Can a Natural Disaster Create Opportunity for Elder Abuse?
Hurricane Irma may have receded into the rearview mirror of history, but if your loved one lives in a nursing home, you may have good reason to worry about the next disaster and what it might bring. It’s suspected that a significant number of the approximately 15,600 nursing homes in the United States are not prepared for disasters, and that the 11 seniors who perished in a South Florida rehab center will not be the last ones to suffer. The executive director of National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, Lori Smetanka, commented about the Florida deaths, saying, “This could have happened anywhere. It could have been any type of emergency or disaster.”
Though this might not sound like a direct form of abuse, it’s important to understand that abuse goes well beyond physically or verbally assaulting an elderly person. A failure to prepare the nursing home for natural disasters like hurricanes can jeopardize the health and wellbeing of residents, and it is inexcusable. To speak to an elder abuse attorney who will stand up for the rights of abused residents, contact Steven H. Heisler by calling 410-625-4878.
Post-Katrina Changes Could Save Lives of Nursing Home Residents
New evacuation and safety rules were put into effect after the horror that was Hurricane Katrina, when it’s believed that 1,833 persons died, in total. At LaFon Nursing Home in eastern New Orleans, 22 elderly persons died, with 35 more drowning in a St. Bernard Parish nursing home, located right outside of New Orleans.
The rules and regulations regarding emergency plans are considered good, but enforcing the rules is the problem. The government often grants multi-year extensions to nursing home operators when it comes to complying with safety issues. Automatic sprinkler systems are only one example. The systems, which are proven to save lives during fires, were made mandatory in 2008. But as 2017 rapidly draws to a close, automatic sprinkler systems still have not been installed in some care facilities.
All long-term care facilities are required to be equipped with a supervised automatic sprinkler system. Failure to install and maintain these devices is negligence. When nursing home residents are subjected to these types of hazardous conditions, the facility can rightfully be accused of neglect or abuse. These conditions are unacceptable, and we are committed to holding negligent facilities accountable for their carelessness.
Our Elder Abuse Lawyer Puts the Spotlight on Nursing Home Inspections
The inspection process is lacking as well, and fewer or no inspections of nursing home facilities can lead to injuries, or worse. Our elder abuse lawyer can help you understand whether you have a legal case if your loved one was injured in a nursing home because the staff was lax with inspections. While 2013 through 2016 produced 2,300 cited violations of the emergency planning rules, a mere 20 citations or so were considered serious enough by the federal nursing home inspectors to be labeled as placing residents in danger. The three examples below illustrate how critical the problems can be:
- An El Paso, Texas, nursing home had no plan at all for evacuating patients in wheelchairs down a flight of stairs.
- In Colorado, one nursing home’s courtyard gate was locked, and no one knew the combination to unlock it.
- When a fire occurred at a Chicago nursing home, staff evacuated people farthest from the blaze first, clearly the wrong order in which to help patients to safety.
Those who advocate for elders in nursing homes believe that enforcing the rules is of great concern. Dr. David Marcozzi, a former director of the federal emergency preparedness program for health care and now an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, noted, “If you have not implemented and exercised plans, they are paper tigers. The emphasis from the surveyor has to be ‘Show me how you do this.’”
Inadequate Staffing Can Lead to Elder Abuse
In addition to physical infrastructure and process planning, other problems at nursing homes can lead to injuries to residents. A lack of staffing is a quiet epidemic in our country’s nursing homes. A 2016 study indicated that one-fourth or more of U.S. nursing homes could be considered seriously understaffed, perhaps dangerously so. Half of nursing homes are understaffed on a daily basis. Staffing becomes an even more urgent concern during a disaster, when workers might not be able to show up. But no national regulations exist that mandate any level of staffing in nursing homes. In Maryland, the minimum staffing requirement is 2.0 hours of care per resident over 24 hours. Many think this number is way too low.
Is Anything Being Done?
In Florida, new rules have been proposed regarding the generators needed to power emergency services for nursing homes; one proposal wants enough emergency power for as many as 120 hours. But one-third of nursing homes in the U.S. have been cited for not inspecting their existing generators weekly or testing them monthly. Nursing homes that violated the regulations more than once total 1,373 in the U.S., according to inspection records.
Perhaps the situation is best summed up by a senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy named Toby Edelman: “It’s always the same story: We have some pretty good standards and we don’t enforce them.”
Let Down by the Eldercare Industry? Let Our Elder Abuse Attorney Help You.
When you place a loved one in a nursing home, you are entrusting their well-being and health to a staff that you hope is caring, competent and professional. Unfortunately, many elderly people suffer from various forms of abuse, including harm done by other residents that the staff overlooks or does nothing to prevent. Those in nursing homes can even be evicted without just cause simply because they are too expensive or sick for the corporation running the nursing home. To resolve certain situations and obtain damages owed, you may need caring and compassionate legal assistance for your parent or other relative.
The law offices of Steven H. Heisler act on behalf of elder abuse victims, including those harmed by nursing home injuries. Interested in more information on whether you have a valid elder abuse injury or damages claim? Contact Steven H. Heisler today for a free initial consultation at 410-625-4878 or use our online contact form.
Eviction from . . . a Nursing Home?
Believe it or not, facing eviction from one’s nursing home is a growing problem for seniors and their families. Supposedly based on a behavioral or medical problem, but often based nearly entirely on greed, some nursing homes and assisted living centers are dumping their most difficult or least fiscally-productive patients, so they can open up beds for those who will cause fewer problems for staff and bring in more money.
Across the U.S., nursing home evictions are the leading category of all complaints about nursing homes. Between 8,000 and 9,000 complaints are registered with the government concerning such evictions every year.
In some cases, such evictions are legal, even if they cause harm to the resident and their loved ones. However, some evictions violate regulations and could provide opportunity for legal claims. If your loved one has been evicted from a nursing home, contact our elder abuse lawyer in Baltimore at 410-625-4878 to find out whether you have a case.
Why Is This Problem Happening?
In brief, Medicare pays more than Medicaid and is time-limited. To explain further: Short-term rehabilitation care that is paid for by Medicare, which is frequently prescribed after a hospital stay, pays 84 percent more for patients than the facilities receive from Medicaid patients. Medicaid is the health insurance program that kicks in when low-income elderly and others need long-term care. The ever-changing health care landscape penalizes those with few financial resources but many medical needs.
A staff lawyer at California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, Anthony Chicotel, says he receives calls weekly from those whose nursing homes are evicting them because they are transitioning from the more-lucrative Medicare to less-profitable Medicaid. He had this to say: “This focus on Medicare, Medicare, Medicare has pushed out people in the custodial care world. They don’t have anywhere to go, really, that can take care of them.”
Federal Protections Sometimes of No Help
You do have some protections under federal law when it comes to involuntary eviction from a nursing home if you are a Medicare or Medicaid patient. Under the law, only six situations apply under which a nursing home or similar facility can transfer or discharge patients against their will:
- The resident does not need the services any longer because their health has improved.
- The facility cannot meet the patient’s needs.
- The facility’s staff is endangered by the patient.
- Individuals in the facility are endangered by the patient.
- The resident has not paid or has not applied for Medicare or Medicaid.
- The facility is no longer operating.
Be aware, however, that these reasons are sometimes bent to suit the needs of the facility. For example, they may seek to get rid of all patients who need more intensive care, or who are disruptive, as Alzheimer’s patients sometimes are, and thereby claim they cannot meet the needs of such patients. The facility then fills their beds with more lucrative (that is, less costly) patients.
What Is Maryland Doing about the Problem?
In Maryland, nursing home residents already have some specialized protections. In 1995, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill providing nursing home residents with some protections, making it a crime if a nursing home evicts a patient who has nowhere else to go. The bill was passed because of the case of Anna Mae Washington. Washington was driven to the home of her court-appointed guardian, where workers wheeled her onto his porch, hurriedly threw her belongings over the porch’s railing, and rang his doorbell. Then the nursing home’s administrator and workers raced away, abandoning Washington in her wheelchair on the guardian’s porch, which was open to the weather.
This sort of behavior is reprehensible, but it could happen to your loved ones. As we all know, just because a law is in place doesn’t mean it will be obeyed. Nursing homes don’t always abide by court rulings. A case reported on by NPR highlights this situation. When a Sacramento, California, nursing home refused to re-admit an Alzheimer’s patient after his hospitalization for pneumonia, the family won their case for readmittance in court. And yet the nursing home still refused to allow him to return. A case is under way in California to require the state to enforce such court rulings.
Was Your Loved One Harmed? Our Elder Abuse Lawyer Can Help You
When you place a loved one in a nursing home, you are entrusting their well-being and health to a staff that you hope is caring, competent and professional. Unfortunately, many elderly people suffer from neglect, abuse, slips and falls, and improper use of psychotropic drugs and restraints. Those in nursing homes can even be evicted without just cause, simply because they are too expensive or sick for the corporation running the nursing home, creating a difficult, painful, and expensive situation for the family. To resolve the situation and obtain damages owed, you may need caring and compassionate legal assistance for your parent or other relative.
Your loved one deserves better. Steven H. Heisler stands up for his clients to ensure they’re given the respect they deserve. If your loved one is owed money for the abuse they’ve been subjected to, he’ll make sure they get it. Contact a Baltimore elder abuse attorney today by calling 410-625-4878 or filling out our online contact form.
Improvements in Nursing Home and LTC Facility Care for Our Loved Ones
While there are many problems with the nursing home industry, as we discuss above, there is also some hope for change. Almost everyone seems to know someone in a nursing home or long-term care (LTC) facility. Perhaps it’s an old friend, a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, or maybe even one of your parents. Advances in medical care mean it is growing more likely that we will need a nursing home or LTC facility as we live longer, but possibly frailer, lives. It is important to protect the rights and dignity of those who cannot speak for themselves. When such a need arises, Steve Heisler can advocate on behalf of your loved one in a Baltimore elder abuse case.
Those who act as advocates for nursing home residents argue that, because of inadequate staffing and other problems, care can be compromised. For example, federal law requires only one registered nurse (RN) on the day shift for facilities as large as 500 beds. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and nurses’ aides are left to take up the slack. Therefore, a number of the new rules focus on such personnel.
Proposed Changes by the HHS
In July of 2015, as part of the White House Conference on Aging, the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services revealed updates to existing regulations in order to improve care for those in nursing homes and LTC facilities. The rules went into effect in November of 2016. You can view the full regulations on the Federal Register site. The new rules and regulations would help improve the lives of residents in several significant ways, by:
- Requiring nurses’ aides to take 12 hours of training in dementia management and abuse prevention each year
- Taking the necessary steps to keep residents off psychotropic drugs unless truly necessary
- Updating infection prevention and infection control programs, including requiring protocols for antibiotic usage and monitoring to prevent over-usage
- Enabling residents to choose their roommates, as long as both parties agree
- Requiring menus to reflect the preferences and needs of the residents, including religious, cultural, and ethnic issues. Also, more time-related choices would be offered, allowing residents to eat or snack outside of regular meal times.
- Strengthening the rights of residents, including limiting when binding arbitration may be used to settle disagreements. Binding arbitration often favors corporations over individuals.
Dr. Shari Ling, Medicare’s deputy chief medical officer, said, “There have been significant advances in the science and delivery of health care that just weren’t imagined at the time the rules [for nursing homes] were originally written. For example, the risks of anti-psychotic medications and overuse of antibiotics are now clearly known, when previously they were thought to be harmless.”
The Obama administration estimates that the proposed changes would cost each nursing home roughly $47,000 to implement the new rules, and $40,685 for each year after that.
When You Need Help from an Elder Abuse Attorney
When you place a loved one in a nursing home, you are entrusting their well-being and health to a staff you hope is caring, competent and professional. Unfortunately, many elderly people suffer nursing home injuries during their nursing home stays. From neglect and nursing home abuse, to slips and falls, to improper use of psychotropic drugs and restraint injuries, the scope and severity of nursing home injuries can vary significantly from case to case.
Regardless of the type of injury that happened in a nursing home, if you believe it was the result of neglect or abuse, talk to our elder abuse attorney. Steve Heisler can help you get the justice you deserve. Call 410-625-4878 to talk about your case.
Catching abuse as it occurs is a difficult task. Residents often aren’t able to speak out, and many facilities have proven that they aren’t capable of holding themselves accountable. However, there are certain ways to oversee the operations of a nursing home that might improve accountability. One such method is the use of video cameras in nursing homes.
Monitoring for Elder Abuse by Video Camera
The website Safety.com reports that, according to recent studies, between 1 and 2 million people over the age of 65 residing in a nursing home setting are victims of abuse or neglect. That number may be understated since many elderly nursing home patients are either afraid or unable to communicate to their loved ones that they are being mistreated.
Many advocacy groups are urging the use of technology to document the conditions under which vulnerable older people live. Video cameras – sometimes called “granny cams” — may tell the story that abused patients cannot tell. Maryland is one of only five states in the U.S. that allow the placement of cameras in nursing homes. (The others are Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Washington.)
In fact, Maryland was one of the first states to consider electronic monitoring. The first attempt at legislating this form of patient protection was sponsored in 2001 by Maryland State Delegate Sue Hecht, who witnessed the abuse of her grandmother, Vera, in a nursing home. The bill failed to pass during that session and was introduced again in 2002; that bill also died in committee. Finally (as they say, three times is a charm), Vera’s Law became effective on July 1, 2003. With that passage, you may have more power to protect your loved one from falling victim to elder abuse.
10 Things You Need to Know About “Granny Cams” to Prevent Elder Abuse
Even if your loved one is a resident of a Maryland nursing home, you may never have heard of Vera’s Law and the state’s guidelines for placement of electronic monitoring in nursing homes.
Here’s What You Should Know About Vera’s Law:
- Nursing homes are not required to allow granny cams, but they can voluntarily permit their use under guidelines developed by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
- If a resident or his or her family wishes to conduct electronic monitoring, they must get the signed consent of other residents in the room, and this must be submitted to the nursing home administration – so filming is not done secretly.
- The facility must post and maintain a conspicuous notice at the entrance to the resident’s room stating that an electronic device is monitoring the room. Notice must be given to staff members and to the State.
- The camera must be installed in a fixed position and not able to rotate and may not be hidden.
- Only video recordings (not audio) are covered by Vera’s Law.
- The family of the nursing home patient must bear the cost of the camera, installation and any fees.
- The facility may choose whether it or the resident’s family is custodian of the recordings; but if the facility is custodian, then all recordings become a part of the resident’s medical record. No matter who is custodian, State agencies may have access to the recordings for analysis and enforcement.
- Cameras can not only deter abuse of patients – they also may provide proof of theft of personal belongings, another common problem in nursing homes.
- The most common argument against the placement of video cameras in nursing homes is invasion of privacy. But Maryland’s guidelines were written to address these concerns by requiring permission, notice and limitations.
- Video evidence of abuse or neglect of a nursing home patient would help make a compelling case for those seeking compensation in an elder abuse lawsuit.
If you suspect that your loved one is being neglected or abused in a Maryland nursing home or assisted living facility, contact the Baltimore elder abuse attorney at the Law Offices of Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer, for information about how you can find both justice and compensation. You can reach Steve at 410-625-4878.
Elder Abuse and Privacy Rights in Nursing Homes
There are provisions in Maryland law which protect the right to privacy of nursing home residents. The right to privacy is a feature of the Bill of Rights for nursing home patients, included in the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA). Certain aspects of patient privacy are also protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Maryland permits a nursing home resident or family member to request installation of a fixed video camera in the resident’s room (although the facility is not required to grant the request), but care must be taken not to record a roommate or any other resident, to safeguard their privacy. But what about videos or photographs taken by nursing home staff? Are they allowed?
When Taking Pictures or Video on Smart Phones Can Become Elder Abuse
Photos or videos taken by nursing home staff are not allowed if they violate the resident’s privacy. An employee who takes, and perhaps shares, unauthorized pictures or videos may be guilty of violating §483.13(b) of the NHRA, which prohibits mental abuse – and that includes humiliation – and/or §483.15, which requires nursing homes to maintain the dignity and respect of each resident. Unfortunately, with the widespread availability of cell phones that have still and video camera capabilities, we’re hearing more about nursing home employees who ignore the rights of residents in order to feed their own appetites for twisted humor or sensationalism.
- Take the case of the two Certified Nurse Aides in New York who used cell phones to surreptitiously photograph 11 residents of three nursing homes, including taking pictures of their genitals, bedsores and “other disturbing images.” They were indicted and charged with felony counts of unlawful surveillance.
- Or the New Jersey nursing home assistant and her friend who were charged with invasion of privacy for allegedly conspiring to take a photo of an elderly resident’s genitals and posting it on Facebook.
- Or the Oregon nursing assistant who took photos of dying nursing home residents and posted them on Facebook.
Outrageous, isn’t it? And certainly not what you or I would want for any elderly person we know and love.
Just as a nursing home can be held liable for negligence if they allow a culture which overlooks physical abuse or neglect of residents, they can be held accountable for policies which fail to protect residents from violation of their right to privacy and dignity.
Many nursing homes prohibit the use of personal cell phones by staff members while on duty. All should have policies in place to reprimand and institute charges against staff members who subject residents to invasion of privacy by sharing photographs of or information about residents. All violations of patient privacy should be quickly addressed, with disciplinary protocol consistently followed.
Attorney Steve Heisler
Steve Heisler decided in 1996 that he was going to focus his law practice exclusively on injury cases. Since then, he has been representing injured people against insurance companies, disreputable medical practitioners and Big Pharma, and doing it with compassion, honesty and level-headed rationality. [ Attorney Bio ]