A Call for Accountability: Preventing Nursing Home Abuse through Awareness and Deterrence

Choosing the right nursing home for a loved one is a difficult task. The potential for mistreatment and abuse of a vulnerable relative is often on family member’s minds. According to McKnight’s Longterm Care News & Assisted Living, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is striving to make this process easier. The government agency responsible for administering Medicare and other programs, as well as providing information to health professionals and the public, is currently in the process of expanding its database to provide more detailed information about nursing home deficiencies.

CMS began posting nursing home deficiency reports last summer, based on information reported to the agency through standard health and complaint surveys. CMS conducts these investigations as part of its role in overseeing that nursing homes comply with health and safety laws. The data currently provides information as far as fifteen months back and one survey cycle, but CMS aims to provide information as far back as three cycles for standard health surveys, and three years for complaint surveys. In addition to the increased time period, CMS also intends to provide indicators as to the severity of each deficiency cited. All in all, the added information will likely give families a greater sense of control and security in the nursing home selection process, and will help to hold deficient nursing homes accountable.

CMS’s pledge to provide greater information to the public couldn’t come earlier. Recently, in Connecticut, a string of nursing homes have been found to have left vulnerable elders in desperate conditions. The CT Post reports that the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH), a state agency, found numerous violations of the state’s regulations for nursing homes. In one case, a resident with a leg wound had refused treatment for so long that maggots were found to be festering inside of it. The DPH found that the nursing home responsible had performed a psychiatric evaluation on the resident, but had failed to approve her for psychiatric admission, and had failed to provide an alternative treatment plan. In another case, a resident suffered extreme weight loss due to loss of dentures, a condition to which the responsible facility’s nutritionist was never alerted. In the final case, a resident was moved from a wheelchair to a bed without a mechanical lift, contrary to the patient care plan. The resident was injured from being dropped during the transfer. The DPH administered fines for each deficiency cited.

Like Connecticut, in Illinois, the Department of Health oversees enforcement of the Nursing Home Care Act and regulates long term care facilities. The Nursing Home Care Act enables the Illinois Department of Health to penalize nursing homes that fall below regulations. Penalties are assessed based on the severity of actual or potential physical or mental harm.

Victims and their families also play a critical role in holding nursing homes accountable for deficiencies. Victims and their families can seek compensation for nursing home abuse by filing a lawsuit. Private suits not only help to compensate victims of nursing home abuse, but also expose nursing home deficiencies and help to deter further abuse.

While greater transparency may make the process of selecting a nursing home easier, families may still face the frightening potential of nursing home abuse. Federal and State agencies can hold deficient facilities accountable through their administrative powers, as the victims of abuse can through the justice system. If you or a loved one has suffered Illinois nursing home abuse, please contact us. We may be able to help you hold a nursing home accountable.

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