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Federal study finds nursing home abuse and neglect underreported

In a June 2019 report, the Office of Inspector General, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced the findings of its investigation into nursing home failure to report potential abuse and neglect when the law requires mandatory reporting. Looking at 2016 emergency room data, auditors extrapolated that at least 6,600 incidents of possible abuse or neglect presented to doctors in the ER went unreported by nursing homes to oversight authorities, reports the Associated Press.

This means that in almost one in five suspicious ER visits by Medicare recipients living in nursing homes, the nursing facilities did not report that elder abuse and neglect might have been involved, as required by law. The investigation also revealed that involved government agencies did not always report “substantiated abuse” to local law enforcement officials.

The report describes the challenge of determining how often something did not happen, which, of course, is not recorded anywhere. The auditors looked at billing codes that could point to abuse or neglect as the reason the seniors ended up in the ER (gangrene, shock, fractures and others). The federal auditors then worked with state inspectors to come up with an accurate estimate of how often mandatory reporting was not occurring.

The bottom line of these disturbing findings is that too often, elder abuse and neglect in nursing homes are not reported, investigated and prosecuted. This likely means that nursing home employees who might be responsible for injury and neglect are not identified by government agency or law enforcement investigations, so dangerous staff members stay on and internal practices continue, putting more vulnerable elders at risk.

AP reports that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, or CMS, is stepping up its nursing home oversight, but in the meantime, any Coloradan who suspects abuse or neglect of a loved one in a nursing home should call emergency services for acute injury or seek medical treatment and then seek information about legal options for seeking justice.

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