Joseph Shepter, 76, was a retired scientist who spent his last days paralyzed from a stroke and suffering from dementia in a nursing home in Mountain Mesa, California. The medical report said Shepter died in January 2007 from heart failure caused by clogged arteries.
When he died, nothing seemed out-of-the-ordinary until a staff member from the home reached out to Shepter’s family. After reexamining his death, investigators found he died from a combination of neglect that was made worse by antipsychotics. He had pneumonia, dehydration, sepsis and an infected ulcer.
More than 1.3 million people live in 15,700 nursing homes in the U.S., according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Sons and daughters trust nursing homes to treat aging parents with the upmost care and respect, but allegations of abuse and neglect continue to run rampant. Oftentimes these cases go unnoticed, undiscovered or uninvestigated.
Despite genuine attempts to enact policies that would stop the abuse for good, heart-wrenching stories about mistreated patients at elderly care facilities continue to populate the media.
How Common Is Elderly Abuse?
When a care facility puts profits above resident safety, that’s when a problem becomes an epidemic. Inadequate staffing, high turnover rates and poor training are widespread.
Statistics show that 1 in 3 nursing home residents is abused, according to a study from the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee. The abuse isn’t always physical; it can also be mental, emotional or financial.
The Department of Health and Human Services defines abuse as “the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish.”
In 2010, a study found that 10 percent of participants reported nursing home abuse in the last year. In the same year, more than half of nursing home staff who participated in the study admitted to engaging in some kind of abuse toward a resident.
Neglect is another form of abuse, whether it’s intentional or unintentional.
In the past six years, the CMS conducted surveys that found more than 330,000 deficiencies in nursing homes. A deficiency is a failure to meet a federal requirement, which is defined by the severity of the deficiency, the potential for harm or the actual harm done.
On top of that, many deficiencies were missed in the initial surveys. The U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report in 2008 that found 15 percent of surveys missed deficiencies for actual harm and 25 percent missed deficiencies for potential harm.
Government Efforts to Stop Abuse
Federal agencies and advocacy organizations have tried to put laws in place to positively impact the trend of abuse in nursing homes.
Fifty years ago, The U.S Department of Health and Human Services implemented Medicare and Medicaid programs to help fund more than 15,000 nursing homes. If a nursing home wanted to receive federal funding, they had to meet certain requirements. The programs were a national attempt to improve conditions at these facilities.
Measures have been taken to reduce the prevalence of antipsychotic medications in nursing homes, which can seriously threaten elderly patients.
A report was released that showed a large portion of nursing home residents filed for antipsychotic prescriptions. In March 2012, the CMS worked to reduce the amount of unapproved antipsychotics in nursing homes by 15 percent with a December 2012 deadline. The CMS successfully reached the reduction goal in September 2014. They announced a new goal to further reduce the antipsychotic statistic by 25 in 2015 and 30 percent in 2016.
The attempts for better quality care continue in recognition and policy efforts as well.
The Agency For Health Care Administration recognized 958 nursing homes for successfully reducing hospital readmissions, lessening antipsychotic mediation use and increasing staff stability and patient satisfaction in 2014. In 2015, the organization intends to expand the goals to reduce negative health care outcomes and improve facilities function and discharge rates.
Laws are continually being updated to encourage better cooperation. The Affordable Care Act has been revised to include compliance and ethics programs, quality assurance, performance improvement requirements and reporting of suspicion and crime requirements. Resident’s rights, facility responsibilities, and updated food and nutrition requirements will also been addressed.
In 2008, Nursing Home Compare was launched. It’s a government-run site that provides one to five star rankings for more than 15,000 various facilities based on inspections, staffing education level and quality assurance. However, a large majority of the data is self-reported.
How To Combat the Abuse
Abuse or neglect can be as obvious as bedsores, malnutrition, dehydration, dosage errors, continued falls, bruises from rough handling, clogged breathing tubes or dirty living conditions. However, it can also be very unclear, like a resident left wandering or the repeated hurtful statements to patients with Alzheimer’s.
Family members must take an interest in their elder relatives to confirm proper care is being given.
A 96-year-old dementia patient named Eryetha Mayberry was abused by two staff members at Quail Creek Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Oklahoma. After installing a hidden camera, her daughters saw footage that showed staff manhandling her, holding her down, sticking gloved hands in her mouth and preventing her breathing. The family filed a lawsuit and the Oklahoma jury awarded $1.2 million.
Offenses like this often go unpunished unless discovered and reported. If you believe your family member has been abused, you could be eligible to file a lawsuit. Click here for a free case evaluation.
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