A recent government audit in 33 states found that more than one out of four possible cases of abuse against nursing home patients were not reported to authorities. In the cases that were reported, nursing homes frequently violated the reporting guidelines and failed to report the incidents within the required timeframes.
An Ongoing Concern
With over 1.4 million Americans in nursing homes, quality care is an ongoing concern. That number is expected to rise as more seniors continue to live longer. In New Mexico, there are over 116 assisted living facilities. The average cost of assisted living is nearly $3,500 per month, which is higher than the national average of $2,877 per month.
With average Social Security payments at only $1,180 per month, the remaining assisted living costs are often offset by Medicaid. Even so, at any cost, people in assisted living facilities should not be worried about abuse. Unfortunately, the abuse comes in many forms, both physical and sexual. Sexual assault from other patients is not unheard of and physical abuse and lack of acceptable care from employees is a continuing problem.
The Elder Justice Act (EJA) was designed to help prevent, detect, and prosecute elder abuse. While efforts have been made to combat abuse, underreporting is still a concern despite federal penalties.
When abuse happens, federal law states that the incident must be reported to local law enforcement within 2 hours for serious bodily injuries, but for minor injuries, the window is 24 hours. The federal statute was enacted more than five years ago, but Medicare has been lax on enforcement. Medicare argued that they have long required immediate reporting of any abuse.
In New Mexico, abuse is required to be reported to law enforcement immediately. Complaints are managed by the ombudsman and timely investigations are key. If the ombudsman will not be investigating the complaint, the office is supposed to notify the complainant.
Unfortunately, nursing home abuse is an undeniable problem. Underreported cases of mistreatment undermine the severity of the issue, but it does happen. In many cases, the abuse is not reported by the nursing home because it would reflect poorly on their treatment of residents.
If you suspect abuse you can file a complaint against the facility. If you are notified of abuse, make sure to ask the facility if the abuse was reported to law enforcement. If they are unwilling, you can always report the incident to law enforcement yourself. Having the incident documented is the first step toward justice.