In 1986, the U.S. Congress requested the Institute of Medicine to conduct a study that would evaluate the quality of care in Medicare – and/or Medicaid-certified nursing homes. The study revealed that the quality of care was nothing short of appalling as many residents, which included elders, children and young adults with severe disabilities, were often neglected, abused and received inadequate care. The results of these were the many cases of bedsores or pressure ulcers, injuries due to slip and fall, sudden weight loss, dehydration and malnutrition that further worsened residents’ already deteriorating health; some even led to new serious injuries or worse, to wrongful deaths.
Negligence in nursing homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is “failure by a caregiver or other responsible person to protect an elder from harm, or the failure to meet needs for essential medical care, nutrition, hydration, hygiene, clothing, basic activities of daily living or shelter, which results in a serious risk to health and safety.”
Those who commit acts of abuse and negligence in nursing homes can be charged with a federal crime because these acts are against the stipulations of the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, which mandates nursing home facilities certified by, or receiving payment from, Medicare and Medicaid, to:
- Provide services and activities that will help attain or maintain the highest possible physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of every resident in accordance with a written plan of care; and,
- Ensure that residents are free from corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion and all forms of abuses, including, but not limited to, verbal, physical, mental abuse, and sexual abuse.
The Act also addresses issues, such individual patient assessment, assurance of hygiene and nutrition and sufficiency of staffing (as lack of staff is a major contributory factor to acts of abuse and neglect); furthermore, it establishes the “Residents’ Bill of Rights, which is a list of rights that will empower residents in the face of neglect and/or abuse. Some of these rights include (taken from http://www.nursinghomealert.com/residents-bill-of-rights):
- The right to live in a caring environment free from abuse, mistreatment and neglect
- The right to live without the fear of enduring physical restraint
- The right to privacy
- The right to receive personal care that accommodates physical, medical, emotional and social needs
- The right to a social contact/interaction with fellow residents and family members
- The right to be treated with dignity
- The right to exercise self-determination
In 2014, there were little above 15,000 certified nursing home facilities in the U.S. and about 1.5 million residents and patients. Records from the American Association for Justice, however, show that about 90% of all nursing homes lack the required number of staff – this is quite alarming since it is in understaffed nursing home facilities where instances of abuse and neglect are widespread.
Families with loved ones in nursing homes should know that acts of abuse or neglect can be a federal offense. Thus, any sign that their loved one is experiencing acts of cruelty while under the care of a nursing facility, they should never hesitate in contacting a nursing home abuse lawyer, who can explain to them know their rights and advise them on the best legal action they can pursue against the liable party.