Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Shares Perspective on Neglect in These Facilities

Earlier this month the Washington Times published a story by a former nursing home abuse attorney who explained the prevalence of neglect and mistreatment in these facilities. He noted how so many of the stories shared by clients were simply heartbreaking, usually told by adult relatives describing the severe harm suffered by their unsuspecting loved one. The attorney argued that the conduct would result in criminal charges in many other settings, including malnutrition,dehydration, falls, medication errors, and more. The Illinois nursing home neglect attorneys at our firm work with those who have suffered all of these harms.

Of course, all adult relatives who help seniors find appropriate homes assume that their loved ones will find a peaceful, calm, enjoyable place to spend their time. Far too frequently, however, the experience is an utter nightmare, often ending in serious injury or death.

As each Chicago nursing home abuse attorney at our firm has often shared, the article author notes that under-staffing is perhaps the most persistent underlying cause of this mistreatment. Money is at the root of the understaffing: fewer employees equals a smaller payroll bill which results in more profits for owners. Residents are the ones who suffer. Care workers have many time-consuming tasks with which to help those counting on them: bathing, changing clothes, feedings, repositioning those in bed, and other activities cannot be rushed and are essential to decent care.

The article suggests that a single aide is likely capable of helping 8 to 10 residents in a single eight hour shift. After all, many seniors need help with the most rudimentary tasks, from lifting a glass to moving from one side of the bed to the other. Yet many aides have to care for twice that number or more. What happens? The care each resident receives suffers drastically. Residents are not repositioned enough causing bedsores, dinners are rushed so seniors become malnourished, and many other problems result. In many cases the mistreatment compounds. For example, a senior who does not receive proper nutrition may have their mobility decline as a result. They are therefore more likely to fall, and their weakened body is less able to quickly recover.

The cascading effect may similarly result in harm to one’s mental or emotional state. It is not difficult to imagine how one who is in pain, malnourished, and with mobility problems is more likely to be depressed. As the author notes, “Is it any wonder some nursing home residents ‘give up’?”

Understanding all of this ahead of time will hopefully lead adult children to act carefully when making nursing home choices, where possible. We completely understand that nursing home decisions often need to be made with little time for investigation. Yet, as much as feasible should be done to ensure that a facility in which you are considering does not have a history of residents being mistreated.

If you have a parent or other loved one who you feel was mistreated in one of these homes, you may be able to demand accountable. In our area, please visit with a Chicago nursing home neglect attorney to learn more.

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The “Roots” of Elder Neglect and Mistreatment

Mercury News published an interested editorial last week that seeks to better identify how and why seniors are mistreatment in America. Our Chicago elder neglect attorneys are happy that there seems to be a growing awareness of the plight of many elders in all settings, from nursing homes to those cared for in their own homes. Yet, it is vital that we use this awareness to actually enact changes that make the lives of these individuals better and prevent seniors from being hurt in the future. Part of that includes first being honest about how this elder abuse perpetuates.

The story begins by highlighting the awful case of a elder “care facility” that was recently busted for allowing residents to live in literal squalor. Former residents explain that they were virtually prisoners in the home–some for more than a decade. As we previously discussed, the conditions in the home–found on a residential street in a San Jose neighborhood–were nothing short of appalling. Residents with mental illnesses were left three to a room and not allowed to leave their rooms. Many were physically abused–slapped, punched, kicked–when they acted in any way unpleasant to the caregiver. All told, five people have been arrested on charges of abuse.

Our elder neglect attorneys are immediately hit with the gut reaction: How does something like this happen?

The article argues that it all begins with the tendency to “forget the elderly.” It suggests that there remains a tendency to ignore potential problems, particularly when we are not confronted by them–”out of sight, out of mind.”

In this case, the residents were almost all Vietnamese, most could not speak English, and many had few close relatives providing oversight. As a result, few people asked any questions about these residents. Unfortunately, when there is little to no oversight, many of those charged with caring for elderly, particularly those with mental challenges, have a tendency to cut corners and slip below reasonable care standards. If they get away with it and maximize their profits, the mistreatment often lasts indefinitely.

The story continues by noting a key reason these substandard facilities survive is the tough situation in which many families find themselves when looking for help caring for a loved one. The need is often immediate, and so many do not properly inspect the facility. While locations like the one detailed in this story are not too common, substandard nursing homes and assisted-living facilities abound. Taking time to ask residents about their experiences, tasting the food, examining the quarters, and investigating care records can help avoid sending a relative to a place where they are likely to be mistreated.

In smaller-setting, like the one in this case, there are even fewer people asking questions and so the mistreatment can reach staggering proportions. For example, this facility had 25 dogs running in it. Some residents simply wandered off. The entire debacle only came to light when a relative went to visit a loved one only to be told by the facility that the man didn’t live there. The family called authorities and the slum was uncovered.

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Through the years our Illinois nursing home neglect attorneys have learned unequivocally that many different issues related to nursing home management ultimately affect the care received by seniors at the home. It is sometimes easy to make simplistic assumptions about this issue, usually pinning the problem on laziness of care workers. That is often a grossly inaccurate picture of why and how seniors are mistreated.

For one thing, when nursing home neglect is caused by clear caregiver neglect, the underlying problem is often understaffing. Direct line care workers are not capable of being superhuman. They cannot be in more than one place at a time and they cannot rush various caregiving steps and still do it safely. As a result, where there are not enough caregivers for the number of seniors in a home, then it is almost inevitable that problems will arise–even when caregivers are doing the best they can.

Of course the fact that caregivers are doing the best they can does not mean that a nursing home neglect lawsuit should not be filed. On the contrary the suit is likely more important than ever to demand accountability from facility owners and operators and push for systematic changes to improve care for other residents.

However, this recognition does mean observers should keep these cases in context. They are not necessarily an indictment of the quality of services provided by front-line care workers. These employees often make the least, work the most, and receive the majority of blame. This is unfortunate. More focus should be on owners, operators, and executives and their drive for profits above all else.

For example, the Sacramento Bee recently published a story highlighted some misconduct by a nursing home executive. The report covered the criminal sentencing of a nursing home company executive who evaded taxes and accepted kickbacks from contractors. The defendant pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and two counts of tax evasion. A former director of maintenance and renovations for a large nursing home company, he was in charge of various operations for over 40 nursing homes and used his position to grease his own pocket. He was eventually sentenced to five years in prison.

The case is a reminder of the fact that for so many of those working in these companies, profit trumps everything else. Obviously businesses are striving to make money, but when it comes to businesses upon whom senior’s very lives depend, it is critical that profit-motives not throw reasonable care out the window.

Much of the problem stems from the type of culture that is allows to thrive at a home. When corners are cut, safeguards are ignored, and residents are not prioritized, it is easy for those working at the establishment to think unreasonable care is tolerated. It is then only a matter of time before a resident is severely injured unnecessarily.

If you or a loved one may have suffered injury as a result of neglect, please contact our Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers to see if we can help. Civil lawsuits are important ways to hold facilities accountable and help prevent others from suffering similar harm.

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Rampant Neglect Found in California Nursing Homes, Report Finds

A recent study has found that California nursing homes are in poor conditions, according the Los Angeles Times. Conducted by Operation Guardians, a project of the Department of Justice, the review discovered widespread health and safety problems in the elder residences. Yet, the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) were who demanded that these inspections be released to the public. The reports are from extensive investigation dating from January 2010 to March 2012, accumulating a number of nursing homes throughout the state. Even after countless measures to prevent the negligence and abuse, the report unearths a glaring lack of enforcement from the Department of Public Health (DPH).

The investigation portrays horrific details, including grimy bedrooms, showers, and kitchens, medicals inaccuracies leading to countless drug overdoses, the unauthorized administration of psychotropic drugs, and patients with untreated bed sores and infections. Beyond those, the report even told of elderly individuals lying in their own feces and urine. These nursing homes appear more like houses of horror than anything reminiscent of comfort and security. Furthermore, as seen so tragically often in elderly abuse cases, some of these nursing homes were submitting falsified medical records and fraudulently billing for services.

Normally, after Operation Guardians inspections were completed, evaluations of facilities’ quality of care and basic sanitation were filed. Each inspection generally generated two reports, one by the inspection team as a whole that assessed the general sanitation and care provided by the facility staff and a medical report written by a medical doctor who specializes in geriatrics.

One report noted at a home, “Residents are being avoidably harmed due to deficient nursing care in a number of aspects, including pressure ulcer prevention and treatment.”

Another noted, “Systemic problems in the nursing department included the listing of inaccurate diagnoses, poor end-of-life care, avoidable dehydration and inadequate fall prevention.”

While CANHR has applauded Operation Guardians for its informative and eye-opening account, the advocacy organization calls for the need of action and legislation. The “paucity of enforcement” is an evident causation for these abhorring events, CANHR says. This investigation brings to light the very defective nature of many of state’s nursing homes. Granted these reports are not indicative of all California nursing facilities, the fact that there are number of substandard—to be generous—elder institutions still remains.

Lynda Gledhill, a spokeswoman for the office of Department of Public Health, said “We take very seriously elder abuse and Medi-Cal fraud. We are very concerned … that Medi-Cal dollars are spent appropriately and that the individuals in these skilled nursing facilities are treated well.”

Yet will concern translate into action? Some of the reports can be hard to read, let alone imagine? Until certain changes come into effect, it appears California’s nursing homes are not in a stable condition. These reports reveal an egregious lack of care and duty. Now, if you at all see any symptoms of negligent or abusive care, as comparably described in these inspections, call our San Diego elderly abuse attorneys right away. You or your loved one deserves a safe and secure residence. You should not have to fight this alone.

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New AARP Report on Assisted Living Care

Information is power. That oft-quoted mantra is certainly true in many contexts, and that includes making choices about elder care. Each Chicago assisted living neglect lawyer at our firm urges local residents to conduct as much research as possible into the quality of care provided by prospective facilities. Illinois nursing home neglect is often more likely to occur at those locations with a history of problematic care. Steering away from those homes, where possible, is a wise move.

Not only is it important to understand the quality of care at individual facilities, but it is also helpful for researchers to take a look at industry-wide trends. In that way policy makers are provided information to make budgetary and regulatory decisions in order to maximize the quality of life of those who utilize these services.

AARP Report
For example, the AARP recently released a new report on the state of assisted living facilities nationwide. The full report can be found HERE.

Assisted living is distinguished in the study as an important piece of the overall long-term services and support (LTSS) system. This includes most residential facilities for those who do not need the close medical care provided by nursing homes but who are not able to safely live on their own. These sorts of intermediate facilities are booming in popularity, no doubt growing as a result of changing demographics. The fact is clear that the population is growing old, both as a result of the aging of Baby Boomers and medical advances which are keeping community members alive longer. According to the report, in only a three year period–from 2007 to 2010–the total number of beds in assisted living facilities increased by nearly 200,000. As of 2010 there were well over 1.2 million such living spaces at over 51,000 facilities nationwide.

The overall scope of the AARP is more general than a rating or ranking of individual homes. Instead, the report sheds light on the overall trends in the industry and noting where there is an adequate (or inadequate) supply on these homes. Many seniors suffer from elder abuse and neglect when they do not have access to these facilities

The Situation in Illinois
According to the report, the latest data (from the summer of 2010) suggests that Illinois has slightly less than 30,000 bed capacity in these facilities. That should be compared to an estimated population over 65 years old of 1.6 million. Taken together that works out to about 16 beds per 1,000 senior residents.

How does this compare with other states?

Unfortunately, this indicates an availability rate below many other states and far below the average. The national average is 31 beds per senior resident. The highest performing state has 62 beds per 1,000 senior residents. That means even if the assisted-living bed capacity doubled in Illinois, we would still be just at the national average. Our Chicago assisted-living facility lawyers appreciate the danger of this situation. Hopefully more is invested in these spaces in the future to account for our current deficiency and changing demographics.

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Legislation Dies Which Would Mandate Illinois Nursing Home Liability Insurance

All Illinois drivers are required to be covered under a basic insurance plan. The reason is obvious. Driving is a privilege that comes with risks of harming others on the road. All drivers are made safer in the knowledge that if hurt by the negligence of another, some basic insurance policy exists to provide redress.

It is reasonable to believe that similar requirements exist in other situations where one’s health and well-being depend on the care provided by others, like nursing homes. Each Chicago nursing home neglect attorney understands the power that these facilities have over those in their care. It is reasonable for these homes to be required to have insurance such that misconduct which causes harm can come with compensation for those hurt.

Some Illinois legislators have attempted to pass legislation which would requires nursing homes operating in our state to have liability insurance. Yet, as recently reported in Edwardsville Intelligencer, twice in four years those proposed measures have failed–the last defeat coming last month. This means that some victims of Illinois nursing home abuse will not be able to actually recover fully for their losses, even after a favorable legal decision.

Introduced in January, the measure failed to advance out of committee. The lead sponsor of the measure, Rep. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, explained that strong opposition from the nursing home industry makes it difficult to advance the bill.

Various versions of the bill exist but most essentially require facilities have have a minimum level of insurance–often $1 million–or be denied a license from the Illinois Department of Public Health. In addition, most proposed measures require facilities to disclose their insurance status to the public Penalties would also be imposed for those facilities which fail to abide by the new rules.

However, considering the measure was assigned to the Rules Committee and not passed out, it is clear there is a long way to go before legislation of this type has the support to advance throughout the process.

The Consequences
Each Illinois nursing home neglect lawyer at our firm understands what this means. Most families who have loved ones in nursing homes assume that the facility will be able to provide redress in the event that neglect causes harm. Yet, some nursing home carry no insurance at all and many others are drastically underinsured. The result is simply a lack of accountability and harm that goes unredressed.

In terms of a nursing home neglect lawsuit, the lack of insurance often means that pursuing a case is not possible. Litigation has a cost, and it is illogical to pursue the litigation and pay the costs without any potential for recovery down the road. This means that many negligent facilities are given a free pass, without being held accountable for their misconduct.

This yields serious long-term harm. Without accountability, facilities have little motivation to change practices to make things safer for everyone. As a result, more seniors will continue to suffer falls, have bedsores go untreated, and otherwise be hurt by inadequate care.

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Levin & Perconti Settle Illinois Nursing Home Negligence Case for $1 Million

All cases involving mistreatment at a local nursing home are often referred to as Illinois nursing home neglect cases. Of course, this is just a shorthand way of describing the basic issues in the case and not a technical legal term. For example, when one passes away as a result of the neglect, the situation often spurs what is known as a “wrongful death” claim. These claims are made on behalf of survivors for the harm they suffered as a result of losing their loved one–not the harm suffered by the resident who passed away. Explaining all of these details and working within the system to ensure proper accountability and recovery is the job of a nursing home neglect attorney.

For example, in our latest issue of Client Tell–the Levin & Perconti newsletter–we share the story of a recent case in which two of our Chicago nursing home neglect lawyers helped secure a $1 million wrongful death settlement for a local family.

The Case
The nursing home resident in this case was only 34-years old when she entered the nursing home following a stroke. To prevent additional problems she was put on blood thinning medication. However, this came with known risks because she had a history of internal bleeding. To account for those risks staff members at the facility needed to closely monitor her blood, warning her physician if it ever became too thin.

Sadly, the resident never received the care she needed. The nurses did not notify the doctor when her blood thinned, the doctor never visited her, and the woman bled to death.

This tragedy is made all the more heartbreaking, because the woman was only supposed to be at the facility for a short time to help in the immediate recovery following the stroke. The woman’s sisted noted that “During [her] stay at the nursing home she was never seen by a doctor, and no one from the nursing home called my mother when my sister passed away.”

The family contacted the Illinois nursing home lawyers at Levin & Perconti to see what legal rights they have to demand accountability. In late 2008 a lawsuit was officially filed citing the physician and facility for their negligence which led to the woman’s untimely passing. Earlier this year the case settled for nearly $1 million.

Hopefully those involved will never again allow these sorts of apses to take the life of another in their care. Monitoring changes in condition are absolutely critical parts of proper nursing home care. Many still fail to provide adequate care.

As one the attorneys working on this case, Jordan Powell, noted, “Unfortunately, poor communication in nursing homes is all too common, and our firm has represented a number of people who have died because of these avoidable mistakes.”

Miscommunication (or lack of communication) is often the root of negligence. When staff members do not communicate with one another and doctors about resident issues, then serious problems often slip through the cracks. Understaffing often exacerbates the problem, because caregivers are constantly rushing around from one need to another.

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How Much Was Known About Horrible Brookfield Elder Abuse Case?

The picture just grows worse as more information emerges about the tragic case of Illinois elder abuse that took the life of Mary Jane Duffy. Our Chicago elder abuse attorneys first discussed this case earlier this week following the arrest of her husband on criminal charges for her mistreatment in Brookfield. However, not only are the shocking allegations a reminder of the potential for abuse at the hands of family members but also the way that public agencies can fail to take action to stop mistreatment.

According to a Riverside-Brookfield Landmark story, various reports were filed by a state agency with abuse allegations–yet nothing was actually done to help the woman until it was too late.

The disabled woman was discharged to her husband’s care from a local nursing home in October of 2009. She apparently feared for her safety at that time. Mary explained to state case workers and administrators for the healthcare agency that she did not want to live with her husband, because he allegedly abused her for years. She preferred to live in the nursing home where she thought she could receive the care she needed to help with her dementia and growing mobility problems.

The woman’s complaints should not have come as a surprise, because there are reports on file dating as far back as 2003 with claims of abuse. The Office of the Inspector General for the Illinois Department of Human Services, for example, includes information about various instances of abuse. The reports explain that the man locked his wife in their apartment without phone access, handcuffed her to her wheelchair, physically abused her, verbally abused her, and took away her walker. He allegedly did not want her to move into a care facility because it would mean he would lose access to her income.

So how on earth was Mary released from a care facility and placed back in her husband’s care?

Apparently she was deemed ineligible for services that would have kept her at the long-term care facility. She had ended up in the nursing home originally following an extended hospital stay. That stay was required after she fell because her husband had taken away her walker. Yet, instead of remaining in the facility, an investigator determined that she did not qualify for the state’s “Adults with Disabilities Abuse Intervention Program.”

It remains unclear how her husband was able to the woman home, however, when there was an order of protection against him on Mary’s behalf from 2009. In any event, Mary was released to his custody where she remained for the next nearly two years before her death. She was found after an anonymous tip by authorities. At the time she was curled in the fetal position in the condominium; she was unresponsive and covered in bed sores.

Like the rest of the community our Illinois nursing home abuse lawyers are saddened (but not surprised) that this resident could slip through the cracks. Unfortunately, there are many examples of seniors abused in various settings without any relief for those charged with investigating and rooting out the abuse. If you have any suspicions of mistreatment, please consider contacting an elder abuse attorney to share your story.

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July Issue of Levin & Perconti’s “Client Tell” Newsletter Available

Each Illinois nursing home neglect attorney at our firm is proud to work each and every day on behalf of those hurt by the misconduct of others in our community. Unfortunately, many residents face unimaginable loss and heartache as a result of others failure to act reasonably. That includes caregivers in a nursing homes, doctors and nursing in hospitals, and travelers on area roadways.

This latest edition of our monthly newsletter–found here–includes stories about various issues facing local residents and recent cases on which our team has worked. For example, the newsletter includes discussion of a pair of cases filed against ManorCare Health Services in South Holland. The cases are a testament to the significant harm that results from Illinois nursing home neglect when these facilities are understaffed.

One case ended with the family being given $1 million following a death and a second was settled for $750,000. In both cases the residents developed severe pressure sores at the home. As blog readers know, pressure sores are one of the most common preventable injuries caused by neglect at long-term care facilities.

Investigations into these cases revealed shocking information about the poor quality of care at the home. For example, our Illinois nursing home neglect attorney Steve Levin explained that one former employee “told us the home was understaffed, and that the wound care nurse was a drug addict who used drugs during the workday. She told us that staff members were not instructed to complain to the Illinois Department of Public Health.”

It should go without saying that this sort of caregiving is entirely unacceptable. As a result of the neglect the residents here were not properly repositioned and often left lying in their own waste. They then developed the painful sores which went without proper treatment.

There is simply no excuse for this sort of conduct. These facilities have to be held accountable so that practices change and future residents are spared similar suffering. Fortunately, the families in this case came forward and redress was demanded.

Not only did the understaffing result in poor wound care, but it also led to shoddy (or downright deceitful record-keeping). For example, in one of the cases from ManorCare, the resident’s chart indicated that care was provided on a day when the resident was not even in the home. This could only have been caused by outright falsification or such sloppy work that data was entered on incorrect days. No matter what the case, these sorts of actions are obviously below a reasonable standard of care.

As much as we’d like to wish this facility is one-of-a-kind, the fact remains that many nursing home in our area fail to provide proper care to those who depend on them. In many cases it is not because of any inherent problems with caregivers but simply the fact that facilities seek to maximize profits by cutting staff to the bone. Residents are the ones who suffer from this understaffing. Our Chicago nursing home lawyers urge family members to keep a close eye on the care received by their loved ones so that problems are caught as soon as possible.

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Court Refuses to Enforce Nursing Home Binding Arbitration Agreement

Each Chicago nursing home neglect attorney at our firm continues to warn local residents about the need to understand the agreements that they sign when admitting a loved one into a nursing home. Of course, the main issue is “binding arbitration agreements.” Essentially, when signed onto by residents during the admissions process, these clauses sometimes limit the family’s ability to recover fairly following nursing home abuse or neglect.

Of course, the problem is that we rarely expect the worst when first moving a loved one into one of these homes. After all, if you thought that the residents of a facility might be neglected you’d never move them into the home in the first place. On top of that, many decisions about nursing home care are made with serious time limitations and in the midst of much stress–usually following a severe medical event. All of this means that community members rarely read the fine print of admissions documents and often sign arbitration agreements without even knowing it.

For that reason it often is up to courts to determine whether or not these agreements are actually enforced in the event that neglect occurs. That is the issue recently at hand in a case in Pennsylvania discussed in a recent Legal Examiner article.

The Issue
The family in that case filed a nursing home neglect lawsuit against the facility. In response the home filed a motion to dismiss the case “due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction.” To hear any case–and rule on it–a court must have proper jurisdiction. The defendants claimed that the court did not have that jurisdiction in this case because of an arbitration agreement that the plaintiff signed. The defendant claimed that the plaintiff could not pursue the traditional lawsuit, because the terms of the arbitration agreement needed to be upheld.

Fortunately, the court in the case refused to enforce the arbitration agreement. These ruling hinges on contract law–because the agreement is a contract. While courts generally enforce properly entered into contracts, there are a range of circumstances when they do not. In this case the court found that because the case was filed by the resident’s surviving son–who himself did not sign the arbitration agreement–they cannot be deemed to have waived their right to a jury trial via the arbitration agreement.

This particular case had a bit more nuance, because it involved various actions–one for wrongful death the other a survival action–which were consolidated into one case. However, the basic principle was clear that the court would not enforce the agreement and the plaintiffs were free to pursue their case.

While the outcome in that case was satisfactory, our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers know that many others have been denied their right to the justice system as a result of these agreements. We continue to urge all residents to be cautious when dealing with these nursing home documents. Also, it is helpful to offer support for various pieces of legislation (including the Arbitration Fairness Act) which seeks to provide systematic relief to those imposes these clauses on unsuspecting consumers.

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The Problem with Mandatory Arbitration Clauses in Nursing Home Contracts

Nursing Home Neglect Decision Highlights Dangers of Arbitration Agreements