Senate Special Committee on Aging Hears ‘Emotional Testimony’ on Nursing Home Abuse
The Senate Special Committee on Aging yesterday heard "emotional testimony" about "nightmarish cases" of nursing home abuse as the General Accounting Office released a report finding that such cases are reported only sporadically and rarely prosecuted, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports (Gilbert, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/4). "A crime is a crime, whether in or outside of a nursing home, where residents should not spend their days living in fear," Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), the chair of the committee, said (AP/Washington Times, 3/5). The GAO report, based on interviews and records in Georgia, Illinois and Pennsylvania, found that more than 30% of nursing homes have been cited by state inspectors for violations that "harmed residents or placed them in immediate jeopardy." And in half of the 111 abuse cases the report studied, nursing homes reported the incidents "days or weeks" after it occurred, despite a requirement that such incidents be reported within 24 hours (California Healthline, 3/4). Barbara Becker, an Indiana woman, told committee members how her 83-year-old mother died in a nursing home after being assaulted by an unstable patient, saying that nursing home crimes are treated "far more lightly" than others. "The biggest insult of the whole experience has been that had this happened in my own house, I would have been investigated. I would have been prosecuted, and I probably would have been put in prison. That's why I can't let it go," she said (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/4).
According to Breaux, the committee intends to urge governors to consider adopting a law used in Arkansas that requires nursing homes to report all deaths to a local coroner. The committee also wants to allocate funds to educate local police departments about nursing home abuse (Greene, Wall Street Journal, 3/4). CMS currently does not require nursing homes to notify police of suspected crimes, but agency officials said they are "acting to speed notification." CMS Administrator Tom Scully said his agency will instruct state officials to "immediately notify local law enforcement or state Medicaid fraud units, depending on the crime." CMS has also created a poster to be displayed in nursing homes that lists phone numbers for state ombudsmen, state compliance agencies and the CMS Medicare number, 1-800-Medicare (AP/Washington Times, 3/5). Committee member Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) urged action on a bill he has proposed to develop a national registry of nursing home workers who have abused patients. The measure would help prevent workers with a history of abuse in one state from being hired by nursing homes in another state (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 3/4). The American Association of Homes and Services, which represents many of the nation's nursing homes, supports such a registry as well as greater law enforcement of nursing home abuse, spokesperson Bruce Rosenthal said (Welch, USA Today, 3/4). Roughly 1.6 million Americans reside in about 17,000 nursing homes, which received $58.4 billion in Medicaid and Medicare reimbursements last year (AP/Washington Times, 3/5).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.