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Nursing Home Abuse

gettyimages-52212197_wide-86123ab2adf0f3ee0b7fea6f0865a1f9fbbd2be7-s800-c85-300x169Over 25% of serious nursing home abuse cases go unreported to the police according to the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services; despite laws requiring that serious nursing home abuse cases must be reported to the police.

Here in Massachusetts, on February 8, 2016, an elderly resident of the Woodbriar Health Center fell off her bed according to Boston Globe. Although she sustained no injuries and was shortly after placed back on her bed with the assistance of the nursing home workers, a physician ordered that the resident be checked on every two hours for signs of medical issues until the next day. But by 5:30 a.m. the next morning, this elderly resident was found dead in bed. After an investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health into this death, it was found that no evidence of the checks was ever carried out. Following the investigation, the Department issued a letter to Woodbriar stating, “There was no evidence to indicate that following the fall, the facility’s policies and procedures regarding neurological checks were reviewed, and that all staff were trained on assessing and documenting a resident’s status following a fall….” This facility was already under fire by the Department for another resident’s death that took place just days before. In the first incident, an elderly resident fell and dislocated a hip when he was supposed to be assisted in walking but received no aid. Woodbriar Health Center now faces fines as high as $10,000 a day until safety is restored.

Horror stories like these unfortunately are not uncommon, and according to the National Center on Elder Abuse have been acknowledged as a widespread concern since the 1970s. To address these issues of abuse and to protect the interests of nursing home residents, Congress established the State Long Term Care Ombudsman Program in the Older Americans Act Amendments of 1978. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, in 2014, about 7.6% of the complaints submitted to Ombudsman programs concerned abuse, gross neglect, and exploitation. In general, elderly who experienced abuse have a 300% higher risk of death.

In Massachusetts the definition of elderly abuse pursuant to M.G.L. c. 19A, § 14, is “[A]n Act or omission which results in serious physical or emotional injury to an elderly person or financial exploitation of an elderly person; or the failure, inability or resistance of an elderly person to provide for him one or more of the necessities essential for physical and emotional well-being without which the elderly person would be unable to safely remain in the community; provided, however, that no person shall be considered to be abused or neglected for the sole reason that such person is being furnished or relies upon treatment in accordance with the tenets and teachings of a church or religious denomination by a duly accredited practitioner thereof.”

In the event of suspected abuse, some people are required to make a verbal report the department or designated agency. The failure to do so would result in a fine. M.G.L. c. 19A, §15(a) states, “Any physician, physician assistant, medical intern, dentist, nurse, family counselor, probation officer, social worker, policeman, firefighter, emergency medical technician, licensed psychologist, coroner, registered physical therapist, registered occupational therapist, osteopath, podiatrist, director of a council on aging, outreach worker employed by a council on aging, executive director of a licensed home health agency or executive director of a homemaker service agency or manager of an assisted living residence who has reasonable cause to believe that an elderly person is suffering from or has died as a result of abuse, shall immediately make a verbal report of such information or cause a report to be made to the department or its designated agency and shall within forty-eight hours make a written report to the department or its designated agency. Any person so required to make such reports who fails to do so shall be punished by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars.”

If you or a loved one has suffered whilst in the care of a nursing facility, then please contact one of our experienced nursing home abuse attorneys at Mitcheson & Lee to find out how we can help you.