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Nursing Home Abuse: Are Surveyors Doing Enough?

aging-2379003_640.jpgThe Government Accountability Office (GAO) says Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services surveyors may not be doing enough to protect nursing home residents from abuse. Current regulations leave many gaps in the records that allow abusers to slip through the cracks. Enhancing reporting standards will help regulators establish patterns of abuse so action can be taken against abusers in the nursing home industry.

Abuse in Nursing Homes

There are currently more than 15,000 nursing homes in the United States. 1.4 million individuals rely on these facilities for their care. From 2013 through 2017, the number of abuse citations recorded in these facilities more than doubled. 

GAO analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data showed that 46% of reported abuse was physical abuse. This was followed closely by mental/verbal abuse at 44%. A total of 18% of abuse cases involved sexual assaults. 58% of perpetrators were staff members, while 30% were residents of nursing facilities. The remaining 12% of abusers were family members, friends, contractors, guests, and others with access to the facility.

Gaps in CMS Processes Result in Missed Referrals and Delays

GAO's investigation of nursing home surveys identified critical gaps in reporting requirements and record keeping. Serious assaults, rapes, and other forms of elder abuse are not always reported. Moreover, effective follow-up does not always happen.

GAO recommends CMS change the way it conducts surveys and the requirements for reporting abuse. The six recommendations made by GAO include:

  • Require state survey agencies to report any suspicion of criminal acts to law enforcement
  • Develop guidance to standardize information nursing homes should self-report
  • Report data on abuse and type of perpetrator
  • CMS should enhance oversight of state survey agencies 
  • CMS should substantiate and report allegations to law enforcement and state registries
  • CMS should develop plans governing what information should be contained within referrals to law enforcement

These recommendations will help abuse victims pursue justice against their abusers, but they won't stop the abuse from happening in the first place. A conviction can stop an abuser from repeating the crime, and it can close a bad nursing home down. However, victims will still have to live with the consequences of the abuse they suffered. These changes will help, but they won't stop the rising tide of elder abuse in America.    


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