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Report finds nursing home abuse on the rise

Aug 13, 2001 | USA Today Elderly people were abused in nearly a third of the nation's nursing homes in the past two years, many of them suffering serious injuries such as hip fractures, congressional investigators said Monday.

Some 5,283 nursing homes were cited for abuse violations, according to a review of state inspection records requested by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. These homes were cited for nearly 9,000 abuse violations from January 1999 to January 2001.

"We found examples of residents being punched, choked or kicked by staff members or other residents," Waxman said.

Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees spending and other operations, said Congress should re-establish an abolished federal law that boosts nursing home spending. The Boren amendment would guarantee that the nation's nearly 17,000 homes could do a better job of screening, training and counseling their staff. Roughly 1.5 million seniors live in nursing homes.

He is also introducing a plan that would require criminal background checks on nursing home staff and impose tougher standards on homes with violations.

The American Health Care Association, a nursing home trade group, supports a federal criminal background check system for potential employees.

"Recruiting, training and keeping frontline nursing staff are among the most important things we can do to ensure our patients continue to receive quality skilled nursing care," said Dr. Charles H. Roadman II, president of the group, which represents 12,000 nonprofit and for-profit centers and homes for the elderly and disabled.

But center operators said abuse is not the norm in nursing homes and many staff members deserve praise.

"Our patients are like family, and incidents like those described here today are extremely rare," said Sharon Sellers, vice president of operations at Washington Home, a nearly 200-bed center in the District of Columbia.

Bruce Rosenthal, spokesman for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, said Congress should focus on the troubled centers, rather than create cumbersome standards for all.

"We strongly believe nursing homes that exhibit consistently poor performance should either clean up their act or be put out of business," said Rosenthal, whose group represents 5,600 not-for-profit homes and centers.

The reported abuses were physical, sexual and verbal. All abuse is on the rise, the report said. More than twice as many nursing homes were cited for abuse in 2000 than in 1996. In 1996, 5.9% of all nursing homes were cited for an abuse violation during their annual inspections; in 2000, 16% of nursing homes were cited.

"It would have been intolerable if we had found a hundred cases of abuse; it is unconscionable that we have found thousands upon thousands," Waxman said.

The report found that in 1,601 nursing homes — about 1 in 10 — abuse citations were made in serious incidents that either put residents at great risk of harm, injured them, or killed them.

For instance, a resident was killed when another resident with a history of abusive behavior picked her up and slammed her into a wall. In another case, a resident's nose was broken by an attendant who hit her. An attendant raped another resident in her room.

It was not clear how many people were abused. In some cases, the report said, an abuse citation referred to a single victim; in others a single case affected several residents.

Investigators said many violations are neither detected nor reported, leading officials to believe the problem is underestimated.

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