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Articles Posted in In the News

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When we place our aging or sick loved ones in nursing homes, we trust that they are treated respectfully and carefully. Though we cannot always physically be there with them, we take extraordinary steps to ensure their safety and well being. However, abuse still occurs, and at shocking rates. What’s worse is that most cases of abused are never actually reported. One way to eliminate this problem is to place cameras in nursing home rooms to hopefully end elder abuse.

Recently, a camera strategically placed in a Massachusetts nursing home caught a violent case of elder abuse on tape. The footage shows a 93-year-old resident of Wingate Healthcare being tossed around her room. Two nursing home employees pulled the resident by her hair across her room and flung her into her wheelchair. The two staff members can also be seen threatening the resident with their fists. The victim weighed under 100 pounds and suffered from dementia.

As soon as the footage was revealed, Wingate fired the staff members. The two are both expecting to face charges of assault and battery on a person over the age of 60. According to reports, Wingate has been extremely cooperative with authorities and has conducted an independent investigation in the matter.

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Elder abuse and neglect can take many forms. Abuse can occur physically, verbally, psychologically, or financially, while neglect can be reckless or intentional. Unfortunately, the news these days seems to be filled with reports of nursing homes abusing and neglecting their elderly residents. What may come to mind are the images of nursing home staff members physically assaulting the elderly or performing unnecessary and dangerous chemical restraints to subdue patients.

While many nursing home abuse cases involve caregivers harming patients, one particular incident in New York involved one patient abusing another. This occurrence took place last August in a nursing home in Buffalo, New York. According to reports, 82-year-old Ruth Murray was assaulted and beaten to death by another nursing home patient at Emerald South Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The tragic event occurred after Murray wandered into the room of an 84-year-old dementia patient. According to medical records, the attacker suffered from extreme dementia and, as part of his care plan, was supposed to be checked on every 15 minutes by nursing home staff.  At the time of the incident, however, both the victim and her attacker were unsupervised, which allowed the attack to take place. The New York State Department of Health cited the nursing home for failing to provide adequate care and fined the facility $10,000, its harshest fine.

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When a loved one can no longer be cared for by their family members alone, many turn to a nursing home to step in and provide the level of care their loved one needs to survive.  Family members expect and trust that the ones caring for their loved ones in that nursing home, including doctors and nurses, are doing so with the utmost care and respect for their family members. Nursing homes are trusted with providing essential services including health and hygiene. However, optimal care does not always end up being provided in these settings.  Sometimes, unfortunately, the people trusted with caring for the patient are the ones who inflict the most harm.

Nursing home abuse by caregivers takes many forms. For example, a caregiver may physically abuse a patient, including kicking, punching, or assaulting them. Sexual assault or molestation is another form of physical abuse. Patients can also suffer physical injuries as a result of malnutrition or dehydration. Further, improperly administering medication could increase an elderly patient’s risk of falling and injuring themselves.

Recent headlines highlight stories of of defenseless elderly persons or the disabled being intentionally abused by their caregivers.  For example, a Florence, Alabama nursing assistant was indicted after being accused of physically attacking a dementia patient. After becoming frustrated with the patient, the nursing assistant was accused of antagonizing the victim, causing the 89 year old patient to become even more combative.  According to reports, the nursing assistant struck the patient twice on the stomach and grabbed her arm, causing the patient’s skin to tear and bruise. She also sustained knots on her head. Similarly, in New Jersey, a Certified Nursing Assistant was arrested on charges involving slapping, squeezing the mouth, hair pulling, and pinching a patient.  News stories such as these are hard for anyone to read, especially since elderly and sick nursing home patients are essentially defenseless in those situations.

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A Festus, Missouri nursing home was recently closed by state health officials due to what was apparently the most egregious neglect seen by that agency: neglect of the entire nursing home and its patients and staff by its parent company.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Benchmark Healthcare nursing home, owned by Chesterfield, Missouri based Legacy Health Systems, LLC, stopped receiving deliveries of food, medication, and supplies. The nursing homes telephones were shut off because the bills went unpaid. Trash began to pile up for lack of collection. Some nursing home employees reportedly used their own funds and even food stamps to buy groceries to feed the residents. However, residents with diabetes and other nutritional requirements were not getting their special diets. Then, the staff members’ paychecks began to bounce.

After receiving complaints from residents about their hunger, and discovering that some residents were not getting necessary medications for congestive heart failure, epilepsy and schizophrenia because pharmacy bills were not being paid, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services officials closed the nursing home, after relocating approximately 60 residents to other facilities around Jefferson County. Most of the residents were individuals with mental health disorders, and were younger than 50 years old. A representative for the Missouri Coalition for Quality Care, a nursing home resident advocate group, called the situation “a disaster.”

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A common warning sign of nursing home abuse in Tennessee and elsewhere is bedsores, which are also known as pressure ulcers. They arise because somebody stays in the same position in a bed or chair for far too long. The accumulated pressure on one spot of the body causes a sore to develop.

Elderly nursing home residents often can’t move as much as they would like or at all, and pressure sores can be a sign that they have been left too long in the same position without being moved. Bedsores are worsened by malnutrition or dehydration. The lack of nutrients causes the immune system to get overtaxed, resulting sometimes in an infection.

There are numerous Tennessee laws designed to make sure that nursing homes provide a uniform minimum standard of care. The laws are supposed to make sure that residents’ needs met and are kept in good health. These laws require, among other things, that facilities provide food and water to residents and provide at least two showers every week and more upon request.

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Dementia includes several brain diseases that change personality and social behavior, and they can cause the afflicted person to become confused and forgetful. Often, the changes caused by dementia affect a person’s ability to take care of him or herself, necessitating the participation of caregivers. Some people in Tennessee choose to put their loved ones in a nursing home precisely because caring for someone with dementia and properly supervising them over the course of the day and night can become overwhelming.

Nursing homes in Tennessee owe a duty to residents to properly supervise them so that they can stay healthy and safe. This duty arises out of the extensive regulations that cover nursing homes in Tennessee, but it may also have some basis in individual written contracts that are signed when a patient is admitted to the nursing home.

A failure to supervise residents is one type of negligence that is somewhat common in nursing homes. When a nursing home fails to provide supervision to residents with dementia, the resident is likely to get hurt. The resident may “elope” or wander away from the nursing home. The resident may become dehydrated or malnourished because he or she forgets to drink. The resident may be abused or abuse others.

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Imagine your mother is ill and you can no longer provider her around-the-clock care.  You get together with your family and you go through a difficult and lengthy process to select the best long term care facility for her.  You find a nursing home that seems to meet your mother’s needs.  You sign the paperwork with relief, trusting that your mother will be taken care of at the facility.   The last thing on your mind is the thought of suing the nursing home.

Unfortunately, the nursing home has been focusing on a possible lawsuit, not the care.  Most admissions paperwork will have an arbitration agreement buried inside it.  So, in most cases, the nursing home has already assumed you will sue them and they have made the decision to put their bottom line ahead of your mother’s care.  The nursing home also breathed a sigh of relief when you signed the admissions paperwork because when you signed your mother into the nursing home, you just signed an arbitration agreement.

Traditionally, arbitration agreements in have been a regular feature in nursing home contracts for quite a while now in Tennessee.  The trend in Tennessee had been to increasingly find these contracts to be legal and enforceable.  Arbitration agreements in contracts are favored in Tennessee both by statute and existing case law, which can be found at Benton v. Vanderbilt. The Tennessee Legislature enacted the Uniform Arbitration Act, which embraced a legislative policy favoring enforcement of arbitration agreements, which is discussed in Buraczynski v. Eyring. Further, Tennessee law states that “a provision in a written contract to submit to arbitration any controversy thereafter arising between the parties is valid, enforceable and irrevocable save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract . . .”

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When we entrust our parents, grandparents, or others into the care of nursing and rehabilitation facilities, we expect that they will receive the care and attention they have been promised. When that care is not provided but is still being billed, the losers are numerous – the patients, the insurance companies, and taxpayers who support the government agencies paying the facility. The Tennessean recently reported that the Vanguard Healthcare, LLC, out of Brentwood, Tennessee, is being sued by the federal government for doing exactly this: submitting bills and accepting payment for care and supplies that were never provided to Vanguard’s patients and residents.

As a result of an investigation into the billing and claims submitted to TennCare and Medicare by Vanguard Healthcare, LLC, the US Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee has filed suit against Vanguard in federal court, alleging Medicare and Medicaid fraud.  According to the Tennessean, rehabilitation facilities and nursing homes in Middle Tennessee, owned by Vanguard, were found to have submitted bills and claims for care that it never provided to its residents and patients. Investigators found that not only were wound and pain care not being provided to residents as billed, in many cases the basic needs of patients – such as administration of medication and control of infection – were not being provided.

The government’s investigation found that skilled care and adequate staff were not being provided to residents, although claims and billing for such were submitted by Vanguard to TennCare (Tennessee’s implementation of Medicaid) and Medicare.  Some of the nursing home residents suffered pressure sores, dehydration, malnutrition, and falls due to the inadequate staffing, lack of care, and shortage of medical supplies. A dying patient was discovered in obvious pain, having been denied the very pain medication that his family had previously deposited for him at the facility.

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