Both state and federal laws mandate that nursing home facilities report serious cases of abuse to local police, yet a recent National Public Radio report citing an investigation conducted by the Office of Inspector General reveals that more than one-quarter of serious cases of nursing home abuse were not reported to authorities. Shockingly, some of these unreported cases of abuse involved injuries that were so severe that their victims ultimately required emergency room care.
Some of the cases are particularly infuriating. One elderly woman was sexually abused after being brutally beaten. Federal law mandates that an event of this magnitude be reported to police “within two hours” or risk a $300,000 fine. The nursing home purposely failed to comply with this rule, however. “Instead”, says Curtis Roy, Assistant Regional Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services, “…they cleaned off the victim, [and] in doing so, they destroyed all of the evidence that law enforcement could have used as part of an investigation into this crime.” Remarkably, the nursing home didn’t alert the victim’s family until the following day. Equally shocking, it was the victim’s family that first alerted the police, not the facility. Once local police became involved, the nursing home actively tried to dissuade any ongoing investigation into the attack.
Mr. Roy’s comprehensive investigation, which covered 33 states, revealed that the majority of the unreported cases involved sexual abuse of elderly patients. Mr. Roy concluded that a relatively simple change of protocol by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services likely holds the key to uncovering a facility’s unscrupulous practice of failing to report abuse to the authorities. By merely cross referencing a nursing home patient’s Medicare claims with their contemporaneous claims from an emergency room visit, an incident of abuse or neglect can be suspected or inferred. Once a patient’s emergency room diagnosis is scrutinized, authorities can better appreciate whether a resident was a victim of a crime such as physical or sexual assault.
By most estimates, approximately 1.4 million Americans currently reside in our nation’s nursing homes. That number is expected to balloon as more from the “baby boomer” generation reaches retirement age.
It is important to point out that abuse in a nursing home setting is not the norm nor is it inevitable. By employing simple awareness and vigilance, however, a resident’s family can discourage, prevent and/or detect incidence of nursing home abuse.
Dino M. Colucci, Esquire, is the founder of Colucci, Colucci, Marcus & Flavin, P.C., a law firm dedicated to representing victims of nursing home neglect. For many years he has lectured and served as an adjunct Professor of Law at Suffolk University Law School. He has also been consistently named as a “Super Lawyer” by his peers as published by Boston Magazine.