More than one in four cases of sexual and physical abuse against nursing home patients went unreported to police, a new government report claims.
The audit faults Medicare for failing to enforce a federal law that requires nursing homes to report abuse immediately.
The Health and Human Services inspector general’s office issued an ‘early alert’ Monday on its findings from a large sampling of cases in 33 states. Investigators urge Medicare to take corrective action right away.
‘We hope that we can stop this from happening to anybody else,’ said Curtis Roy, an audit manager with the inspector general’s office, which investigates fraud, waste and abuse in the health care system.
The audit is part of a larger ongoing probe, and additional findings are expected, he explained.
The Health and Human Services inspector general’s office has cited Medicare for failing to enforce a federal law that requires nursing homes to report sexual abuse immediately (stock image)
With roughly 1.4 million people living in US nursing homes, quality is an ongoing concern. Despite greater awareness, incidents of abuse, assault and neglect are still taking place.
The investigation comes at a time when the number of nursing home residents is growing rapidly because more people are living to their 80s and 90s.
Medicaid is the main payer for long-term care, while Medicare covers doctors’ services and hospital care for elderly people and the disabled.
Using investigative data analysis techniques, the inspector general’s office identified 134 cases in which hospital emergency room records indicated possible sexual or physical abuse and neglect of nursing home residents.
The incidents spanned the two-year period of 2015 to 2016.
Illinois had the largest number of incidents overall, with 17. It was followed by Michigan (13), Texas (nine), and California (eight).
In 38 cases, investigators could find no evidence in hospital records that the incident had been reported to local law enforcement at all, despite a federal law requiring prompt reporting by nursing homes, as well as similar state and local requirements.
‘Based on the records we had available to us, we could not determine that they had been reported to law enforcement,’ said Roy.
The federal statute was implemented more than five years ago, but investigators found that Medicare has not enforced its requirement to report those incidents.
According to the law, if nursing homes do not report the incidents in a timely manner they run a risk of being fined $300,000.
Nursing home personnel must immediately report incidents that involve a suspected crime, and it must be within a two-hour window if there’s serious bodily injury, the law states.
If there is no serious injury authorities must be notified within 24 hours.
Medicare ‘has inadequate procedures to ensure that incidents of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries residing in (nursing homes) are identified and reported,’ the inspector general’s report said.
MAN RECEIVES 23 YEARS IN PRISON FOR RAPING TWO NURSING HOME PATIENTS
A 58-year-old was sentenced to 23 years behind bars for raping nursing home residents.
Luis Gomez was charged with raping two elderly women at the Brian Center in Waynesville, North Carolina.
One of the women, who entered the courtroom in a wheelchair with two oxygen tanks behind her, said Gomez took advantage of her on a night in February 2016 when he was helping her use the bathroom.
The second woman came forward after hearing the story of the first. Their nurse insisted on notifying police against her boss’s wishes, which triggered the investigation.
The prosecutor said Gomez has been praying on Alzheimer’s patients for years because they are forgetful.
Six other women have now come forward with their own accusations, the prosecutor said. These women are in different facilities in the area – and none of them were believed until the first woman came forward.
The trial went on for a week and concluded when Gomez was found guilty of raping both women and convicted on six counts including forcible rape with a physically helpless victims.
Gomez claims he is innocent and is appealing the verdict.
Often claims by nursing home residents are dismissed as drug-induced hallucinations, signs of dementia or cries for attention.
When they do go to court, in many cases victims’ memories are proven unreliable or they are no longer alive to testify.
Information from CNN.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in a statement: ‘Nursing home resident safety is our priority and primary focus.’
The statement also claimed that both centers are committed ‘to ensure these vulnerable people are properly cared for, and that all viable or alleged instances involving abuse or neglect are fully investigated and resolved.’
The agency said it has long required nursing homes to immediately report abuse and neglect to state officials, and will have a formal response to the inspector general’s findings once the audit is complete.
The inspector general is urging Medicare to start systematically scouring computerized billing records for tell-tale signs of possible abuse of nursing home residents.
Investigators used that approach to find the cases, matching emergency room and nursing home records.
Of the 38 unreported cases, 31 involved alleged or suspected rape or sexual abuse – which is roughly four in every five.
But even among the 96 cases that were ultimately reported to police, investigators were unable to tell if the federal requirement for ‘immediate’ notification was followed.
In one case classified as ‘reported to law enforcement,’ an elderly woman with verbal and mobility limitations was taken to the emergency room after she was allegedly sexually assaulted by a male resident of the same nursing home.
The report said two silver-dollar-sized bruises were noted on her right breast.
Nursing home staff had helped the woman bathe and change clothes after the incident.
‘These actions could have destroyed any evidence that may have been detected using the rape kit,’ said the report.
Nursing home employees did not immediately report the incident to police, although the federal reporting requirement was in effect.
The facility ‘should have reported the incident to law enforcement within two hours of witnessing the incident,’ the report said.
Instead, the following day the nursing home contacted the woman’s family, who called the police, triggering an investigation.
Citing a separate probe by state officials, the inspector general’s report said the nursing home ‘contacted local law enforcement in an attempt to keep law enforcement from investigating the incident.’
The state’s report found that the nursing home told police ‘we were required to report it but that we were doing our own internal investigation and did not need (police) to make a site visit…no one was interested in pressing charges.’
Regardless of that statement, police continued their investigation.
The state later cited the nursing home for failing to immediately notify the patient’s doctor and family. The facility was also cited for other violations of federal regulations.
However, state officials also classified the incident as resulting in ‘minimum harm or potential for actual harm.’
No other details were provided in the federal report. The inspector general’s office reported all 134 cases to local police.