The assisted living movement was rooted in good intentions. It was supposed to be a more affordable, humane alternative to what people began to view as a corrupted nursing home industry.
It was a place where American seniors could sustain a greater level of independence and life fulfillment, while still having their medical needs met and physical safety protected.
However, in the last 20 years, it has become a multibillion-dollar industry serving some 750,000 elderly people nationwide. Seeing the kind of money that can be made, some facilities have shifted their priorities to value profits over people. Perhaps this was in some ways to be expected, but what’s especially troubling is that the level of regulatory oversight of these facilities is all over the map. This has resulted in a number of cases of preventable injury, illness and even death among residents – with little sanctions for those who failed to protect them.
An ongoing investigation into elder care in America by news non-profit outlet ProPublica reveals the start regulatory differences even as they relate from state-to-state. For example, in North Carolina, states are allowed to fine assisted living facilities, inspection data is posted online, administrators have minimum education requirements and there are minimum staffing ratios required under state law. Facilities are also inspected every two years.
However, our Charlotte injury attorneys know that if you cross the border to South Carolina, you’ll find that while the state can fine assisted living facilities, it’s tough for family members to find information about which sites are troubled. That’s because state officials don’t post inspection reports online. What’s more, the state has no mandated schedule for the frequency of facility inspections. A facility could go five years or more without any kind of analysis from the state to ensure that residents are receiving proper care.
ProPublica detailed several examples of the kind of troubling situation this creates. One of those originated out of Ohio. There, a resident in her 80s drowned in her bathtub at an assisted living facility in 2010. While her chart indicated she was not to be left alone while bathing, records reveal she was alone in the tub for about an hour that day. Her death under questionable circumstances was not reported to the state health department. There’s no requirement for that anyway. And when state health officials were contacted, they responded that it did not appear the facility had violated any state regulations.
This kind of “hands-off approach,” as ProPublica characterizes it, is sadly not uncommon.
While all states have the power to shutter troubled facilities, very few ever do – even in cases where egregious violations or lapses in care have occurred. Even those that impose fines don’t do so at a level that has much impact. In California, for example, facilities are often made to pay $150 fines for violations – including in one case where a resident had died as a result of negligent care.
Consumers have the ability to track nursing home records online through a central government website. However, assisted living care is different. Such data isn’t available, leaving many families in the dark – and many troubled facilities continuing to thrive despite failure to provide high standards of care.
Some have called for greater federal regulation, particularly as population figures continue to skew older as the baby boom generation ages. The demand for assisted living facilities is only going to increase in the coming years.
Congressional committees have convened at various times following some of the more horrific instances of abuse and neglect (insects thriving in festering wounds, patients dying after being given the wrong medication by caregivers, patients calling 911 to help themselves, etc.). While some lawmakers have expressed grave concern that these facilities continue to grapple with the same issues over and over again, none has so far been successful in developing, let alone initiating, a federal regulatory framework.
Until then (and likely even after), it is up to family members to remain hyper-vigilant with regard to the level of care their loved ones are receiving. While it’s impossible to be there every second, loved ones should familiarize themselves with the potential signs of abuse and neglect, and be unafraid to speak up when such violations occur.
Contact our North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.
Elderly, At Risk, and Haphazardly Protected, Oct. 29, 2013, By A.c. Thompson, ProPublica and Jonathan Jones, Special to ProPublica
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Elderly at Higher Risk of Head Injury After Fall, Nov. 6, 2013, Charlotte Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog