt the mentality that the elderly all deserve compassionate and federally-covered care, regardless of a prison record. Receiving federal funding for state-owned nursing homes would significantly ease the burden of covering long term care costs for prison inmates.

Previous Denial Due to Health and Safety Issues

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Researchers in Massachusetts have found that training nursing home staff to recognize ‘unmet needs’ of dementia patients leads to a reduction in the use of antipsyhoctic drugs. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, the most common form of dementia.

The study, published in the April edition of JAMA, was led by Dr. Jennifer Tjia, a physician and professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Dr. Tjia and her fellow researchers studied outcomes from nursing homes that implemented Oasis, an intervention program for dementia patients that seeks to restore dignity to elderly dementia patients by addressing the underlying issues behind their distress and behavioral problems. The motivation for the study was to not only reduce the overuse of antipsychotic drugs (shown to increase stroke risk in the elderly), but to also increase humane treatment of the elderly. Dr. Tjia told JAMA that “We don’t medicate babies when they cry or act out, because we assume that they have a need that we need to address. However, when people with dementia are unable to communicate, the current approach medicates them when they have undesirable behaviors.”

Oasis Program Shows Promise in Reducing Use of Unnecessary Medications

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Although the Nursing Home Reform Law of 1987 has guaranteed nursing home residents many well-known legal rights, one lesser known right is the ability to form private resident councils. Any facility receiving funding from Medicare/Medicaid must support the efforts of its residents to join together to form a resident council. This includes helping notify other residents of upcoming meetings and providing a private space in which the council can meet. The council is able to discuss issues, opportunities for improvement, plan events and activities, and work with staff to help improve the quality of life in their nursing home.

To read a fact sheet on resident council rights, courtesy of National Consumer Voice, please click here.

 

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“We can no longer choose between caring for your family and our own, and so, we have decided to stand together as part of what will be the largest strike of nursing home workers in the history of our country.” 

            -Services Employees International Union (SEIU) statement on nursing home employee strike

In a move to influence contract negotiations between SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Illinois Association of Healthcare Facilities (who represents 53 Chicago-area nursing homes that use SEIU members for staffing), 5,000 SEIU members are planning to strike. The two main issues at hand are low pay and low staffing numbers, creating an industry of underpaid and over-utilized nursing home employees who feel they must work excessive amounts of overtime in order to maintain a living wage.

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We’d like to share insightful information from an April newsletter from the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) regarding 5 major reasons to oppose the Protecting Access to Care Act, better known as H.R. 1215. The bill, due to be voted on at any moment by the House, has a sweet-sounding name that overrides the detrimental aftermath that will result if the policy becomes law.

ITLA’s newsletter contains information shared by the American Association for Justice (AAJ) and perfectly sums up why we as Americans should oppose the passage of a bill that will take away our civil rights.

Below are the top 5 reasons to oppose The Protecting Access to Care Act (H.R. 1215):