Can Advocacy and Awareness Remedy Nursing Home Patient Injuries?

Last week, we told you about a recent study conducted by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The report focused on skilled nursing facilities and found that about one-third of all nursing home patients suffer injuries, and more than half were preventable. The study focused on more than 600 patients from over 600 skilled nursing facilities during a one-month period in 2011. Using these figures to project nationally, the study asserted that nearly 22,000 patients sustained injuries, and more than 1,500 patients died as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect during the month of the study.

How can we repair this shocking problem? Legislators and advocates for nursing home reform have expressed serious concern over the facts presented in this recent report. Is raising awareness about health care standards in skilled nursing facilities sufficient? Would increased inspections help? Or can we do even more to remedy the harms suffered by elderly loved ones in nursing homes?

Patients “Deserve Better,” Legislators Say

When presented with the facts of the HHS report, Senator Bill Nelson, who also serves as the chairman of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, exclaimed that “Medicare patients deserve better.” He indicated that he plans to “push for better inspections of the facilities,” and he emphasized that the report “paints a troubling picture of the care that’s being provided in some of our nation’s nursing homes.”

According to an article in ProPublica, the HHS report emphasized that “it is possible to reduce the number of patients being harmed.” The burden lies on the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as well as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Together, these agencies can do more to “promote patient safety efforts in nursing homes” just as they have done in hospitals where adverse events have been identified.

More Inspections, Efforts to Promote Patient Safety

What does “promoting patient safety” mean in practical terms? Can more inspections solve the problem? According to the authors of the report, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can require state health agencies that conduct nursing home inspections “to review what they are doing to identify and reduce adverse events.” But increased inspections (or at least those operating at a higher level) may be difficult to implement across the country. The article in ProPublica emphasized that “there are more than 15,000 skilled nursing facilities” in America, and nearly all of them are certified nursing homes that can provide long-term care.

And the number of residents in nursing homes has grown “as hospitals have moved to shorten patient stays.” Indeed, Medicare spending on skilled nursing facilities “more than doubled to $26 billion between 2000 and 2010,” according to ProPublica.

Advocates for patient rights and safety suggest developing new metrics to track improvements in nursing homes, rather than relying solely on annual inspections. According to Dr. Marty Makary at Johns Hopkins Medicine, annual inspections “don’t do a good job of capturing a facility’s everyday performance,” and access to such statistics could lead to greater improvements in healthcare at skilled nursing facilities.

Other advocates, such as those working with New York’s Long Term Care Community Coalition, insist that “better enforcement of the existing standards in nursing homes” can help to solve the problem. In short, there’s no need to create new standards of care—the existing ones are good, but they’re not being enforced. Richard Mollot, the executive director of the Long Term Care Community Coalition, believes that if these standards were enforced consistently, “we wouldn’t have these widespread problems.”

Your elderly loved one deserves to receive proper care while residing at a nursing home. If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, contact the experienced California nursing home abuse lawyers at the Walton Law Firm today.

Photo Credit: Neil. Moralee via Compfight cc

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