Across the country, approximately 1.4 million elderly or disabled individuals receive care in over 15,000 nursing homes. While many of these nursing homes take great care of their residents, a recent study from the U.S. Government and Accountability Office (GAO) finds that, unfortunately, nursing home abuse still occurs with some regularity. Because residents often have physical or mental disabilities and limitations, they are some of the most vulnerable to abuse. Maryland residents should be aware of potential issues of abuse when choosing a nursing home for themselves or a loved one.
The GAO’s report found that citations of nursing home abuse more than doubled between 2013 to 2017, with a particularly significant increase in severe cases of abuse. Importantly, the report also found gaps in the oversight of nursing homes. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid oversee a program with state agencies to monitor nursing home safety, but their ability to do so may be limited for several reasons. First, state agencies who survey nursing home abuse typically do not note abuse and perpetrator time, meaning the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid may not have a complete picture of who is committing the abuse, or what type is most common. Second, when nursing homes report incidents, they typically lack vital information, which often delays state agencies’ investigations. And third, the GAO found gaps in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid’s processes for referring incidents of nursing home abuse to law enforcement, which can slow down investigations and make it harder to end abuse in the homes overall. The GAO, finding these problems, also made recommendations to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid on how they can fix them and improve the safety of nursing homes and the processes for dealing with abuse.
Cases of abuse in Maryland nursing homes, which can include medical neglect or physical, verbal, or sexual assault, can cause intense emotional distress and trauma for the victim and their families, not to mention medical bills for past and possibly continuing care. While the GAO’s report may hopefully lead to increased safety in Maryland nursing homes, there will, unfortunately, still be tragic instances of abuse. If tragedy does strike in a Maryland nursing home, state law allows the victim, or their family, to sue the home for negligence. The money won in a suit, while it can never undo the damage done, may help the recovery and healing process.