Vulnerable seniors living in nursing homes are entitled to the best of care. They should be able to live out their lives in a safe and secure environment. But tragically that is often not the case, and all too often those in charge are never reporting cases of suspected abuse to regulatory authorities – in spite of laws requiring them to do just that.
Two Studies Confirm Elder Abuse is Widely Under-Reported
Last month we discovered this disturbing report on the National Public Radio website. It highlighted two new studies from the Office of the Inspector General within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that revealed just how under-reported elder abuse currently is in U.S. nursing homes. NPR reports that the extent of elder abuse can be hard to quantify, but experts have long suspected that many cases go unreported. Now these two new government studies have confirmed those suspicions. One study looked at nursing home residents who are sent to the emergency room, while the second study considered Medicare claims involving cases of potential abuse regardless of where it took place. Both studies reached the same conclusion: “In many cases of abuse or neglect severe enough to require medical attention, the incidents have not been reported to enforcement agencies, though that’s required by law.”
In the first report, HHS officials examined Medicare claims from 2016 involving injuries such as head trauma, body bruises, bed sores and other conditions that might indicate physical abuse, sexual abuse or severe neglect. As NPR reports, “Gloria Jarmon, deputy inspector general for audit services, says her team found that nursing homes failed to report nearly 1 in 5 of these potential cases to the state inspection agencies charged with investigating them.” Jarmon added that, in some cases, “a person is treated in an emergency room [and] they’re sent back to the same facility where they were potentially abused and neglected.”
Elder Abuse: Even the Regulators are Failing to Alert Law Enforcement
But as the study revealed, failure on the part of nursing home staff is just the beginning of the problem. HHS looked at five states where nursing home inspectors were called in to conduct an investigation of possible abuse, and in those cases only three percent were ever reported to local law enforcement, as required by law. Almost all the cases basically went unreported even by the regulators who should have known better. In a classic bit of understatement, NPR said that “State inspectors of nursing homes who participated in the study appeared to be confused about when they were required to refer cases to law enforcement,” with some claiming they only called in law enforcement in “the most serious abuse cases” – in spite of the fact that all suspected instances of elder abuse are required to be reported and investigated by police.
Of course, as NPR correctly observes, “Elder abuse occurs in many settings — not just nursing homes.” In the second study, HHS considered two and a half years’ worth of Medicare claims involving the treatment of potential abuse or neglect of older adults, regardless of where it took place. (These incidents occurred between January 2015, and June 2017.) Once again, cases of suspected abuse were being systematically swept under the rug. “The federal auditors projected that, of more than 30,000 potential cases, health care providers failed to report nearly a third of the incidents to law enforcement or Adult Protective Services, even though the law requires them to make such reports,” NPR reports. Gloria Jarmon from DHHS told NPR, “It’s very important that the first person who notices this potential abuse and neglect reports it, because then they can begin the investigative process to determine if abuse or neglect occurred. And if it’s not reported, it can’t be tracked.”
HHS Claims CMS Should Be More Aggressive About Elder Abuse
In their report, HHS researchers also criticized the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), saying that Medicare could be doing a better job of minimizing elder abuse by tracking the data it has on hand and examining claims to look for possible abuse or neglect. “However,” says NPR, “[CMS], which pays for much of the health care for seniors and provides guidance on the reporting required of health care workers and health care facilities, has rejected most of the reports’ recommendations.” In what sounds to us like a weak and self-serving defense of the status quo, CMS claims that “it can take up to a year for Medicare claims to be filed,” so “analyzing such claims…would ‘not be [a] timely enough’ way to identify and respond to cases of elder abuse and neglect.” But HHS counters that “the vast majority of Medicare claims are filed within a month, not a year” – and besides, “just letting state agencies and health care providers know that they’re being tracked could reduce the problem of elder abuse.”
Family Involvement and Proper Planning Can Help Prevent Elder Abuse
If you have an aging loved one who is living in institutional care, or is otherwise in a vulnerable situation, you owe it to him or her, and to yourself, to make certain they are getting the best care possible. That may mean calling in a Geriatric Care Manager to review their situation and act as an advocate on behalf of your family. If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions we’ll suggest some companies for you to consider. We can also recommend some other precautions you can take to protect the person you love, because, as we often say, “aging is a family affair.”
Family dynamics are a critical, but often overlooked, aspect of a comprehensive retirement plan. Unless your family is informed of your wishes, and supportive of your desires as you age, you may be heading for one awkward and potentially divisive confrontation after another. But family engagement needs to be accompanied by other planning elements, including financial plans, medical coverage, housing desires and legal protection, because only with all these pieces of the puzzle working together can you truly call your retirement plan complete. Our term for that kind of plan is a LifePlan, since all aspects of your life in retirement are included – and the best way for you to learn more and get your retirement questions answered is to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich. When it comes to your retirement, it will almost certainly be the most helpful, most eye-opening few hours you can possibly spend.
For a complete calendar of upcoming seminars, visit our Live Events page and register for the event of your choice. It will be a pleasure to see you. And meanwhile, age on!
(originally reported at www.npr.org)