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Nursing Home Abuse Widespread, Rarely Investigated: Report

An ongoing investigative report published by the Star Tribune warns that thousands of cases involving nursing home abuse and neglect go uninvestigated and unresolved…and that’s just in the state of Minnesota. 

In the first of a five-part series, Left to Suffer, the Star Tribune indicates that virtually none of that state’s nursing home abuse reports are resolved, let alone investigated. While it is unclear how indicative this is of other states, it is far more likely that Minnesota is the rule, and not the exception.

According to the report, there were 25,226 reports of physical and mental abuse, neglect, theft, and unexplained injuries reported to the Minnesota Department of Health in 2016. Those reports include more than 2,000 claims of physical and emotional abuse. At least 97% of those cases were never even investigated by state officials.

Minnesota officials say they just do not have the staff or funding to investigate the unending flood of complaints about often horrific acts perpetrated against defenseless, elderly nursing home residents, whose families put them there, and often pay heavily, under the belief that they would be safer and better cared for than if they stayed at home.

Some of the complaints are extremely disturbing and would seem to warrant immediate attention, such as an 85-year-old beaten in the face and stomach repeatedly by an employee as other workers watched, cases of sexual molestation in full view of other employees, and the placing of elderly dementia patients in dark, cold solitary confinement rooms for hours at a time; a practice more often associated with hardened criminals in prison.

When the state does review complaints, those investigations can drag on for months, by which time prosecuting abusers can be extremely difficult because they may have to rely on the months’ old recollection of someone suffering Alzheimer’s or dementia. When nursing homes themselves are fined, there’s no guarantee the state will ever force them to actually pay, according to the report.

The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees nursing home standards nationwide, has cited Minnesota for two years in a row for categorizing often grievous and horrific reports of abuse as non-urgent. And over the past five years, only two nursing homes have lost their licenses. There are nearly 1,800 senior care facilities licensed in the state.

The problem is just expected to get worse as the large baby boomer population ages.

In September, U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch, called on the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which oversees CMS, to explain how it plans to combat similar problems at nursing homes nationwide.

The letter came following an “Early Alert” (PDF) by the DHHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) on August 24, warning of potential abuse and neglect in nursing homes that are federally funded by Medicare. The report found 134 injuries of Medicare beneficiaries at skilled nursing facilities in 2016, which may have been the result of negligent care or abusive actions, but only 96 of those incidents were disclosed to the authorities.

The report raised concerns that many incidents at facilities that receive Medicare funding are going unreported, despite mandatory reporting requirements.

However, the Star Tribune’s report seems to suggest that there were many times that many unreported cases in Minnesota alone, suggesting that the alert’s numbers just barely scratched the surface of a much larger problem nationwide.

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