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Not What Meets the Eye: Behind the Statistics of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

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Patients or their loved ones understandably devote a generous amount of time to researching long-term care facilities before making a choice. Though some of the most objective facility performance information can be found from sources like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it wasn’t long ago they acknowledged that not all of their data could be taken at face value.

Last summer, a CMS study revealed nursing homes all over the country under-reported cases of neglect and abuse at their facilities. The figures were staggering. In 2016, more than 6,000 high-risk cases that qualified as abuse or neglect were not properly reported, or about 18% of cases where a resident was both hurt under suspicious circumstances and hurt badly enough, they required emergency room treatment. The examples ran the gamut from careless, head-scratching neglect – a 65-year old’s “accidental” opioid poisoning due to a mix-up of patient records – to outright abuse – an incident caught on tape where a nursing home employee purposely smacked a resident in the back of the head while walking through the dining room.

Many people in the Mid-South will remember a nursing home in Memphis where one resident was so neglected, he had maggots eating away at open wounds, and another’s deteriorating physical condition due to cancer was left unreported to her medical team until it was ultimately too late to save her.

Such neglect is as egregious and undignified as it is wholly preventable. Some cases of neglect and abuse stem from a fateful combination of too-few, poorly trained staff working too large of a caseload with minimal supervision and high stress levels. It is possible that numerous cases go unreported deliberately. Ignorance and lack of guidance on how to handle difficult situations may be another culprit producing patchy, incomplete data, but the effects of being overworked and overstretched cannot be underestimated.

Nursing homes may intentionally ignore a patient’s worsening physical state or declining mental faculties like signs of dementia. In particular, when family access to a patient is limited, it’s easier for staff to conceal or excuse potentially harmful situations. Low or incompetent staffing also means more vulnerable patients can be hurt in accidents, for example, if they wander off facility grounds unnoticed.

Activists for senior rights and lawmakers are thankfully focusing on how gaps in reporting abuse can be closed, and how when things do go wrong, the responsible parties can be held fully accountable. But visit a nursing home or care facility before making your choice, drop in to visit loved ones regularly when they are there, and find out how open staff members are to allowing you to look around the common areas. When face-to-face isn’t possible, regular phone and virtual contact can mean the world in ensuring patients’ wellbeing.

Finally, do not hesitate to get others involved when the statistics look acceptable and you’re being reassured by staff, but your gut tells you something is wrong. This may even mean seeking out a lawyer’s advice.

If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of injuries or neglect, knowing where to turn to get justice for yourself or your family member may seem like a daunting task. It does not have to be that way. At Jehl Law Group, our compassionate team of legal professionals is available to answer your questions so you can make an informed decision regarding the filing of an injury claim.