California Nursing Home Abuse Motivates PBS Frontline Project

Earlier this summer, we told you about a $23 million jury verdict in a bed sore case from northern California. The victim, Joan Boice, had been a resident at the Emeritus at Emerald Hills in Auburn, California before she suffered from painful bed sores and died as a result of nursing home negligence. After this case made national news, PBS Frontline and Propublica took a closer look into the story and expanded an investigation into nursing home practices across the country. The project began airing late last month on PBS, entitled “Life and Death in Assisted Living.”

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Details of the Documentary Series
The documentary is made up of four parts, and it depicts the abuse and neglect that is often overlooked or covered up at various nursing facilities. The series takes a close look at the death of Boice in the Emeritus assisted living facility in northern California, and from there it moves out to other issues of nursing home abuse and neglect across the country.

The Frontline films focus specifically on the Emeritus Corporation, which is one of the largest companies currently operating nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the U.S. It’s based out of Seattle, but it actually has more than 400 facilities across the country.

PBS Wants to Know: Who’s Looking Out for Seniors?

In connection with the documentary series, PBS ran a story explaining that as the number of seniors continues to grow as the Baby Boomers generation ages, nursing home have been unable to keep up with demand. Specifically, the problem is that the growth of nursing facilities “has evolved relatively unchecked, with no federal regulation and a patchwork of supervision that varies from state to state.” As a result, families often have trouble finding a nursing home or assisted living facility that is safe and of good quality for their loved ones.

PBS notes that a key problem lies in state regulation of nursing homes. According to the PBS investigation, not all states are reporting “what consumer advocates say are key data points,” such as medication errors or the number of resident falls. And even when nursing facilities do report these numbers, they’re not always easy for consumers to access.

In California, PBS revealed that “regulators are so stretched that they only visit facilities every five years.” And when those regulators do find violations, the citations often “are so weak” that they don’t “make much of an impact.” When PBS began its investigations for the documentary series sparked by the death of Boice in Auburn, California, it found five other deaths in Emeritus facilities for which California found the company negligent. And the average fine was only about $150.

According to Catherine Hawes, a professor at Texas A&M’s Health Science Center, “the residents in these facilities are citizens of the state, and they’re physically and often cognitively vulnerable.” After conducting a national study of the nursing home and assisted living facility system in the U.S., Hawes emphasizes that it’s “the state’s responsibility to ensure that things are safe and the quality is adequate.” Indeed, Hawes argues that we need to ask ourselves why the state isn’t funding such a process and why the legislature isn’t making this sort of funding a priority.

If you are concerned about the safety or care of a loved in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you’ll want to have an experienced elder justice advocate on your side. The dedicated lawyers at the Walton Law Firm can speak to you today about filing a lawsuit for nursing home abuse and neglect in California. Don’t hesitate to contact us.

Photo Credit: Dietmar Temps via Compfight cc
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$23 Million Verdict Stands in California Bed Sore Case