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Government website adds red icons to warn of nursing home abuse

About 5% of the nursing homes in New Mexico and around the country now have a red icon next to their name on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website. The icons are placed on Nursing Home Compare pages to let potential residents or their family members know that government investigators have discovered evidence of abuse at the facility. Icons are placed when abuse within the last year directly led to a patient's harm or neglect or abuse could have harmed a patient in each of the last two years. The icons are updated monthly and removed if a facility goes incident-free for a full year.

Groups advocating on behalf of the elderly have welcomed the addition of the red warning icons, but the nursing home industry says that they mislead the public because the current definitions of abuse are too broad. The icons are placed next to listings that award nursing homes a star rating for their health inspection results, staffing levels and quality measures. The CMS website also gives facilities an overall rating.

The icons were introduced after a string of nursing home neglect and abuse scandals raised questions about the effectiveness of oversight in the industry and prompted a number of congressional hearings. According to the Government Accountability Office, the number of nursing homes in violation of federal standards has more than doubled since 2013.

Warning icons provide families with information that could prevent their loved ones from being mistreated. Aggressive litigation that seeks to hold nursing homes financially responsible for neglect or abuse could also help to improve standards in the industry. Personal injury attorneys with experience in this area may pursue negligence claims against health care and assisted living facilities on behalf of patients who have suffered injury, loss or damage, and they might seek to ensure that the defendants in these lawsuits also face official sanctions.

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