A recent survey has uncovered a significant concern for residents in nursing homes: the apprehension of facing retaliation from staff members if they voice their concerns or report instances of neglect or abuse.
The study, undertaken by the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a nonprofit that champions the rights of individuals in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, delved into 100 complaints lodged by nursing home residents nationwide.
This week’s report has illuminated ongoing challenges in the U.S. long-term care sector that potentially magnify neglect and subpar facility conditions. These challenges, accentuated by the pandemic, include overburdened and undercompensated staff, experts point out.
Dr. Eilon Caspi, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy, spearheaded the research. The data, analyzed from complaints and associated investigations by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services between 2017 and the previous year, is collated in a report titled ” ‘They Make You Pay’: How Fear of Retaliation Silences Residents in America’s Nursing Homes.“
He and his research group highlighted that the apprehension of backlash could significantly hinder “reporting, detecting, and investigating abuse and neglect.” The team commented, “While exploratory in nature, this review, we believe, offers the most comprehensive insight into this alarming, yet mostly unnoticed cause of distress for nursing home residents in the U.S.”
David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, noted the prevalent issues related to care quality in U.S. nursing homes. He stated that these fears might contribute to the underreporting and underestimation of cases of neglect and abuse.
Grabowski observed, “There are real fears here that, at the end of the day, there’s going to be retaliation. While most staff members are dedicated and hardworking, when these issues arise, they demand attention.”
Terry Fulmer, an expert in elder abuse and geriatrics, and president of the John A. Hartford Foundation, expressed the imperative of educating staff about the repercussions of retributive behavior. She remarked, “Care in nursing homes, as COVID re-emphasized in shocking detail, is not up to the mark. It’s essential to recognize this issue, educate about its prevention, and empathize with how it impacts families, the elderly, and even the staff.”
One complaint from a resident of a facility in northern California revealed fears of raising concerns, citing repercussions and aggressive behavior from staff members. Several other complaints in the report detailed allegations of sexual misconduct against staff, residents being left in unsanitary conditions, and threats to residents’ families if they chose to report these issues.
Dr. Caspi, in a conversation with USA TODAY, pointed out the dependency of residents on the staff. He emphasized the power disparity, stating, “Residents often feel minimized due to the inherent imbalance of power.”
John Rowe from Columbia University drew attention to the pivotal role of staff conditions in enhancing the quality of care in nursing homes. Reflecting on the complaints, he noted the challenges posed by a “dealing with the toughest patients” amidst a workforce that’s stretched thin.
Rowe remarked, “The American health care system, especially this sector, is grappling with issues stemming from underfunding, understaffing, and insufficient training. These challenges manifest in some instances of elder abuse and neglect by an overwhelmed, underprepared workforce.”
Richard Mollot, the coalition’s executive director, emphasized the importance of understanding how the fear of retaliation amplifies the vulnerability of residents.
The Importance of Liability Mitigation
This report not only underscores the profound issues in the long-term care sector but also starkly highlights the pressing need for Assisted Living Facilities, Skilled Nursing Facilities, Nursing Care Centers and Residential Care Centers to be vigilant and put a program of Liability Mitigation in place. According to Westwood Insurance Group President, Michael Richards, it is important that managers see such a program for its cost saving advantages and not as just another expense. When you calculate your average annual expenditure on litigation payouts and expenses, and look at action that could have been taken to prevent them, it begins to make a lot of sense. Staff training and monitoring is perhaps something that managers should look at more closely.
You can read more about Senior Living Liability Mitigation here.
The report also highlights the need for Sexual Abuse & Molestation (SAM) insurance, further emphasizing the importance of safeguarding the elderly. Senior living facilities must be adequately insured for all possible scenarios they could face.