Stories of horrifying abuse and neglect in U.S. nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities were recounted at a hearing before the Senate Committee on Finance on July 23. It came one day after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report urging improved and effective oversight by state agencies, providers, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to protect the estimated 1.4 Medicare beneficiaries receiving care in these facilities.
Megan H. Tinker, senior advisor for legal affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG), told the committee about an 85-year-old Medicaid beneficiary who suffered abuse at the hands of the owner of a long-term care facility.
She testified that CMS, state agencies overseeing these facilities, and providers were not doing nearly enough to protect elderly or disabled individuals in more than 15,500 nursing homes in the U.S. Among the factors she cited:
· Many critical incidents including death, assault, and serious injuries, and nursing home deficiencies such as mold and other unsafe conditions, go unreported
· Background checks on nursing home staff are not conducted in many cases due to loopholes in state law, and 13 states that have no such background requirements
· CMS and states have failed to examine data in a way that could prevent potential abuse and neglect at these facilities
· A lack of oversight has enabled some facilities to continue operating without correcting deficiencies and substandard care
· Some providers have failed to alert law enforcement to incidents of potential abuse or neglect in thousands of cases
Tinker encouraged CMS to immediately take steps to protect residents and improve nursing homes and assisted living facilities in part by compiling and reviewing data that indicates potential abuse or neglect, and by informing states of the availability of this data to ensure compliance with their mandatory reporting laws.
GAO Health Care Director John E. Dicken told the committee that 58 percent of perpetrators of abuse are nursing home staff, and 30 percent are other residents. He said improvements must be made to the government’s rating system for nursing homes so consumers can make informed decisions when comparing facilities.
Experts stated that overall, many nursing homes and assisted living facilities do a good job of caring for their residents. But the Senate panel and the experts agreed that more must be done to address and eliminate abuse and neglect in nursing homes across America.