Tennessee Elder Abuse Audit Department Declares Elder Care Agency Unable to Keep Up with Demands of State’s Elder Abuse Victims
Written by Jeff Meyer on November 12, 2015
A follow-up story conducted by an investigative news team in Memphis, Tennessee has revealed that once again, the On Your Side investigative news team has uncovered widespread delays in responding to complaints from elders, with a zero percent appropriate response to those complaints deemed urgent and forwarded immediately to the Tennessee Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities. In Tennessee, the Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities plays an auxiliary role in responding to elder abuse complaints or concerns emanating from throughout the state of Tennessee. A performance review conducted by the Tennessee State Comptroller’s Office, later obtained by the local investigators, reveals that within in an entire year, investigators tasked by the state of Tennessee to be at the forefront of curbing elder only managed to respond in a timely manner to three (3) elder complaints in a single year. The average response time for an immediate issue complaint to the Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities? Seventy-two (72) days.
However, in rebuttal, the Board for Licensing has responded to the public criticisms of its performance by saying that elder abuse complaints have shown a steady increase as the Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities became more publicly visible as an elder abuse outreach site in the state of Tennessee, however, the organization simply lacks the capacity to keep up with its backlog of complaints.
The Results of the Tennessee Board for Licensing Health Care Facilities Audit
In an audit performed by the State Comptroller’s Office, auditors randomly picked twenty-five (25) cases in which the Board for Licensing received an elder abuse complaint of an urgent nature. In none of the cases did state workers respond in a timely fashion, with some responses taking as long as months to occur. Other glaring failures to the elderly populations in the state of Tennessee included:
- The Comptroller’s Office found that abuse complaints were not handled properly by state workers, who in turn less than faithfully gauged increased internal resources from the state as a means to maintain pace with the backlog of cases to investigate
- While state officials are encouraged with all possible support to ensure that complaints are responded to within two days, the average response time took over two months, with a frequent worst-case scenario being as long as nine (9) months later for some patients
- At least ten (10) nursing homes were not inspected within the fifteen (15) month time frame mandated by Tennessee state law; instead, the average duration between inspections was over two (2) years in length
Such neglect from state governments could prompt the need for greater federal regulation and involvement, given the growing incidents of elder abuse being reported nationwide.
Situating Elder Abuse in a National Context
The New England Journal of Medicine estimates, at least, two (2) million and as many as five (5) million incidents of elder abuse occur every year. Without growing and occasionally long-standing elder care protections in individual states, these figures would almost certainly be higher, and unfortunately, several other medical journals and Congress have consistently noted the strong numerical underreporting of elder abuse incidents as standard quo in elder abuse forensics or elder abuse treatment, thus implying the numbers may actually be worse and risks indeed unrealized as far as harms possible to elderly patients in the pursuit of profits in certain cases.
Unfortunately, elder abuse also presents with difficult case histories, as elder abuse typically occurs at the hands of family members, although it can also come from nursing home employees. The types of abuse can range from sexual, financial, physical, verbal threats/abuse, and neglect, with financial and neglect type abuse being the most prevalent in elder abuse cases involving family members. However, all individuals have a legal obligation to provide any vulnerable elderly person a reasonable, if not enhanced duty of care. Should an individual, whether family relative or not, violate the duty of care owed to the elderly person, he or she could held liable for any ensuing damages sustained by the elderly person, and potentially, subject to and criminal charges pending the type of abuse perpetrated against the elderly individual.