Recent Developments In Nursing Home Abuse

Prosecutors allege that a La Canada woman stole nearly $88,000 from her elderly mother who resisded in an out-of-state nursing home. According to Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino, 68-year-old Pamela Land received power of attorney over her elderly mother’s assets, basically so she could pay the nursing home bill and take care of other pressing financial matters. Instead, prosecutors say that Ms. Land spent over $87,000 of her mother’s money on shopping sprees and her own living expenses. The theft occurred over a three-year period, from May 2013 to January 2016. Deputy Attorney General Melissa M. Simsen, who obtained indictments before a grand jury, called the case “despicable.”

“Stealing the life savings of an elderly person is reprehensible, but it’s especially gut wrenching when the crime is committed by the ailing victim’s own daughter,” Mr. Porrino said in a statement.

Caregiver Abuse

As bad as the elder abuse statistics are, up to 90 percent of cases are unreported, largely because there is usually either a close family relationship or a caregiver relationship. Elderly people may not report family members because they do not want to cause trouble, and elderly victims often don’t report non-family caregiver abuse because they fear reprisal. Additionally, some victims may not know about the abuse. Note that the victim in the above story had serious dementia.

Elder abuse certainly turns the stomach and shocks the conscious, but many people will do almost anything if they feel that no one is watching. Therefore, some common types of caregiver abuse include:

  • Financial: Rather than stealing cash or valuables, many private caregivers abuse financial trust, invent scams (e.g. “your grandson is in jail and needs $10,000 to get out”), or fraudulently induce seniors to sign financial documents, like powers of attorney or will codicils.
  • Physical: Many victims are quite frail, so a little physical force, such as a nudge or push, can cause a fall or other serious injury.

In California, caregivers typically have a high duty of care, because many elderly and frail patients are completely dependent on their caregivers. Moreover, if the abuser is a private caregiver, the employer is normally responsible for damages. Negligently-inflicted physical injuries usually occur within the course and scope of employment, and while financial abuse normally does not fall into this category, the employer may still be responsible for negligently hiring the caregiver.

Nursing Home Neglect

Almost 15 percent of Americans — 46.2 million — are at least 65, and that number will probably double in the next forty years. Many people are independent and active almost literally until their last day, but many of these individuals will reside in nursing homes, at least temporarily. Some structural changes in the nursing home industry over the last few years have made many of these facilities quite dangerous.

In the 1990s, as healthcare compliance costs increased due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and some other federal laws, a few nursing homes took on additional patients in order to increase revenue. Despite the overcrowding, that strategy was financially successful, at least for a while, so many other facilities did likewise. Nursing homes also recruited high-risk patients, because administrators could bill more Medicare hours in these cases. Finally, large healthcare conglomerates took over some smaller facilities, because their owners could not afford the increased costs. Such consolidation is often a good thing, because deep-pocketed owners can afford to put more money into facilities and care. However, at the same time, offsite nursing home administrators sometimes care for little except profit and loss.

In the early 2000s, Medicare reimbursement changed, and many nursing homes depend on state funding. Instead of reimbursing per intervention, the government paid per patient. Essentially, the facility lost money with every patient contact. Atthe same time, the reimbursement rates declined as well. As a result, most nursing homes currently lose about $25 per patient per day, and these losses really add up, especially in facilities already overfull with patients.

That bleak economic background creates a fertile environment for many types of abuse, including:

  • Physical: Wound dressings are unchanged, patients are not turned in bed, and there is other neglect as well.
  • Resident-on-Resident: In crowded facilities, many patients have little or no privacy, and territorial disputes sometimes become violent. Moreover, many facilities have trimmed staff levels to cut costs, so there is no one to resolve resident disputes before they explode.
  • Financial: To trim payroll costs, some nursing homes hire less-qualified employees who are more likely to steal money and commit other forms of financial abuse.

Nursing home abuse victims are entitled to compensation for economic and noneconomic damages. Perhaps more importantly, negligence lawsuits call attention to abuse, thus preventing future situations.

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