The elderly are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society. Cognitive impairments, mobility limitations, and underlying age-related illnesses demand that the elderly receive the highest level of protection - particularly from the facilities which are paid to care for them. Unfortunately, these very same limitations cause many cases of nursing home abuse to go unreported. Learn more about Medicare investigations into this tragic problem, and what you can do to protect your loved ones in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility. If you suspect nursing home abuse, contact an attorney as soon as possible. Residents have victims' rights in the criminal justice system, civil rights to compensation, and administrative recourse through Medicare and other licensing entities.
The Many Types of Nursing Home Abuse
In general, elder abuse often falls into one of the broad categories of physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect. Alabama law offers specific protections for senior citizens through the Protecting Alabama's Elders Act. The Act covers a wide variety of actions, including: deception; emotional abuse; financial exploitation; intimidation; neglect; and the use of undue influence. Anyone who abuses an elderly victim through these means is guilty of the crime of elder abuse, in addition to any other crimes he or she may have committed (such as theft or assault).
What Medicare Has Discovered About Reporting Nursing Home Abuse
In August 2017, the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services released a report on the handling of abuse and neglect in nursing homes. The Inspector's office had reviewed records of Medicare beneficiaries who received treatment for abuse injuries, and found that 28% of the identified cases had never been reported to law enforcement. The report noted that this was a violation of state mandatory reporting laws, and ultimately concluded that Medicare has inadequate procedures to ensure that nursing home abuse is identified and reported.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this study is the realization that these abuse cases had passed through so many levels of mandatory reporting before being identified in a large scale, nationwide audit. Nursing home staff, emergency medical personnel, and hospital staff all have legal obligations to report suspected abuse. Yet this abuse was only discovered because the victims' medical treatment happened to have been billed to Medicare under a specific diagnosis code. In one particularly egregious case, a female nursing home resident was sexually assaulted by a male resident. Not only did the facility fail to report the incident to law enforcement, it told police not to come when the incident was eventually reported by family members. Worst of all, facility staff helped the female resident bathe and change after the assault, thereby destroying the most important evidence in the case.
So what can family members to protect their loved ones? The most important step in preventing abuse is to simply provide oversight. Ensure that nursing home residents receive regular visits from family members. Investigate any unusual injuries or financial transactions. Document any vague or contradictory statements made by staff members.
An experienced Birmingham nursing home abuse attorney can help victims report crimes and receive compensation for their injuries.