The Toll of Alzheimer’s is Growing

The impact of Alzheimer’s disease on the current population is difficult to overstate. Already, there are an estimated five million people in the United States suffering from the disease, and this statistic does little to measure the true amount suffering and expense involved – family members and caregivers, too, are burdened. And the problem is just beginning. The number of Alzheimer’s patients will expand exponentially due to what officials at the National Institute on Aging are calling “an aging tsunami.” Widely accepted research has estimated that the number of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease worldwide will grow from the near 36 million current patients to roughly 115 million over the next 35 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that deaths attributable to Alzheimer’s in the year 2010 numbered almost 83,500 in the United States, but a recent study published by the journal Neurology has questioned this number, claiming that it underestimates the real figure by over 400,000.

Financial Challenges
If the mortality numbers are not staggering enough, there are the financial ones. In a study conducted by the RAND Corporation (with help from other institutions), researchers calculated that, in 2010, the direct cost of treatment for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia was $109 billion. This outranked the costs of treatment for patients with heart disease ($102 billion) and cancer ($77 billion). Many people take it as a matter of course that Alzheimer’s is a serious disease requiring serious attention; they have similar opinions of it as they do of cancer and heart disease.

But the allocation of federal funds does not reflect these opinions. This year, $5.4 billion dollars will be allocated by the federal government for cancer research. This year, $1.2 billion in federal funds will go to researching heart disease. By comparison, research efforts into Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia will only receive $666 million.

Tackling the Problem
To be fair, attention has significantly shifted to Alzheimer’s Disease over the last few years. In 2011, the National Alzheimer’s Project Act was signed into law. The Act proposed a national plan to come up with new treatments for the disease, and it beefed up funding for research efforts to the tune of $100 million in 2013. While $100 million (and, of course, $666 million) is no chump change, research into a disease like Alzheimer’s, which is as devastating as it is complicated, must be funded more aggressively.

We must be able to move beyond merely treating affected individuals to preventing the disease among at-risk individuals entirely. More money means more clinical trials and experimentation. More trials bring us closer to the answers we seek, and the sooner we can do that, the more money and lives we’ll save.

For the time being, however, many patients in the care of nursing homes will be there because they have Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as other forms of dementia. And because these patients have a disease that inhibits their ability to tell others when they are abused, they are at tremendous risk for abuse. If you have a loved one in a nursing home whom you suspect to have been abused, you may have a claim. Please feel free to contact an experienced attorney at Levin & Perconti today.

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A New Way of Thinking About Dementia Care

Nursing Home Inspectors “Rushed” Investigations in Los Angeles County

Old Woman

As many California residents know, our state has made national news over the last year for concerns about nursing home negligence and nursing home abuse.  A recent article in the Sacramento Bee reported that Los Angeles County public health officials, “in an effort to reduce California’s backlog of health and safety complaints at nursing homes,” might have urged inspectors “to close cases without fully investigating them.”  Internal memos sent between managers, inspectors, and supervisors from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health suggest that these quick and potentially harmful case closures are part of an effort called the “Complaint Workload Clean Up Project,” and it has been in effect “since at least the summer of 2012.”

What does this mean for elderly nursing home residents?  In short, complaints at nursing homes and nursing facilities in Los Angeles County might not have been adequately investigated, and county supervisors could be held liable for injuries that occurred.  Do you have a loved one who resides at a nursing facility in Southern California?  At the Walton Law Firm, our California nursing home abuse attorneys have years of experience handling elder law claims and can speak with you today.

Nursing Home Residents at Risk of Inattention in Southern California

What has been happening in Los Angeles County?  Based on information contained in confidential documents, “Los Angeles County public health supervisors, including division chief Ernest Poolean, told inspectors to administratively close complaints submitted anonymously as ‘No Action Necessary.’”  In other words, if the confidential documents prove factual, anonymous nursing home complaints were closed without any investigations.

In addition, supervisors also encouraged inspectors to avoid investigations at the nursing facilities themselves by turning instead to “previous reports about the facility.”  According to the Sacramento Bee, “if two other inspections done around the same time did not reveal problems similar to the new allegation, the complaint was to be determined ‘unsubstantiated.’”

While inspectors did look into higher profile complaints involving abuse and those that had clear connections to ongoing lawsuits, it looks as if a number of complaints may not have been thoroughly investigated.  Ernest Poolean, who serves as Los Angeles County’s chief of the health facilities inspections division, indicated that “the county’s actions were the result of a state push to close cases.”

State and Federal Scrutiny

According to the article in the Sacramento Bee, approximately one-third of all California nursing homes are located in Los Angeles County—nearly 1,300 facilities.  The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has emphasized that it didn’t approve the practices at work in Los Angeles County, and the CDPH “has ordered Los Angeles County officials to immediately discontinue it.”  According to Anita Gore, a spokesperson for the CDPH, the practices involved in the Complaint Workload Clean Up Project run counter to the “policies and protocols” of the CDPH.

And it’s not just the state of California that’s taking a closer look at the poor investigative practices used in Los Angeles County.  Indeed, the “federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is conducting a separate inquiry.”  Jack Cheevers, a federal spokesperson, emphasized that CMS only recently learned about the rushed nursing home investigations in Los Angeles County, and there will be increased federal scrutiny in the weeks and months to come.

If you are concerned that an elderly loved one has sustained abuse or neglect, it is important to speak to an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer.  Contact us today to learn more about filing a claim for compensation.

Photo Credit: Neil. Moralee via Compfight cc

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Office of the Inspector General: Raise the Quality of Care in Our Nursing Homes

In its most recent “Compendium of Priority Recommendations,” the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General has strongly emphasized that more steps are necessary to ensure a higher quality of care in nursing homes. The Compendium is released periodically with the goal of protecting the integrity of the department’s programs, and this edition makes twenty-five suggestions for the improvement of HHS programs. Among these twenty-five, the improvement of nursing home care figured prominently.

Under the topic of “Medicare Quality of Care and Safety Issues,” the Office of the Inspector General suggested the following: (1) improving care planning and discharge planning for beneficiaries in nursing home settings; (2) addressing harm to patients, questionable resident hospitalizations, and inappropriate drug use; (3) improving emergency preparedness and response. Further, under for the improvement of hospice care, the Compendium recommends ensuring better compliance with Medicare conditions of participation.

While these suggestions are generally taken from older editions of the OIG reports, the renewed focus on nursing homes is new territory for the Compendium. In the previous edition, released in December of 2012, nursing homes were not mentioned in any of the recommendations concerning quality of care and safety.

The renewed focus may have been inspired by a congressional report released last summer which reported that 30 percent of nursing homes in the United States, which totals some 5,283 locations, were cited for instances of abuse over the two year span of January 1999 to January 2001.

Among the near 9,000 instances of abuse in that period were problems such as untreated bedsores, insufficient medical treatment, malnutrition, dehydration, negligent accidents, and unsanitary conditions. In about 1,600 of the cases, the abuses were so serious as to put residents at risk for serious injury or death. In a few of the cases, nursing home staff members were accused of physical and even sexual abuse, while in others, staff members were merely cited for failing to protect residents from one another. In these incidents, residents sustained significant injuries such as bone fractures and lacerations. In one particularly shocking account, two staff members offered a brain-damaged resident cigarettes to attack another resident in order to see a fight between the two of them.

As shocking as some of the findings are, a bit of sobriety is warranted, at least according to some. Authorities in the field have said that the strict reporting regulations regarding incidents in nursing homes somewhat artificially inflate abuse statistics, being that some of the incidents that must be reported as abuse may be as innocuous as one resident slapping another.

Regardless of whether the abuse statistics are inflated, instances of abuse seem to be rising. The report found that the percentage of facilities that have been cited for abuse violations has increased each year since 1996. The abuse of our vulnerable elderly is a serious matter, particularly when it occurs in the places designed to treat and protect them. If you believe that you or a loved one has been abuse while in the care of a nursing home or other elderly care facility, you may have a claim.

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Hospice & False Medicare Claims

Nursing home company misconduct takes various forms. Most notably,when corners are cut and employees act inappropriately then individual residents can be harmed. Nursing home neglect and abuse is an endemic problem that causes countless injuries and deaths each year.

But in recent years more and more attention has also been drawn to administration and business tactics used by companies that may violate the law. This form of misconduct often involves companies bilking the taxpayer via Medicare or Medicaid. A large portion of long-term care payments nationwide are ultimately drawn from these public programs. This means that everyone loses when long-term care companies violate rules in order to increase their billing unnecessarily. Many different state and federal rules are in place which dictate the parameters by which companies can bill these programs for provided services.

Misuse of Hospice Care
The problem flew under the radar for a significant period of time, but many advocates are now stepping forward and attempting to hold these large companies accountable for their actions.

One particular billing irregularity that caught the attention of officials involves abuse of hospice care. For example, late last year the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with one hospice center following allegations that the company enrolled patients into hospice care who did not actually need those services.

According to the United States DOJ, the company in question agreed to pay $3 million in response to claims that it ran afoul of the False Claims Act and collected money from Medicare that it was not entitled to receive. Specifically, federal government officials argue that over a five year period the company leaders pushed staff members to admit all patients who were referred to their hospice program–without any regard for whether those patients actually qualified for the program per Medicare rules. Not only that, but officials claim that some staff members actually falsified medical records in an attempt to cover up their false enrollment. Officials also suggest that untrained nurses were employed, minimized the involvement of actual physicians, and kept patients enrolled even when not necessary.

Call for Whistleblowers
The U.S. DOJ notes that the allegations themselves were first brought to light when former employees of the alleged company came forward and explained what was going on. The settlement is therefore a reminder of the importance of current or former employees speaking out when they see wrongdoing. Under the False Claims Act, those who act as a whistleblower in these cases that result in a settlement or judgment to receive a portion of the money returned. This is built into the law specifically to act as a catalyst for those with knowledge to

If you have information about misconduct at a long-term care facility, from nursing homes and assisted living facility to hospice care center, please do not stay silent. Contact our nursing home attorneys today to share your story and see how we can help.

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A Jury of Your Peers? When Are You Entitled to a Trial By Jury?

The jury box–the place where jurors sit when hearing evidence during a trial–is such a mainstay of our legal system that many people are surprised to learn that not all trials involve juries. In fact, the right to a jury trial is not guaranteed in all circumstances. If you may file a lawsuit to ensure accountability following nursing home abuse, it is essential to know when you have a right to a jury and what may cause you to lose this right.

Determining the Fact Finder
In a legal proceeding, questions are often placed in one of two categories: questions of law and questions of fact. Questions of law are determined by a judge. Such questions may include what type of evidence is admissible in a trial and whether a certain objection raised by one of the attorneys should be sustained or overruled.

Questions of fact, however, deal more directly with a defendant’s innocence or guilt, and include questions such as whether a witness is credible. The fact finder–the person or group who decides these questions of fact–may be the judge in some instances or may be a jury in others.

A Constitutional Right to a Jury
According to the U.S. Constitution, most defendants have a right to have a jury in their criminal trial whenever their conviction may lead to an incarceration of more than six months. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution further requires that the jury be “impartial.” This means that the jury must weigh the evidence fairly and reach a conclusion based on facts and not based on bias or prejudice.

Like the U.S. Constitution, the Illinois Constitution likewise grants defendants the right to a jury trial in legal proceedings.

Trials Without a Jury
There are a few, rare civil cases where a jury right may not apply, but they are unique circumstances and not those related to typical nursing home neglect issues. Alternatively, in many cases a party has the right to decide to forgo a jury and have a judge decide instead. Decisions about juries involve complex trial strategy. If you have the aid of an experienced trial attorney, he or she can explain the pros and cons of any trial decision.

In many ways, these matters are an “artform” that takes years (or decades) to hone. The decision often depends on the specific issues upon which the case will fall. When it comes to understanding the effect that various forms of mistreatment may have on an ailing senior, it is often important to have the decision reached by community members. That is because they often have elders in their own family and are able to step into your shoes to understand why you are pursuing justice following mistreatment.

Seek Out Experienced Nursing Home Lawyers
If a loved one was harmed by inadequate nursing home care, it is critical to contact a skilled Chicago abuse lawyer. Understanding your rights may be the difference between full accountability or the company getting away with poor care. For help in Chicago and throughout Illinois, please reach out to our legal professionals today to see how we can help.

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More Oversight of Elder Care Facilities in San Diego County

Over the past several months, Southern California has been in the elder law spotlight.  With news of rampant nursing home abuse throughout the state and a PBS frontline special, California legislators have been looking to more closely regulate residential care facilities for the elderly (RCFEs) in our state.  During the second week of March, the San Diego Board of Supervisors made a decision to “tighten oversight of residential care facilities for the elderly,” and they also elected to fund a “one-year pilot program to investigate and prosecute crimes committed at care homes, according to an article in KPBS San Diego.

Old Man

Nursing home abuse and neglect is a serious problem in San Diego and, indeed, across the state and country.  If you suspect that your elderly loved one has been injured because of nursing home abuse or nursing home neglect, you shouldn’t hesitate to speak with an experienced California nursing home abuse lawyer.  At the Walton Law Firm, we have years of experience handling these claims, and we’re eager to help with your case.

Details of the San Diego County Supervisors’ Decision

How will San Diego County tighten up its RCFE oversight?  First, the supervisors “unanimously approved establishing an eight-member unit in the District Attorney’s office” that will be “tasked with enforcing standards of care, and working to identify and prosecute” criminal cases of elder abuse.  This new unit will do its best to bring to justice nursing homes and other elder care facilities that aren’t playing by the rules.  According to District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, her office “works very hard to help victims of elder abuse” and to “hold those who prey on them accountable.”

What else will change?  San Diego County is also planning to provide additional funding for its Long Term Care Ombudsman program.  Back in 2009, funding for this program essentially was cut in half, but Supervisor Greg Cox has promised that the county will restore that lost funding.  According to the County of San Diego’s website, the Long Term Care Ombudsman program “advocates for residents in long term care facilities.”

For the purposes of the program, long term care facilities include nursing homes and certain other licensed facilities in the state of California.  And if you’re not sure what an ombudsman does, it’s simply a person who “listens to concerns, provides information and assistance when requested, and will investigate and resolve complaints related to care or personal rights.”

According to Cox, the board plans to double the number of patient advocates it currently has, thereby increasing the number of “unannounced visits to facilities.”  More patient advocates also means more employees who can investigate complaints when they come in.

Elderly Residents in San Diego County to Double in Coming Decades

If county officials are right, “the number of residents at least 75 years old” will “nearly double by 2030.”  Yet before making these important reforms, the services and resources available to older adults through San Diego County weren’t sufficient.  The supervisors hope that their plans for additional and stricter oversight measures will help out with the “Silver Tsunami” that’s on its way in the coming decades, as many officials call it.

Are you concerned about an elderly parent who currently resides in a residential care facility for the elderly in Southern California?  Contact a San Diego elder law attorney at the Walton Law Firm today to talk about your case.

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Photo Credit: Neil. Moralee via Compfight cc

Blue Line Trail Derailment at O’Hare – Dozens Injured

One of the top stories across the country today involves the shocking train derailment at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. The photos of the event show what must have been a terrifying experience for all those on the train and in the area at the time. The affected machine looks to have virtually careened off the track and partially up an escalator leading to the airport terminal from underground.

Making matters worse, early reports indicated that just shy of three dozens people were hurt in various forms. Considering that the event just struck, the extent of the injuries remain unclear, but our thoughts are obviously with those harmed and their families.

The Blue Line Accident Details
Riding on the L is a routine, daily event for many Chicagoans. From traveling to work downtown to heading up north to catch a flight at O’Hare. But most of us take for granted the risks that are ever-present when traveling. Train accidents are not as uncommon as you might think, something that the passengers on the ill-fated Blue Line train learned harshly.

Investigations are still underway to determine exactly what went wrong. local authorities are still learning about the details, and the National Transportation Safety Board was informed.

Various possibilities exist, including improper signaling and/or equipment failures. In addition, there is a good chance that some sort of human error was involved, and a Chicago Transportation Authority Spokesperson admitted that speeding may have been involved. The CTA official explained, “It appears as though the train would have been going faster than a train normally birthing at this station would be. Normally a train pulls in at just a couple miles an hour and pulls into the state. Obviously this train did not stop so speed could be a factor here.”

Further inquiry revealed that driver exhaustion may have played a role. A union representative confirmed that the driver was “extremely tired” at the time of the accidents. That suggests that she may have falling asleep, at least momentarily

Legal Liability for Chicago Train Derailment?
It is impossible to predict how this matter will resolve itself in the upcoming weeks and months. However, as most appreciate, the civil law allows those hurt by the negligence of others to recover for their losses. Regardless of the specifics of this particular accidents, it is likely that some form of negligence contributing in whole or part to the derailment. That is obviously true if, for example, the driver fell asleep at the controls. But that is also true if equipment was not maintained properly and malfunctioned.

Needless to say, all those affected by this incident should seek out experienced legal help as soon as feasible. The train injury attorneys at Levin & Perconti are here to help. Feel free to send us a message today to learn more.

Reminder: Keep an Eye Out for Elder Financial Exploitation

We are in the heart of tax season, with less than a month left before the April 15th filing deadline. As you sort through your personal paperwork your head may spin while trying to understand complex rules regarding deductions, tax rates, and more. Financial matters are complex. That is exactly why professionals are involved in many transactions, because it is difficult for regular community members to figure it out on their own.

Unfortunately, it is for the very same reasons that senior financial exploitation is such a common problem. Anyone is at risk of having their money taken in various scheme, but seniors have unique vulnerabilities that make them prime targets for abuse.

Considering finances are on the mind of many Chicagoans this season, it is a perfect time to offer some reminders about the prevalence of elder financial exploitation and the signs that may indicate a senior in your life is affected.

Financial Abuse in Illinois
This sort of mistreatment can be perpetrated by anyone. However, researchers into the subject note that the most common perpetrators are family members, unscrupulous financial professionals, and, in rarer cases, strangers who “befriend’ the senior. Some common general signs of mistreatment include:

—Account figures change suddenly. Retired seniors are usually living off a nest egg, and it should only be depleted on a safe, systematic basis. Any sudden change is a huge red flag that something is amiss.

—The senior has a new, close friend. Of course there is nothing wrong with new relationships blooming in old age. However, it is important to be at least somewhat cautious of individuals who seem to grow particularly close to a senior in a short time. Those willing to cheat vulnerable, often lonely, elderly residents usually first work their way into their lives as a friend.

When the exploitation is occurring by a financial professional, there there may be unique warning signs. For example, as mentioned in a recent Forbes article on the subject:

—The financial professional (often a broker) convinces the senior to drastically alter their investment strategies. Retired individuals almost always need of of safe, secure investments to ensure they have funds to last indefinitely. Unfortunately, some brokers trick seniors into making unwise moves, often buying investments that do not make sense simply to increase the broker’s commission.

—The broker changes companies and convinces the senior to follow along. It is not uncommon for brokers who are willing to bend the rules to lose their position with respected firms. However, when they do, they may take clients with them to a new firm–particular seniors who have a sense of loyalty. The risk of exploitation of senior savings is far more likely at these times.

Don’t Wait, Act
Hundreds of millions of dollars are lost each and every year as a result of senior financial abuse. The problem continues to fly under the radar, because those with some suspicions of mistreatment remain silent. It is important not to wait until it is too late. Usually by the time any problem is uncovered, it is impossible to recover any money lost. There is little risked by at least asking about your suspicions and ensuring that your loved one is not being abused.

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Another State Seeks to Beef Up Statutory Protections for Seniors

If elder abuse and neglect strikes you or someone you love, it is important to ensure there is full, legal accountability. But how is that done? The accountability can take different forms, both under the civil law and criminal law.

If the misconduct is intentional or particularly abhorrent, then criminal charges may be filed against those involved. Prosecutors make the determination as to whether the situation involves the breaking of a law in the state criminal code. Potential penalties in these cases may include jail time, probation, fines, or various other punishments.

Alternatively, those individuals directly harmed by the mistreatment (or their families) decide to pursue accountability under the civil law. In civil lawsuits alleging elder neglect, the potential outcome is usually not a “punishment” for the wrongdoer but instead compensation to help the one harmed.

Within the civil justice system, there are various legal arguments or avenues that can be pursued to have one’s rights vindicated. On one hand there are general “common law” negligence claims. This refers to general rules built up over the centuries that allow all those harmed by misconduct in different situations–from car accidents to elder neglect–to recover from those responsible.

Increasingly, however, Illinois residents affected by elder abuse take advantage of statutory laws that protect residents and provide a “cause of action” for those hurt to pursue remedies under the civil law. These elder law statutes were specifically debated and passed by legislators in Springfield, signaling the importance placed on the issue

Of course, deciphering all of this is the work of nursing home neglect attorneys. But it is important for all residents to know that Illinois has particularly robust statutory laws in place protecting seniors. The State of Illinois Department on Aging published a helpful brochure online that discusses our Elder Abuse and Neglect Act in addition to other laws that affect the rights of seniors. It is worth browsing the statute to get a feel for the issues involved.

A New Trend?
Unfortunately, not every state takes elder abuse and neglect as seriously as Illinois. Across the country there are different rules regarding how nursing homes must act, what rights residents have, and many other senior-related manner. However, likely spurred by demographic trends which suggest a “graying” of America, many more states are passing laws like those in Illinois to explicitly protect the elderly community.

For example, policymakers in our neighboring state of Iowa are working this spring to change laws to better protect seniors. A Globe Gazette story notes that while Iowa is one of the “oldest” states on average, they do not have many statutes on the books protecting elderly residents. In an effort to correct the imbalance, many senior-care advocates are working to pass laws there that protect more individuals, particularly seniors who are at risk but not necessary fully dependent on others. For instance, this may include changing state laws related to powers of attorney affecting older residents and other efforts to prevent the financial exploitation of seniors.

Hopefully these measures pass in Iowa and elsewhere to better protect seniors in all living situations.

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Horrific Accusations of Illinois Nursing Home Abuse Purposefully Videotaped

The abuse, neglect, and exploitation of seniors throughout Illinois occurs far more than most residents believe. The reason for the disconnect between perception and reality is likely rooted in the fact that most people cannot fathom ever mistreating a senior. It is natural to imagine that others feel the same way and thus assume that the total instances of mistreatment must be small.

Sadly, study after study shows this not to be the case. As many Chicago nursing homes residents and their families are forced to learn first-hand, much mistreatment is based on neglect. This refers to cut corners and carelessness that place senior residents at higher risk of suffering serious injury.

But neglect is not the whole story. More than you might imagine, seniors are intentionally abused by those who are supposed to be providing care. This outright abuse is a particularly horrific stain on any facility where it occurs. It is incumbent upon all of us to ensure full accountability following this mistreatment.

Teen Employees Videotape Physical Abuse
Chicagoland residents received a vivid reminder of the depths to which some caregivers will go following reports of a story out of St. Charles. As discussed late last week by CBS Local, two teenagers from South Elgin were recently arrested after information surfaced about their abuse at the Rosewood Care Center.

Initial reports were minimal. However, it is now believed that the two teens were employees at the facility. At some point while working, the teen girls–both 18 years old–apparently began physically abusing a 98-year old senior resident. It is unclear what form the abuse took. Compounding the sad situation, the girls apparently videotaped the intentional abuse on their cellphones.

Fortunately, information about the attack somehow became known to others at the facility, and authorities were eventually brought in to investigate. Following that investigation the two suspects were arrested by local police and charged with at least two criminal counts: aggravated battery of a person over sixty years old and unlawful videotaping. Under the criminal code, the penalties for various crimes can be enhanced based on ‘aggravating” factors–like victims being seniors.

It is unclear if any other residents of the facility were affected in the same way. However, those capable of intentionally abusing one individual may be likely to do the same to others. That is why authorities are urging anyone with information about similar mistreatment contact them. You can reach the St. Charles Polce Department at 630-377-4435. Alternatively, an anonymous tip line is available at 866-378-4267.

The Importance of Proper Nursing Home Hiring
This tragic case is a clear example of the critical role that nursing home hiring plays in proper caregiving. It is simply inexcusable for facility owners and operators to hire individuals to work with residents who are capable of such outright abuse and mistreatment. Even in case of intentional conduct–as this appears to be–the problem could usually have been avoided had proper safeguards been in place for staff hiring. Care workers on the front lines working with residents are those best positioned to prevent mistreatment, and, at the same time, those with the best opportunity to commit abuse or allow neglect.

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