Health Workers Fail to Alert Police of Suspected Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a growing problem in America that often goes unreported. According to a recent article in NPR, healthcare workers and government regulators are failing to report cases of suspected elder abuse to local authorities. The article analyzes a recent report by the Office of Inspector General which found that despite evidence of abuse or neglect severe enough to warrant medical attention, healthcare providers rarely alerted authorities. Under both federal and state law, healthcare professionals are legally required to report cases of suspected abuse.

Elder care advocates are unsurprised by the federal agency’s report, saying that elder abuse is widespread and unreported in the United States. The report only further confirms the severity of the elder abuse and the indifference to tackle the problem. One study relied upon by the federal agency that authored the report analyzed nursing home residents who end up in an emergency room. The researchers looked for potential signs of neglect or elder abuse, such as head injuries, body bruises, bedsores, or any diagnosis that may indicate sexual or physical abuse.

After aggregating the data, researchers found that more than one in five cases of suspected elder abuse went unreported to the state agency charged with overseeing nursing homes. Gloria Jarmon, the deputy inspector general for audit services, described the real-world implications of the data to NPR, “Some of the cases we saw a person is treated in an emergency room [and] they’re sent back to the same facility where they were potentially abused and neglected.”

Unfortunately, the four of five cases reported to state authorities also routinely fail to stop nursing home abuse. The federal government reported that only 3 percent of suspected elder abuse cases are reported to local law enforcement. In addition to healthcare workers, state regulators are also legally required to report suspected elder abuse to the police.

Apparently unconcerned with elder abuse or following mandatory reporting requirements, nursing homes and state regulators must face steeper penalties for their blatant noncompliance. In addition to steeper fines, the report also recommended the federal government should periodically look for diagnoses indicative of abuse or neglect and attempt to identify patterns of elder abuse so the problem can be understood better. “You have to be able to get the data to see how bad the problem is, so that everybody who can take action has it,” Jarmon told NPR.

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