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Law Enforcement Agencies Often Fail to Act on Nursing Home Abuse Reports

An investigative reporting team in Augusta, Georgia discovered that nursing home abuse reports to police often end up as “information only” files with no action taken.

“We compared police reports at one local nursing home with federal reports over the same 12-month period. What we uncovered is reports going to law enforcement are often for information only,” said Liz Owens of I-TEAM WRDW News 12.

One Georgia woman learned this after speaking with her father. He relied on nursing home staff for everything from brushing his teeth to changing his clothing, said he had laid in his own waste for several hours.

After finding this out, the woman called North Augusta Public Safety who took the information and listed it as “info only” and then immediately closed the case.

“If he gets treated that way, I can’t imagine how the ones who can’t talk get treated. He can’t pick up his own hands to wipe his tears if he cries,” she said.

Police Reports Show Seriousness of Issue

Of the 28 police reports filed with Augusta Public Safety, more than half were designated as information only.

Those reports included incidents of the following:

  • A nurse committing physical abuse, hitting and slapping a patient with pressure sores
  • An employee committing emotional abuse, calling a resident “ugly” while taking her photo and showing it to her
  • An employee refusing to take a patient to the bathroom while calling her crazy

Skilled nursing facilities are required by law to notify federal and state agencies of potential abuse and neglect. Yet, when federal complaint investigations were compared to local police reports, they didn’t match either.

“It’s almost like every agency is looking at the other agency to investigate,” said Owens.

Investigative Team Discoveries Mirror Federal Data

The I-TEAM’s findings are in line with national data reported by the Department of Health and Human Services Inspector General, who says there has been massive underreporting of potential neglect and abuse of the elderly by nursing facilities.

“We determined that an estimated one in five high-risk hospital ER Medicare claims for treatment provided in calendar year 2016 were the result of potential abuse or neglect, including injury of unknown source, of beneficiaries residing in a skilled nursing facility. We determined that skilled nursing facilities failed to report many of these incidents to the Survey Agencies in accordance with applicable Federal requirements.” — U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Inspector General (OIG)

The report also said that several State Survey Agencies failed to report nursing home abuse to local law enforcement, and — as in the case detailed above — local police did not fulfill their duties.

The OIG determined that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “does not require all incidents of potential abuse or neglect and related referrals made to law enforcement and other agencies to be recorded and tracked in the Automated Survey Processing Environment Complaints/Incidents Tracking System.”

As a result of their discoveries, the OIG recommended that the CMS:

  • Clarify guidance to clearly define and provide examples of incidents of potential abuse or neglect
  • Monitor how the Survey Agencies report cases of substantiated abuse to local law enforcement
  • Require the Survey Agencies to record and track all incidents of potential abuse or neglect in skilled nursing facilities and referrals made to local law enforcement and other agencies
  • Work with Survey Agencies to improve training for staff of skilled nursing facilities on how to identify and report incidents of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries

For the aforementioned Georgia woman, tighter enforcement can’t come soon enough. The hope is incidents like these and the OIG’s national recommendations will reduce the number of elder abuse and neglect cases and require more action from law enforcement agencies when an incident occurs.

“They don’t deserve to be treated that way,” she said.

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The Nursing Home Abuse Center Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

Last modified: March 3, 2020

View Sources

Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General Report. (2019, June). Incidents of Potential Abuse and Neglect at Skilled Nursing Facilities Were not Always Reported and Investigated. Retrieved from: https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/nursing-homes.pdf

Owens, L. (2020, Jan. 13). I-TEAM: Nursing home abuse and neglect allegations filed as ‘information only’ reports. Retrieved from: https://www.wrdw.com/content/news/I-TEAM-Information-only-reports-do-not-lead-to-nursing-home-abuse-neglect-investigations-566945741.html