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Staggering Number of Nursing Home Abuse Cases Go Undetected

Elderly Woman in Nursing HomeMore than 25 percent of serious nursing home abuse cases go unreported, according to a recent report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Health and Human Services. Given that there are more than 100,000 nursing home residents in California alone, the estimated number of unreported abuse cases is staggering.

The latest report is part of the OIG’s ongoing efforts to detect and combat elder abuse. As we have previously discussed on this San Diego Injury Blog, elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation are all too common in nursing homes.

A 2013 study of 2,000 nursing home residents found that 44 percent of participants acknowledged that they had been abused. An alarming 95 percent stated that they had been neglected or seen another resident neglected. Seniors often fail to report abuse themselves because of fear of retaliation, lack of physical and/or cognitive ability to report, or sheer embarrassment, which makes it even more important that others speak up.

Reporting Requirements of Skilled Nursing Facilities

Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) are legally obligated to internally investigate potential abuse or neglect within certain timeframes. Suspected abuse causing serious bodily injury must be reported to local law enforcement in two hours or less. If the suspicion of abuse does not involve serious bodily injury of the nursing home resident, facilities have 24 hours to report it.

To determine how well skilled nursing facilities are fulfilling their obligations, investigators compared emergency room records suggesting abuse with the corresponding nursing home’s safety record. The investigators found 134 cases of abuse of nursing home residents severe enough to require emergency treatment, the vast majority of which involved sexual assault. Of those, 28 percent of the abuse cases were likely not reported to local law enforcement.

"There's never an excuse to allow somebody to suffer this kind of torment, really, ever," said Curtis Roy, an assistant regional inspector general in the Department of Health and Human Services. In light of the findings, the OIG report concluded that CMS has inadequate procedures to verify that incidents of potential abuse or neglect of SNF residents are identified and reported.

Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

Loved ones are often a nursing home resident’s best advocate. Below are several warning signs that family and friends should watch out for:

  • Weight loss: If you notice your loved one is losing weight, it could be a sign that he or she is not receiving proper nutrition and hydration. Over time, this condition could be life threatening.
  • Bruising: Bruises are always concerning because they suggest that your loved one may have been injured in a fall, or even worse, been struck by another patient or healthcare worker.
  • Falls: While the elderly are prone to falls, serious or frequent incidents may indicate that the facility is not taking the proper precautions to keep your loved one safe. Always investigate the causes of falls and find out what will be done to prevent similar incidents in the future.
  • Bedsores: Pressure sores or decubitous ulcers (bedsores) are frequent signs of neglect. They are caused by prolonged pressure on the bodies of patients who are allowed to remain in one position for long periods of time. The painful sores are almost always preventable.
  • Restraints: Nursing homes may employ a wide variety of restraints, from physical cuffs to prescription medications. While these measures may be warranted, some facilities use them as a means to avoid providing necessary patient care.

If you or someone you love has fallen victim to nursing home abuse or negligence, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego personal injury attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.