A review performed by the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee discovered nearly 9,000 instances of nursing home abuse or neglect occurring at 5,283 nursing centers during a two year period. Almost one-third of all nursing facilities were responsible for at least one case of abuse during this time.
The study was both revealing and disturbing as it only reaffirms the fears that many people have when it comes to trusting their loved ones to the cares of other people. While some claim that the data is misleading, others believe that it is worth delving deeper into the state of our nursing care industry to determine whether we are suffering from a systemic problem.
Cases of Nursing Abuse Reveal a Disturbing Pattern
Of the 9,000 reports of nursing home abuse the committee reviewed, just over 1,600 resulted in an injury that required emergency care. Many of these cases detailed acts of physical, sexual, emotional and verbal abuse perpetrated against the victims. In one act, a staff member declared that he was tired of the patient before breaking the victim’s nose.
In other instances, fellow staff members were cited for failing to intervene when they witness a physical or sexual assault. Victims have been beaten, strangled, sexually assaulted, ridiculed and threatened in many of the reports. One mentally disabled patient was given a bribe in the form of cigarettes if he agreed to attack someone else living at the facility while workers watched and placed bets on the fight.
Another startling discovery was that the rate of abuse has been increasing, with higher rates of abuse every year than the last. A spokesperson for the California Association of Health Facilities claims that these figures are blown out of proportion, but one case of such heinous abuse is more for most people to stomach let alone over 1,600 incidents that required hospitalization.
More recent reports of disturbing abuse include a Chicago incident where numerous patients were physically restrained and a report coming out of San Francisco where a patient was discovered with ants crawling all over his body.
Low Wage Workers May Be to Blame
Many nursing homes employ staff at minimum wage, making it difficult to attract the attention of nurses and aides who have received formal training. This combined with the lack of employee training makes it difficult to retain employees and fosters contempt when the staff is overworked and unappreciated. Understaffing is a serious issue in the nursing care industry, but many homes might be understaffed simply because they are so rigid about their pay structure. Qualified workers refuse to apply for or take positions.
House Democrats have proposed setting minimum staffing levels so that nursing facilities must maintain an adequate nurse to patient ratio. Such a requirement would force nursing homes to seek out more qualified staff members and to pay them an appropriate wage for their work. In addition to the problem of underpaid and overworked staff, however, comes the problem of how to make sure people are paid properly.
While most nursing facilities do wish they could provide care, cuts to funding have forced them to reduce their overhead. Providing more funding through Medicare or Medicaid would allow the nursing homes to invest more in staff so long as they did not simply pocket the extra money. Minimum staff levels could work in tandem with this proposal to address the issue.
Disparity Between Nonprofit and For-profit Homes
Evidence has always suggested that nonprofit nursing homes are more likely to provide better care even though for-profit companies now represent over seven out of ten nursing homes. The primary reason for this may be that nonprofit homes save a lot of money on labor costs. Many of their workers are volunteers, and the homes have strong ties to the community— allowing them to collect donations. Nonprofit organizations also have access to more government funding, which can help them afford better staff and training.
Even nonprofit nursing homes are prone to failure, however. Another congressional report found that 70 percent of nursing homes in Pennsylvania failed their health and safety inspections. This included many nonprofit homes.
To counter these arguments, representatives, and administrators throughout the nursing care industry have claimed that the vast majority of nursing homes meet or expect the government’s expectations. They also point out that most of the incident reports are minor compared to the 1,600 that involved life-threatening injuries.
To protect your loved ones from nursing home abuse, you should request health inspection records, consider staff to patient ratio and take part in your loved one’s treatment plan so that you can detect any symptoms of abuse at the start. If you suspect that your loved one is being mistreated, do not hesitate to contact a lawyer to learn more about your rights and options.
The Chicago nursing injury attorneys of Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers LLC are award-winning litigators who specialize in nursing abuse law. Contact us today so that we can help you determine the most appropriate course of action if you feel your loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect.