Are you worried that your loved one is being abused in a nursing home and such abuse is not getting the attention it deserves? You're not alone. And you're right to be concerned.
In August, as part of a larger ongoing study, the Health and Human Services inspector general's office noticed a disturbing gap in records and issued an alert that evidence suggested at least one in every four possible incidents of abuse in nursing homes is not being reported.
Because the study was not complete yet, more data was expected to surface and Medicare expressed a desire to issue a response only after the rest of the report was available.
The data suggesting unreported abuse involving comparing records from multiple sources. STAT reports that researchers cross-referenced emergency room records with nursing home records, and found a significant lack of police reporting on cases that showed signs of abuse. The most common form of suspected abuse was sexual abuse or rape, which accounted for four out of five cases where some form of abuse was suspected but law enforcement and inspectors were not notified. This is a major problem.
Rules vary depending on what type of abuse is occurring in a nursing home. For suspected abuse cases with serious harm, authorities must be notified within two hours. For any other suspected abuse, the nursing home has only a 24-hour window. Either way, in the 134 identified cases from just a two-year span, there had been either no attempt to alert law enforcement or the reporting may have been too late.
Investigators noted that this trend may be aided by Medicare itself. While Medicare has regulations that demand nursing homes report suspected abuse immediately to local law enforcement or other agencies at the risk of fines up to $300,000, it was found that this regulation was not being consistently enforced. The inspectors claimed that Medicare "has inadequate procedures to ensure that incidents of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries residing in (nursing homes) are identified and reported."
U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, expressed concern over the apparent hesitance of Medicare to respond immediately to the data by stating that, "A crime is a crime wherever it takes place...It's unacceptable for more than one-fourth of potential crimes in nursing homes to apparently go unreported." He has also promised to push for a more immediate response from Medicare.
Our elders deserve to live in a safe environment. And we deserve to know that such crimes will be reported quickly and taken seriously right from the start. Sadly, it is often up to families to hold nursing homes accountable for the care they offer, especially when federal oversight is lacking.