A string of reports from national auditors of nursing homes covered by The Register-Mail has revealed thousands of instances of unreported nursing home abuse across the nation. According to auditors for the Health and Human Services inspector general, unreported nursing home abuse cases make up 18% of the 37,600 instances of in which a Medicare beneficiary was taken to the emergency room from a nursing facility in circumstances that suggested either abuse or neglect.
In order to calculate the proportion of unreported nursing home abuse, auditors only reviewed Medicare billing codes that had been linked to potential instances of neglect or abuse and only severe injuries or warning signs that resulted in hospitalization were considered. These signs were
- Head injuries
- Swallowing of foreign objects
With these criteria in place, auditors reported that in 2016 there were an estimated 6,600 cases of unreported nursing home abuse toward Medicare beneficiaries. This means that Federal laws requiring the reporting of any and all potential abuse of Medicare recipients were disregarded over 6,500 times.
One case of unreported nursing home abuse cited in the audits was that of a 65-year-old woman who was sent to the emergency room in critical condition. She was reported to be struggling to breathe, suffering kidney failure and existing in a delirious state. The patient was formally diagnosed to be suffering from opioid poisoning caused by her nursing facility. The report went on to explain that a nurse mistakenly copied a doctor’s orders incorrectly, resulting in the resident receiving excessive doses of pain medication as a result. After the resident was stabilized she was returned to her facility. The nurse was given remedial training. The auditors called it an example of unreported nursing home abuse since no statement was made to authorities.
the report also flagged potential unreported nursing home abuse among state nursing home inspectors, especially concerning reporting documented cases of abuse or neglect to local law enforcement. In a random sample of 69 cases across five states in which patient neglect or abuse was confirmed, two cases were reported to local law enforcement.
Investigators noted that, in many cases, unreported nursing home abuse continues because vulnerable residents fear retaliation for telling friends, relatives, or even authorities. In some cases, neglect and abuse are masked by medical conditions.
In response to the reports of unreported nursing home abuse, administrator Seema Verma has stated that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services doesn’t tolerate abuse or mistreatment issues significant fines to nursing homes that fail to report cases. In any event, the unreported nursing home abuse reports are a reminder to consumers to check frequently on the wellbeing of their family or friends who are residents of nursing facilities and for politicians to continue to push for protective laws surrounding nursing home residents.
For more information about the dangers of neglect, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Abuse Neglect Page.