Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nursing Home Abuse Occurs Even in Highly-Rated Facilities

A recent incident of nursing home abuse in California highlights how important is it for family members of nursing home patients to pay careful attention to their loved one's health. In particular, noting any unexplained bruising, change in medical condition, or change in mood is crucial to discovering any abuse or neglect that might be occurring.

A recent trial verdict awarded $7.75 million in compensatory and punitive damages to a family of Maria Arellano, a 71-year-old nursing home patient who had been severely abused by a nursing home employee. The facility where the victim resided, the Fillmore Convalescence Center, had been awarded a five-star rating from Medicare's Nursing Home Comparison. The fact that the facility received the highest possible rating demonstrates that nursing home abuse can occur in any facility, and family members must always be vigilant in looking for the often subtle signs that abuse is occurring.

Ms. Arellano had previously suffered a stroke that left her unable to verbally communicate. Her family members noticed she had bruises that could not be explained. After nothing was done in response to the family members' report to the facility management, they decided to place a hidden camera next to Ms. Arellano's bed. This revealed egregious abusive behavior, including pulling her by the hair, slapping her, bending her fingers, neck, and wrists, and treating her violently in general. Based on what was shown in the hidden camera video, the family filed a lawsuit and won the large verdict. The nursing home employee also pled no contest to criminal battery charges and is no longer working in the nursing home industry.

While one abusive employee does not necessarily mean that an entire facility is abusive towards its residents, it highlights a very important problem in discovering elder abuse: many victims are incapable of reporting the abuse themselves. This means that it is often up to the resident's family members to visit frequently and monitor their loved ones' health, and we encourage you to frequently check on your loved one and look for anything that might be amiss. If you have noticed a change in your loved one's physical or emotional condition and believe that your loved one might be a victim of elder abuse or neglect, we are here to help. Contact The Casiano Law Firm for a confidential consultation.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Report Finds California’s Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Are Unable to Stop Abuse

According to a new report, many cases of nursing home abuse and neglect are likely going unnoticed in California. The report attributes the problem to recent budget cuts as well as conflicting ombudsman duties and conflicting confidentiality laws.

On November 3, 2009, the California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes released the report revealing serious defects in California’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. California’s Elder Abuse Investigators: Ombudsmen Shackled by Conflicting Laws and Duties can be viewed here.

California’s ombudsmen were originally charged with advocating for the elderly in nursing homes and generally providing a watchdog presence. Today, their primary task is investigating claims of abuse and neglect within nursing homes. Where they used to collaborate with nursing homes and act as a liaison between management and residents, now they are placed in an adversarial role, which grants them less access to the inner-workings of the nursing homes they cover and makes them less effective advocates. Additionally, investigations are complex and time-consuming, so most ombudsmen no longer have time to make regular nursing home visits, establish any sort of regular presence, or provide advocacy services.

Unfortunately, ombudsmen also receive more complaints than they are able to investigate. Since last year’s massive state budget cut, the ombudsman program has been left with about half of the budget it previously had. It appears that individual ombudsmen are adjusting to the loss of resources by allowing some allegations of abuse to go uninvestigated. According to the report, ombudsmen forwarded 44 percent fewer complaints to outside agencies for enforcement since the budget was cut.

The report also states that, in many cases, ombudsmen have their hands tied when they try to pursue cases of alleged abuse. Typically, when ombudsmen investigate complaints and find one they believe to be well-founded, they are instructed to forward it to the appropriate outside agency for further investigation, protection, and potential prosecution. But many of these legitimate complaints are not being forwarded. A federal law prohibits ombudsmen from forwarding a complaint without a release of identity from the person who made the complaint. But many of the elderly making complaints refuse to release their names for fear of retaliation within their nursing home. In fact, according to the report, three quarters of people who made complaints refused to release their identities.

Elderly individuals who are subjected to abuse or neglect should not have to keep quiet in order to avoid further harm in the nursing homes where they live. If you or a loved one has been mistreated in a nursing home, contact The Casiano Law Firm for a confidential consultation.