Elder abuse is now recognized as far more prevalent than ever before. Most elder abuse cases are brought against nursing homes, and large jury awards are often obtained, with multi-million dollar lawsuits possible in certain situations. Juries have great empathy and sympathy for abuse victims and now consider quality of life an important factor, often more so than life expectancy. Many state legislatures, including Illinois, have enacted laws to prevent all types of elder abuse, from financial scams to negligent care by health workers and physical assault.
Negligence Cases Against Nursing Homes
Nursing homes can be held liable for negligence involving the care of residents. In an action for injuries negligently inflicted on a resident of a nursing home, the injured plaintiff must plead and prove the traditional elements of negligence:
1. The defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff;
2. The defendant breached or violated that duty;
3. The plaintiff sustained injury; and
4. There was a causal connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injury.
In some negligence cases against nursing homes, the plaintiff can sue for punitive damages, damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering and damages for medical expenses.
Regulation of Nursing Homes in Illinois
The extreme vulnerability of many residents of nursing homes has led to the development of detailed regulatory requirements designed to protect the residents to every extent possible. Nursing homes must comply with a wide variety of requirements. Both the state and federal governments have a role in the regulation of nursing homes. The federal Medicare and Medicaid law provides basic resident rights to nursing home residents. The federal government has enormous range in regulating the nursing home industry because a majority of nursing home beds are financed by the federal Medicaid program, which pays for nursing home care for eligible persons who are either indigent or who have “spent down” their assets as a result of an extended stay in a nursing home. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is responsible for licensing nursing homes in Illinois and is responsible for ensuring compliance with state licensing law. The Bureau of Long Term Care is also responsible for ensuring that nursing homes comply with Illinois state laws.
Under state law, IDPH inspects Illinois nursing homes once every 6 to 15 months and investigates complaints regarding nursing homes. The IDPH many impose sanctions against nursing homes that are found to be out of compliance with nursing home requirements. Sanctions that the IDPH may impose on nursing homes include monetary fines and revocation of the facility’s license.
In 2010, the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act was amended. This reformed the state’s nursing home industry. New restrictions on nursing homes that serve elderly people were enacted. New requirements on nursing homes, such as minimum staff-to-patient ratios, new certifications and additional fees, and a general increase in the level of scrutiny nursing homes face from state survey teams were imposed. Most importantly, an increase in the amount of sanctions and fines that IDPH could impose for nursing home violations was imposed.
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