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Are Nursing Home Standards Being Lightened?

Written by NHAbuseGuide on May 31, 2015

With statistics showing that nursing home patients do not survive long (averaging around a year according to many studies), it would seem that standards of care and reports of neglect would be closely monitored. At the very least, it would seem that calls for improved or enhanced practices would be issued.

However, a startling report from Community Legal Services reveals that Philadelphia nursing homes have persistently escaped monetary fines or even close scrutiny of neglect complaints filed between 2012 and 2014. The report shows that a whopping 92% of the cases were dismissed by the city’s Department of Health.

Why? The journalists investigating the issue point the finger of blame at a lowering or loosening of standards. Citing a departmental memo from late 2012, the report explains that administrators in the city’s nursing homes were encouraged to “refrain from reporting specific events,” including such transgressions as medication errors, falls resulting in injury, inappropriate discharges and even “misadventure” when catheters, feeding tubes, or other similar equipment were in use.

Unfortunately, this pattern of seeking to downplay life-threatening and/or fatal incidents is not limited to the city of Philadelphia alone, and a further investigation revealed that manipulation of data and bending of truths have been used to downgrade the seeming severity of injuries.

As an example, journalists describe a woman who suffered from an undetected urinary tract infection (a noted sign of elder neglect or abuse). This led to sepsis, and then death from a negative reaction to medication. Noting that a complaint was made at every level, and yet her case never substantiated.

The woman’s surviving family members note that the nursing home got away with murder, and it begs the question: Are they correct? Are nursing homes behaving in such a neglectful way as to be guilty of murder?

What Is Happening?

The report delves into this, noting that the Pennsylvania DOH seemed to minimize the “characterizations” of complaints, never managing to classify a single negligent death as a “severe” harm. In fact, the reporters note, “A handful of negligent resident deaths within that same timeframe were classified as either minimal or actual harm.”

And what is the ultimate logic behind this? Essentially, the more the severe the harm inflicted the more severe the penalty imposed on the nursing home in question. Additionally, the manipulation of the facts, downplaying the poor quality of any of the nursing homes in question, makes it nearly impossible for potential residents or families to make sound decisions.

As the article notes, “Mischaracterizations of harm don’t just interfere with the appropriate enforcements and risk residents’ health and livelihood. They stymie those who want to monitor enforcement. For families searching for a prospective facility, it is far harder to get an accurate understanding of a nursing home’s track record.”

Just look at the numbers to understand – in the years that the CLS has examined, 46 nursing homes received 507 formal complaints. Only 43 of those were substantiated – an 8 penalty average annually. However, in an earlier timeframe (2005-2011) there were between 30 and 44 penalties each year.

In essence, this new policy allows some of the, seemingly, worst offenders to maintain some of the best performance levels and ratings.

And what does this mean to those who are considering a nursing home for a loved one? It means do more than basic research. Once-useful search engines, like NursingHomeCompare, may no longer be enough.

Ask around, explore the facility, dig a bit deeper. You do not want to discover that your loved one has suffered injury or nursing home abuse when the information was there beforehand. Talk with an attorney if you do discover questionable behavior or suspect problems. Do not rely on the complaint process, as it may be just as flawed as it has, seemingly, become in Philadelphia.


NewsWorks.org. Under new directive…http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/healthscience/82925-under-new-directive-pa-dept-of-health-dismissed-92-percent-of-philly-nursing-home-complaints

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