The Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released a report stating that at least one in four instances of elder abuse or neglect are not reported. While horrific in scope, the results are not entirely surprising – other, smaller samples have found that 15 to 20 percent of elder abuse cases were not reported to the proper authorities or government agencies. The most recent study, released by the HHS Inspector General, based its findings on a large sampling of cases spanning 33 states. The study, which pegged the underreporting rate at exactly 28 percent, was released with a demand that Medicare take “corrective action right away.”
Despite mandatory reporting laws by both the federal government virtually all states, the rate of under-reporting remains stubbornly high. On the federal level, nursing homes are required to report any incidents involving a suspected crime immediately and any other case of suspected elder abuse within 24 hours. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can fine nursing homes up to $300,000 for failing to comply with the law. While such a strict timeline and the possibility of hefty fines would typically discourage non-compliance, the HHS report shows that the law requiring reporting of any elder abuse – whether physical, financial, sexual or otherwise – is mostly unenforced by CMS.
HHS states that, in the five years since the federal mandatory reporting law was enacted, CMS has failed to enact proper procedures to ensure nursing homes are in compliance with the law. In one especially disturbing case, the report details a woman who was sexually abused by a nursing home employee, only to have all the possible evidence washed off her by the employee’s coworkers – despite the law requiring the facility to report the suspected crime to authorities immediately. The next day, the nursing home contacted the resident’s family, who then called the police. Upon hearing that the police were contacted, the nursing home attempted to dissuade the authorities from investigating – stating that no one was interested in pursuing charges and the nursing home had launched “its own internal inquiry.”The nursing home faced no repercussions or investigations by CMS. Sadly, these are the type of cases most likely to be underreported – the report found that 4 of the 5 unreported cases involved possible rape or sexual abuse.
For its part, CMS has released a statement that “nursing home resident safety is our priority and primary focus.” The government agency said it would launch its own investigation and would comment further at its conclusion.