Articles Posted in Resident Safety

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.

As the population ages, and life expectancy continues to increase, nursing homes are becoming a part of more and more Americans’ lives. As a result, Maryland nursing homes are caring for more residents than ever. Family members who place their loved one in a nursing home want to ensure that they are safe and being taken care of, but sometimes finances or other concerns force families to place loved ones in subpar institutions. Unfortunately, loved ones can suffer from nursing home abuse that often goes unreported. A common yet overlooked form of this abuse is food safety violations, which occur frequently in Maryland nursing homes and can cause serious illness, or even death.

A recent investigative report found that there are thousands of food safety violations in nursing homes across the country each year. According to a news article discussing the report’s findings, cockroaches, flies, mold, and mouse droppings are just a few of the unsanitary conditions found in nursing homes over the last three years. In fact, unsafe food handling was the third most frequent violation in nursing homes in 2018. That same year, 33% of nursing homes were issued citations for not safely storing, preparing, and serving food. And many of these instances are not just one-time mistakes: since 2016, approximately 33% of all nursing homes were cited multiple times for the same food safety violations.

These safety violations, while concerning in any kitchen, are of utmost concern in nursing homes because people over 65 are especially susceptible to foodborne illnesses. Unlike restaurants where a patron can get up and leave, nursing home residents often have no choice but to stay and eat in their institution. The result can be deadly: the report also found that, between 1998 and 2017, there were 230 foodborne illness outbreaks in long-term care settings such as nursing homes, which resulted in at least 45 deaths, 532 hospitalizations, and 7,648 people getting ill.

Incidents of Maryland nursing home abuse can be challenging to quantify because many victims are unable to report their injuries. Additionally, loved ones are often placed in subpar institutions because their families did not have the means or ability to evaluate the facility adequately. These factors, in addition to many others, have caused a rising rate of nursing home abuse incidents in Maryland.

According to a recent news report, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) launched a consumer alert feature on its website designed to warn people of nursing home violations. The CMS operates a website called “Nursing Home Compare,” which provides consumers with information about Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes in the United States. The website enables individuals to see whether a nursing home meets the minimum federal standards regarding things such as staffing, health, and safety. However, the website does not readily provide a way for people to discover any instances or allegations of abuse against a nursing home. In fact, a recent Senate report publicized a government finding of increasing nursing home abuse cases by facilities that rated as poorly performing but did not receive additional scrutiny.

The new alert intends to offer consumers a new and easy way to identify nursing homes with citations and other safety violations quickly. The alert will go live in October, 2019 and will flag facilities that had negative inspection reports on abuse in the past year or behaviors that could have led to harm in the past two years.

Nursing homes are an inevitable part of many American’s lives. It used to be that aging loved ones would spend the last few years of their life in the homes of family members. However, as the percentage of dual-income families grows, fewer families are able to accommodate the needs of an aging family member. Additionally, people are now living longer than ever, meaning there is a greater need for long-term care. The result is that Maryland nursing homes are caring for more residents than ever.

Choosing a nursing home is a major decision, akin to selecting a school for a child. Families looking to choose a nursing home for a loved one have access to a fair amount of information, including the safety statistics from each home. However, nursing homes will not often inform prospective residents about these tools. While there is a significant amount of information online, it is best to personally visit the home to get a feel for how residents are treated.

Below is a list of factors that Maryland families should consider when selecting a nursing home for their loved one:

The federal government is keenly aware of the fact that many Maryland nursing homes, as well as nursing homes across the country, routinely provide residents with an insufficient level of care. For this reason, each year, the federal government releases a report detailing the state of the country’s nursing homes. This June, Senators Casey (D-PA) and Toomey (R-PA) released a report entitled “Families’ and Residents’ Right to Know: Uncovering Poor Care in America’s Nursing Homes.”

The report begins by noting that aging citizens who live in nursing homes too often experience “outright neglect,” and that some residents are subjected to physical or sexual abuse. In an attempt to reduce the number of homes exposing residents to this neglect and abuse, the federal government implemented the Special Focus Facility (SFF) program. The SFF program seeks to identify the most problematic nursing homes across the country and increase supervision over these facilities. Once a facility is in the SFF program, it must be inspected no less than once every six months. Non-participants must be inspected once every 15 months.

The selection process for the SFF program focuses on those nursing homes that “persistently underperform in required inspections.” Under the SFF program, up to 88 nursing homes are selected, which amounts to less than .6 percent of all skilled care facilities in the United States. These facilities are referred to as “participants,” and the government releases the name of the facility to the public to assist potential residents in making important care decisions.

One would like to think that aging service members are provided with the care and compassion they deserve as they begin to require more and more assistance with their daily routine. However, Veterans’ Administration (VA) nursing homes have been continually under scrutiny for the poor quality of care they provide residents. A recent report illustrates just a few of the horrors that VA nursing home residents across the country are experiencing.

According to a report by USA Today, in VA nursing homes across the country, veterans are suffering actual harm due to a variety of deficiencies. Evidently, private inspectors determined that residents in 52 of the 99 surveyed homes suffered some type of actual harm based on the inadequate level of care being provided by staff. A Washington, D.C. VA nursing home was among those in which residents suffered actual harm. Several other VA nursing homes were found to have put residents in “immediate jeopardy.”

One of the most common problems inspectors found was that residents in many of the VA nursing homes suffered from preventable bedsores. Bedsores develop when a person who is confined to a bed remains idle for too long. Bedsores can be prevented by frequently rotating a resident, or providing a resident with ample cushion under their body. Inspectors noted that one resident developed five bedsores in just six months. However, when inspectors went to visit this resident, they determined that no staff member had moved the man, or provided him with additional cushions to alleviate the condition.

Nursing homes take on an enormous responsibility when they accept a resident into their care. Of course, a Maryland nursing home is required to provide residents with a safe living environment, keeping residents free from the potential abuse of staff members and other residents. However, there is also an affirmative duty taken on by nursing homes to provide a certain level of care. When a nursing home fails to live up to this standard, the facility may be liable through a Maryland nursing home negligence lawsuit.

There are many different types of nursing home negligence. Nursing home residents are often unable to provide for their own basic needs, and rely on others to help them with routine daily tasks such as bathing, eating, and taking medication. In some cases, patients suffer bedsores after a neglectful nurse fails to check up on them as frequently as necessary. One area of care that is infrequently discussed is the level of medical care that a nursing home is required to provide.

Of course, nursing homes are not expected to function at the level of a hospital. However, nursing homes should employ properly credentialed staff who are educated on how to care for an at-risk population. Thus, certain failures are inexcusable. According to a local news report, a Veterans’ Administration (VA) nursing home was fined for providing the wrong medication to a resident. Evidently, the home was cited for providing the wrong medication as well as for administering medication in a manner that did not follow the physician’s instructions.

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Over the past several decades, there has been a societal shift in the United States toward a household in which both parents work out of the home. Indeed, as of 2016, roughly two-thirds of all families were composed of two income earners. Most often, this means both parents are away from the home during the day.

Unlike in years past, today’s working families do not have the ability to care for their aging loved ones. This has correspondingly led to an increase in the number of elderly people being admitted to nursing homes. Currently, it is estimated that there are over 3.5 million nursing home residents. And while Maryland nursing homes present a good solution in theory, in reality, nursing homes are rarely “as advertised.”

Too often, nursing homes are understaffed with underqualified employees. This creates a situation in which abuse and neglect are rampant. Indeed, it is estimated that over 40% of nursing home residents will experience some form of abuse during their stay, and nearly 90% of nursing home residents report being neglected. Given the limited interaction between a nursing home resident and the outside world, it is believed that these figures may be an underestimation.

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When a family places a loved one in a Maryland nursing home, the family leaves their loved one in the care of the home and its medical providers. Yet the medical providers may not always be doing what is best for the resident—and could even be putting the resident in danger.

If a resident passes away at a nursing home, one question to ask is which medications the resident was being given before the resident’s death. If the resident was given improper medication, the family may be able to bring a claim against the nursing home for the wrongful death of the resident.

Wrongful Death Claims in Maryland

A wrongful death claim is meant to compensate family members for the loss of their family member’s death due to the wrongful act of another person. Maryland’s Wrongful Death Act allows a wrongful death claim to be made “against a person whose wrongful act causes the death of another.” Normally, the claim must be made within three years of the family member’s death.

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When a loved one is placed in a Maryland nursing home, it is assumed that their basic physical and medical needs will be monitored and that they will be treated with dignity and respect. However, history has shown that nursing home employees, for whatever reason, too often engage in abusive or neglectful behavior. When authorities discover that nursing home abuse or neglect has occurred, those responsible can be held accountable for their actions in several ways.

Criminal Nursing Home Prosecutions

After allegations of abuse have been substantiated, criminal charges may be filed against a nursing home employee or administrator. Such cases are brought by the local prosecuting authority on behalf of the state and are designed to punish the wrongdoer for their actions. If they are found guilty of a criminal offense, the defendant can face fines, probation, and potentially incarceration.

While a criminal court may order some restitution to be paid to the victim, restitution amounts are normally limited in that they include only the amount of actual financial loss incurred by the victim. A criminal court will not award damages based on the victim’s pain and suffering.

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