Nursing Home Abuse Not Reported in ‘Timely Manner,’ Often Not Prosecuted, GAO Report Finds
Physical and sexual abuse of nursing home residents is "frequently not reported in a timely manner," and "few allegations of abuse are ultimately prosecuted," an 18-month investigation by the General Accounting Office has found. The New York Times reports that the investigation, which based its findings on interviews and record reviews in Georgia, Illinois and Pennsylvania, found that more than 30% of U.S. nursing homes have been cited by state inspectors for violations that "harmed residents or placed them in immediate jeopardy" (Pear, New York Times, 3/3). The three states studied have some of the largest nursing home populations in the United States. In half of the 111 abuse cases the report studied, nursing homes reported alleged abuse "days or weeks" after it occurred, even though they are required to report such incidents within 24 hours (Kuhnhenn, San Jose Mercury News, 3/3).
The GAO report notes several reasons for the delay in investigations and prosecutions of nursing home abuse, including that patients often are reluctant to report abuse because they "fear retribution." Likewise, patients' relatives do not report abuse sometimes because they fear the patients will be told to leave. Nursing home managers may not report abuse because they fear "adverse publicity" or fines and other penalties imposed by state regulators. In addition, nursing home workers often do not report abuses because they fear losing their jobs. The GAO report notes that nursing homes rarely face penalties for failing to report abuse (New York Times, 3/3). Further, states are more likely to recommend corrective action than civil penalties for nursing homes facing abuse charges (San Jose Mercury News, 3/3). The report notes that because there is no national list of nursing home workers who have abused patients, those who do so in one state often can be hired by "unsuspecting nursing homes" in a different state. In 1998, the HHS inspector general recommended a national registry of such workers; Medicare officials are "still studying the feasibility of the idea," the report states (New York Times, 3/3). The report is expected to be released today. Also today, the Senate Special Committee on Aging is scheduled to examine nursing home abuse and hear recommendations on safeguards. The American Health Care Association, which represents most of the nation's skilled-care facilities, "welcomed the congressional spotlight but rejected any suggestions that abuse is on the rise," the Mercury News reports. "The bad actions of two percent of nursing homes overshadow the good works of the hundreds of thousands of health care professionals who are providing quality compassionate care," AHCA's Alan DeFend said (San Jose Mercury News, 3/3). A "Morning Edition" story about the GAO report will be available in RealPlayer online today after noon ET.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.