Independent Observers Needed to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse

Through the years our Illinois nursing home abuse attorneys have become very aware of the importance of having outside inspectors and regulators involved in helping to prevent nursing home neglect in our area. Last week we reported on the unfortunate controversy in one state where the long-term care ombudsman was forced out of his position by the state’s governor who wanted to install a more “facility friendly” individual in that capacity. It is a clear reminder of the way that political interference can become prioritized over the proper treatment of our elderly friends and family members.

This weekend an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times discussed the situation and explained the need for the political interference to be removed from the process. It was explained how, besides placing the safety of residents at risk, the Governor’s actions may also have violated federal law in meddling with the advocacy program. A federal probe was begun as part of the matter, and the state’s long-term care ombudsman program was found to be filled with undue political influence and conflicts of interest. The federal report which was created following the probe directed the state to change its ombudsman policy. It was explained how the current policy raises troubling concerns about the current advocates ability to advocate on behalf of these residents. This troubling situation exists in large part because of the governor’s willing to prioritize support from assisted living facility insiders over guaranteeing adequate treatment for these vulnerable residents.

The federal investigation had been largely spurred by the forced removal of the independent ombudsman. The ombudsman is charged with supervising hundreds of investigative volunteers who visit statewide nursing homes to investigate and resolve complaints made by residents and their friends and family. The ombudsman had helmed the post with rave reviews for eight years. However, in a recently filed federal suit, he claims that he lost favor with the local political powers when he complained about how nursing home industry lobbyists were trying to influence his work.

The news of this political interference is even more disheartening in light of recent journalistic investigations which found tragic levels of nursing home abuse and neglect at state facilities. One investigation discovered that assisted living facilities in the state had been responsible for at least 70 deaths since 2002. A task force was created to respond to the problem. However, advocates note that the grouping is heavily weighted with industry representatives, and the impartiality of the task force has been questioned.

Our Illinois nursing home lawyers firmly believe that there is no place for politics in the investigatory process for long-term care facilities. All those who are charged with ensuring that our seniors receive the care to which they are entitled must be free to do their work without worry about how powerful interests may seek to derail their efforts. We encourage all those involved in this process to maintain their independence and focus on the task at hand: providing proper care to these community members.

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