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California AGs office looks to pursue criminal charges against nursing homes

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Every year an estimated 2.1 million older Americans are reported as victims of abuse and neglect.  Experts estimate that for every case reported, five go unreported.  About 4 percent of the abuse occurs in nursing homes according to the American Psychological Association.  This seems like a small number of cases but consider this: CBS News reported in 2001 that one out of four nursing homes is cited for causing death or serious injury to a resident each year.   Until recently, nursing homes and their staff have largely escaped criminal prosecution but the California Attorney General’s office has begun an aggressive campaign to build more criminal cases to pursue criminal charges against nursing home administrators and employees in those homes that continue to have problems.   The move by the AGs office could potentially reverse a decline in California nursing home cases over the past decade.  To read more go here.

Since poorly trained and unsupervised staff are the primary abusers in nursing homes, it’s important if you are planning to move a loved one into a nursing home whether short term or long term that you thoroughly investigate any nursing home before choosing one.  These areas are indicators of a higher risk of abuse or neglect:

* High percent of residents with dementia and a low staff ratio

* Poorly trained staff

Prevention factors include ensuring that the facility has an abuse prevention policy in place, researching the home’s history of deficiencies or complaints and ensuring the physical environment is safe.  However, staffing remains the biggest factor.  Individuals looking at a nursing home as a solution for caring for their loved ones should check the level of staff training, staff screening, the degree of staff stresses and burnout, staff rotation and turnover.

Highest risk factors for residents include:

*behavioral symptoms associated with dementia,

*unmet needs and social isolation

*family/friend involvement (this last is considered by the CMS as a better determining factor than other criteria (see below).  For example, CMS recommends choosing a closer facility that can be visited more often than a facility with a higher rating if it is further away.

The CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) created a five star rating system to help individuals compare nursing homes.  The CMS rates each facility with an overall rating and then one rating each for health inspections, staffing and quality measures.

In Washington, you can report abuse or neglect for long-term care residents by calling 1-800-562-6078 or go here.  For others call 1-866-363-4276.

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