A scathing report by the Office of Inspector General shows that 25 percent of nursing home abuse cases go unreported. Of these unreported cases, 80 percent involved an allegation of sexual abuse or rape of an elderly person. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has promised to do more to identify abuse and neglect, and step up its enforcement whenever it occurs.
According to CBS, this horrific problem has two main causes. First, CMS lacks the procedures and protocols necessary to ensure nursing homes are reporting abuse. Second, in the rare case that a nursing home does run afoul of the law – the fines are so insignificantly small that its cheaper for businesses to just pay the fine, rather than increase staff or the quality of their retirement home.
Federal law requires the agency to identify and report cases of neglect. According to Curtis Roy, Assistant Regional Inspector General for Audit Service’s, “CMS acknowledged that they are not doing the data match to identify cases of neglect. They also acknowledged that they have not identified any instances of nursing home staff not reporting cases as required.” In a refreshingly honest statement, CMS takes full blame for its failure to protect these innocent victims of abuse. According to Roy, the failure to comply with the mandatory reporting law stems from a lack of “adequate controls in place to detect these potential instances of abuse or neglect.”
Thirty-eight cases of alleged elder abuse were so horrific that the law required the nursing homes to contact local law enforcement. In all of these cases, the nursing homes did not report the abuse to local authorities. With the responsibility to ensure senior living facilities are complying with the mandatory reporting, CMS again failed to act.
Despite their dependency on government money, nursing homes are businesses – and thus, are focused on their bottom line. The fines, which are rarely handed out, are limited to $300,000 for a violation. According to Attorney Joe Landy, who won a $1.7 million lawsuit against a nursing home that abused his elderly client, “They don’t care about those fines. It is business as usual. It is cheaper to pay those fines to keep these facilities understaffed with people that are not properly trained while they make record setting profits.” When Landry won the case in 2010, she said, “It exposed a nursing home that was making a huge amount of money with no accountability whatsoever.” With CMS finally taking ownership for its abdication of duties, hopefully that may change.