Signed into law on March 23, 2010, the Elder Justice Act, part of the more comprehensive Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, allows the federal government to impose still civil monetary penalties against nursing home employees who fail to report suspected criminal acts, including abuse, to appropriate federal agencies and law enforcement officials. Under the Elder Justice Act, designed to address elder abuse, neglect and exploitation, nursing home employees who fail to report suspicions of abuse to the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services and local law enforcement agencies may be subject to a federal penalty of up to $200,000. In addition, the law allows the government to ban such employees from working in nursing homes that receive funding from Medicaid and Medicare. Under the Elder Justice Act, nursing home employees have two hours to report suspicions involving potential abuse that result in serious bodily injury to a resident. Moreover, employees have 24 hours to report suspicions of abuse that does not involve serious injuries to a resident. Finally, if a nursing home employee’s failure to report a suspicion of abuse, and if the resident suffers more harm as a result of the employee’s inaction, then the employee can be penalized up to $300,000.
Management at nursing homes, according to the Elder Justice act, cannot retaliate in any way against an employee who reports suspected elder abuse to the appropriate law enforcement and governmental agencies. For instance, nursing homes cannot suspend, terminate, harass, or threaten employees who report suspected abuse. If a nursing home does retaliate against such an employee, then the facility can face a fine of up to $200,000. Moreover, the facility may be denied funding from Medicare and Medicaid for a period of two years. Nursing facilities are also obligated to inform employees of their responsibilities to report abuse under the Elder Justice Act, which requires that the information should be posted in a conspicuous area.
In addition to being able to levy fines against a nursing home employee, the Elder Justice Act grants the Secretary of Health and Human Services $500,000 to research the establishment of a national nurse aide registry. Often referred to as certified nurse’s assistants (CNAs), nurse aides are responsible for providing direct, hands-on-care to nursing home residents, including feeding, bathing and transport. As a result, they are often on the front lines in preventing elder abuse in nursing homes. Unfortunately, they are also in a position to abuse their patients. A national nurse aide registry would allow nursing home to prescreen potential employees and to check existing CNAs for criminal backgrounds. Some states, including New York, have their own nurse aide registries.
Finally, the Elder Justice Act provides grants to train federal and local nursing home inspectors, as well as employees for Adult Protective Services. The law also provides grants to forensics centers to develop the expertise in investigating elder abuse cases.