Senior abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins recently reported about changes in Wisconsin tort reform laws that prohibit plaintiffs from using state investigation reports in court. Victims of abuse and neglect are also facing major hurdles in obtaining justice for their suffering, as nursing home employees are increasingly failing to report injuries and mistreatment, which is required by federal law.
Even more alarming is that states rarely punish nursing homes for this failure. One such case involved a 65-year-old woman, Kathy Witt, who was a resident at Wisconsin’s Mayville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Among other physical ailments, Witt suffered from severely low blood pressure, which caused extreme dizziness whenever she stood or sat up. One day, Witt was in her bed and pressed the call light to have a nurse help her get up. She waited for help for a number of minutes, finally deciding to stand up unassisted. She fell, hit her head on the floor, and died a few days later.
Mayville and all other nursing homes with Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are required by federal law to report incidents of alleged mistreatment, neglect and abuse – including injuries from unknown derivation – within 24 hours. The Wisconsin home, just like thousands of others throughout the country, never reported the accident that led to the resident’s death, and there are currently no plans to discipline Mayville for that failure.
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In another case, KindredHearts, located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, failed to report a 2008 resident death. The death was reportedly caused by employee neglect. Assisted living facilities and nursing homes not taking Medicare and Medicaid have seven days to report incidents such as this, after which the state may step in to investigate the facility.
One such investigation resulted after the Sunrise Care Center in Milwaukee failed to report a resident’s fall that resulted in a fractured hip. The state determined the fall occurred because of negligence, and cited the facility for failing to report, failing to develop plans to prevent neglect and abuse, and failing to follow resident care plans.
Experts say that this type of failure is far from uncommon, and recent news reports confirm this troubling fact. More often than not, state healths departments only learn about incidents of abuse, neglect and mistreatment after a family member or the resident themselves file a complaint. Therefore there is no way to possibly know how many incidents go unreported. In one study, 10% of nursing home nurses reported that they had committed one or more acts of physical abuse in the past year, 40% admitted to committing psychological abuse, and 14% reported seeing abuse and neglect in their facilities every day.
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Neglecting residents is an insidious and often fatal form of abuse. In Minneapolis, for example, a nursing home employee did not administer CPR to a resident during his final breaths. Earlier that day, the resident suffered from a vomiting episode and the same employee failed to notify the resident’s doctor. This was the second death within two weeks involving nursing home employees failing to administer resuscitation and neglecting to properly document incidents.
Although nursing homes that accept Medicare and Medicaid are inspected every nine to 15 months, state health teams cannot catch everything, especially unreported incidents. The only people who would expose such incidents are the residents themselves or their families. Nursing home residents, however, often suffer from severe cognitive disorders, and are already extremely vulnerable, fearing retaliation if they speak up. Their families, if they visit at all, are usually not acutely aware of all the warning signs. In some cases, nursing homes file only internal reports after an incident, never submitting it to proper state authorities because they do not think – or do not want anyone to know – that the facility was at fault.
Elder abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins urge the public to push for more transparency in nursing home record keeping. The most significant changes in nursing home systems come as a result of legal action, which can only be effectively conducted when all the facts are brought to light.