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Nursing Home Fraud Neglect & Abuse Much Too Common

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Message Evelyn Pringle
Residents in nursing homes are some of the most vulnerable and helpless citizens in the US, with nearly 1.7 million elderly and disabled persons residing in about 17,000 facilities. And as difficult as it is to believe in this day and age, there is indisputable evidence to show that many nursing home residents are being neglected and abused on a daily basis.

Legislation was passed by Congress in 1987, with a goal to improve nursing home care. However, following an in-depth investigation, a recent report released by Consumer Reports, found inadequate care in nursing homes is still very common, particularly in the large for-profit corporations that run nursing home chains all across the nation.

In order to receive funding from public health care programs like Medicare, the Nursing Home Reform Act requires the nursing home industry to comply with federal regulations related to the quality of care of the elderly in nursing homes and requires that "a nursing facility must care for its residents in such a manner and in such an environment as will promote maintenance or enhancement of the quality of life of each resident."

The revelations in recent cases about abuse and neglect in nursing home, prove that those requirements are not being met. One of the worst examples of documented harm to the nation's elderly began in February 2006, during an annual review by state inspectors in Kentucky that found an extremely high number of serious health and safety violations at the Lakeside Heights Nursing Center in Highland Heights, Kentucky's largest nursing home with 286 beds.

According to a report by the inspectors, obtained in April 2006, by the Cincinnati Post through an open records request, the inspectors found 10 residents had been placed in what the state termed "immediate jeopardy" because of substandard practices and procedures, including one patient who died in November 2005, after the staff failed to respond with proper treatment to a health problem with which he was diagnosed.

The report said the facility was often critically understaffed and that on 24 occasions only one licensed nurse was assigned to the entire facility and at times, the nurse on duty was not trained to administer intravenous fluids which placed three residents in jeopardy.

According to the report, the residents often could not get services or supplies from outside vendors because of bills that the nursing home had not paid. The inspectors documented one case in which a patient who was frequently choking on solid food could not get to an appointment with a doctor because the home was in arrears to the cab company.

The report said the local water district threatened to shut off service to the facility if the nursing home did not make immediate payments on an overdue bill of $40,000.

Those and many other problems in the report led Kentucky's Inspector General, Robert Benvenuti III, to tell the Cincinnati Post, that this was the worst case he had seen in his 26 months on the job. Mr Benvenuti said a major source of the problems was too few workers, which kept basic care from being performed.

In one instance, a state inspector saw a resident sitting, urine-soaked, in a wheelchair and two new pressure sores were identified on the patient's buttocks and the patient was not being checked every 2 hours as required by law.

In another case, an inspector saw a resident moving about the home in a wheelchair with an open, uncovered wound to the big toe and observed dirt and pieces of hair stuck to the wound, according to the report.

The resident reported having asked for new dressing at 7 am that morning, and when nobody responded, removed the old dressing. The report noted that a new dressing was not provided until 5:30 pm that day.

With not enough staff to get patients out of bed or turned in bed, inspectors found that residents developed new bed sores, or sores that they already had had worsened and that 31 residents did not receive doctor-ordered sore treatment.

One patient died of an electrolyte imbalance after the nursing home failed to follow the instructions of doctor ordered treatment. The report said, that nursing home staff failed to notify doctors of changes in the patient's condition, failed to properly assess the patient's condition, and failed to establish a plan to care for that person.

According to the Cincinnati Post, another resident did not receive treatment for blood coming from his mouth for eight hours, during which time bleeding also started in a chest wound and his rectum.

In another case, a resident left the nursing home unsupervised without permission several times and once walked to a nearby store, bought alcohol and was later found sitting in a puddle of urine, wreaking of alcohol, in a nursing home room. Another time the police returned the patient to the facility and staff had not even realized that he had left.

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Evelyn Pringle is a columnist for OpEd News and investigative journalist focused on exposing corruption in government and corporate America.
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