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3 Reasons That Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect Is Not Reported

Woman laying in a hospital bed
Even a single incidence of abuse or neglect at a nursing home is unacceptable, but the sad truth is that it occurs regularly among the 17,000 nursing homes in the United States. According to the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys, approximately 5 million elders are abused each year and 36% of nursing home residents have witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse in the past year. Sadly, the frequency of nursing home abuse and neglect is actually higher than these numbers suggest because these terrible offenses often go unreported.
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There are three main reasons that nursing home abuse and neglect go unreported:

#1. Some Residents Are Unable or Afraid to Report When They Are Abused

The residents of nursing homes are some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Many depend on nursing homes for their basic needs and to accomplish daily tasks we take for granted. When a nursing home is guilty of a case of nursing home abuse or neglect, some of the victims are mentally or physically unable recognize what has happened to them or unable to communicate the incident to someone who can intervene.

In other cases, the residents are afraid that by speaking up about something that happened to themselves or to a fellow resident, it would result in punishment or retaliation by the nursing home. Other incidents of neglect can go on because the residents simply do not want to be a bother.

The risk of abuse is greatly reduced for residents who have strong advocates, such as family and friends regularly checking on their well-being. Often it is up to this support system to investigate the signs of nursing home abuse.

#2. Nursing Homes Have a Financial Motive to Hide Incidents

Research suggests that the elderly who live in nursing homes are much more likely to suffer abuse and neglect that those that live at home. Nursing homes can be sued if they are found to be negligent. They can also incur government fines or even lose their license, which could strip them of government funding most facilities depend on to operate. So when the nursing home controls all the information related to a matter of abuse or neglect on their watch, there is a financial motive to sweep the incident under the rug.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG), a part of the Department of Health & Human Services, did a study in 2017 to test whether skilled nursing homes were reporting cases of abuse and neglect. The OIG study found that in 28% of incidents where there was evidence of potential abuse or neglect, that the nursing did not report the incident to the police as they are required to do.

Most of the staff members of nursing homes are dedicated professionals, and these health care workers are vastly overworked and underpaid. Although some instances of nursing home abuse and neglect are the result of malicious abuses by staff members, many other incidents are the result of nursing home mismanagement and penny-pinching. Lack of training and understaffing, motivated by corporate greed, is rampant in the nursing home industry, especially at for-profit facilities. Many nursing homes know they have a dangerous situation where there simply are not enough resources to properly care for every resident, and they allow avoidable misery, injuries, and deaths to occur to elderly residents as just another part of doing business. In many cases, it is up to the nursing home to report their own failures, when doing so could negatively impact their bottom line.

#3. The Nursing Home Inspections Program Has Systematic Failures

The Centers for Medicare and & Medicaid Services (CMS) provides oversight and funding for most of the nation’s nursing homes. With coordination at the state level, they inspect these nursing homes to ensure they are meeting government standards for staffing, safety, and other requirements. Other than the threat of an expensive lawsuit, these inspections are the only deterrent for rampant nursing home abuses. Still, critics have often found that inspectors have been too lenient on serious and chronic issues at nursing homes, and often fail to include serious and repeat infractions on their reports, particularly with regard to cleanliness and infection control.

Regular unannounced inspections, called surveys, are done at least once per year, or more if there is a report of an incident or an issue. These inspections can lead to fines depending on the severity and frequency of the violations. The nursing home not only can incur a fine, but the findings of inspections can impact their 5-star rating on the CMS’s own website, which is a powerful and influential tool used by consumers when choosing a nursing home. The nursing homes can challenge the inspectors’ findings, and during this long and largely secret appeal process, the violations are not made public. TheNew York Times found that even after nursing homes lose their appeals, that the CMS fails to report the incidents, in what they are calling a glitch.

Contact Our Experienced Firm

At Brown & Barron, we put a special focus on nursing home law, and we treat you like family. Our lawyers understand the complex set of rules that nursing homes must follow to ensure the well being of their residents. The sad truth is that nursing homes often break these rules, resulting in preventable injuries and deaths. We have the experience and methods to uncover the truth.

When Brown & Barron gets involved, you get the answers and the justice your family deserves.

Call us today at (410) 698-1717 to schedule a free consultation with our experienced nursing home abuse attorneys.

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