The inspector general's office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a highly critical report about elder abuse and neglect. An audit found that more than 1 out of every 4 cases of suspected physical or sexual abuse of nursing home patients is never reported to police. This is the case despite a law requiring police be notified of suspected abuse immediately.
The auditors and some lawmakers have criticized Medicare for failing to do more to ensure that such cases are reported to law enforcement and handled properly.
About 1.4 million people in the U.S. live in nursing homes. That number is expected to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages and people generally live longer. Medicaid pays for nursing home care for those with limited incomes, while Medicare provides hospital care and physician services for the elderly and qualifying people with disabilities.
By scouring computerized records already in existence and available to Medicare, the audit found 134 cases (28 percent of the cases) where emergency room records indicated neglect, physical abuse, or sexual abuse.
Both state and federal laws require nursing homes and some other caregivers to report suspected abuse and neglect to the police. The federal law, which has been in effect for five years, requires authorities to be notified within 24 hours (or within 2 hours when there has been serious bodily injury). Failure to do so risks a fine of up to $300,000.
The audit found:
- In 28 percent of studied cases, the auditors could find no evidence in the record that the alleged incident had been reported to law enforcement.
- In the other 72 percent of cases where serious injuries occurred, the abuse or neglect appeared to have been reported to authorities. It was unclear, however, whether the notification was done within two hours, as is required by law.
In one case, a woman with verbal limitations allegedly suffered a sexual assault at the hands of another resident. Nursing home staff reportedly helped the suspected sexual assault victim to bathe and change her clothes after the alleged assault, which destroyed relevant evidence. They also failed to immediately report the suspected assault to police.
Moreover, when the family reported the incident, a state probe found that the nursing home contacted the police in an attempt to stave off an investigation. The nursing home allegedly told police it was performing an internal investigation and police were not needed as no one planned to press charges.
The home was cited for failing to notify the patient's family and doctor immediately, along with other federal regulatory violations. State inspectors classified the event as having resulted in "minimal harm or potential for actual harm."
If you suspect that a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse or neglect in a nursing home, contact an experienced local personal injury attorney to discuss possible legal claims.