Recently in Nursing Home Negligence Category

Country's Worst Nursing Homes Receive Federal Insurance

November 17, 2014

last-station-nursing-home-4.jpegThe Center for Public Integrity recently revealed that hundreds of the country's lowest-rated nursing homes are receiving federally-backed, guaranteed mortgages. This assistance is worth billions of dollars, so why is it being given to facilities that harm residents and do not meet federal safety standards? Nursing home lawyers at Pintas & Mullins offer an investigation into this issue.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) insures mortgage loans through a little-known program with little to no oversight. Throughout the country, nursing homes (and particularly for-profit chains) routinely receive HUD-guaranteed loans, regardless of the quality of care they provide.

Another federal agency, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) rates the country's nursing homes based on annual health inspections, staffing levels, and resident care. Take, for example, the Alden Alma Nelson Manor nursing home in Rockford, Illinois, which consistently earns the lowest possible quality rating from HHS, and has earned these abysmal ratings for the better part of a decade. Alden Alma recently paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for the deaths of three residents and incidents of abuse and sexual assault. Despite this, Cambridge Realty Capital approved a $12 million mortgage for the facility, and the HUD insured the loan.

Another Illinois facility that received an HUD loan, the Crossroads Care Center in Woodstock, has a federal one-star rating. It was also fined about $360,000 for the deaths of six residents, including allegations that a nurse purposefully overmedicated and killed residents. That nurse, Marty Himebaugh, was found guilty of felony criminal neglect.

Again, despite this, in 2013 Crossroads Care received $4.4 million in a HUD-backed loan, it's second since 2001. Similarly, the Alden Wentworth Rehabilitation nursing home on Chicago's South Side received a $10.6 million HUD loan, even after a beloved resident fell four stories at the home, prompting a senate hearing. Two years before the loan, another resident died after wrongfully receiving narcotics for three weeks.

Stories like this abound throughout Illinois and the rest of the country. HUD officials claim that they are not made aware of safety and health issues, yet how this can be true is disconcerting. Why is there no system by which HUD employees must check a facility's quality of care before financing it? Why is there no emphasis put on regulatory enforcement, or communication between agencies - particularly when it comes to our nation's most vulnerable citizens?

The Center for Public Integrity states that this type of situation is not uncommon: since 2001, hundreds of the worst-ranked nursing homes in the country have received HUD-guaranteed loans, worth about $2.5 billion. In fact, the number of one-star nursing homes receiving HUD insurance rose every year between 2009 and 2012.

An esteemed nursing professor at University of California at San Francisco said that this HUD pattern points to serious issues about the communication - or lack thereof - between government agencies, an outrageous lack of oversight, and the improper use of public funding. There hasn't been any public scrutiny over the HUD's practices, which makes a bad problem even worse.

How, When, and Why This is Allowed


As mentioned, these loans are made possible by a little-known federal program: the National Housing Act of 1959, which was enacted by Congress to make it easier for nursing homes to secure loans on reasonable terms. It was created in effort to provide a reliable stream of income to nursing homes, which previously had trouble finding loans.

This may seem like a good thing, but the program means that if nursing homes default on the loans, the public pays (about $187 million in defaults have been incurred since 1959). These mortgages have been granted to over 7,000 nursing homes; currently, about 13% of all nursing homes have HUD-guaranteed loans.

About 240 nursing homes with a one-star rating have HUD loans, with Ohio having the most of any other state (30). In Illinois, 20 one-star nursing homes have HUD loans, and California ranked third among states. For-profit nursing homes make up the large majority of one-star loan recipients, with corporations owning two-thirds (despite representing only about half of all nursing homes nationwide). Experts believe that the HUD should restrict its guaranteed loans to only non-profit nursing homes, which generally run higher quality and safer facilities. This makes sense. The government should not be financing large, for-profit, multi-billion dollar corporations.

Part of the reason these facilities are able to get away with the death and demise of residents while still securing financial backing is because the owners spend hundreds of thousands in donations to political candidates.

Continue reading "Country's Worst Nursing Homes Receive Federal Insurance" »

Investigation Finds Nursing Home Care Lower Than Families Believe

November 12, 2014

last-station-nursing-home-7.jpgIn every nursing home throughout the country, staffing levels directly affects the quality of care residents receive. Far too many nursing homes are understaffed, under-funded, and not giving residents the comprehensive care they need. Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight a recent investigation by the Center of Public Integrity, which found that families may be overestimating the amount of care their loved one is receiving.

The Center for Public Integrity is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that recently compiled years of data from Medicare databases on nursing home staffing levels. The Center analyzed data from more than 10,000 nursing homes throughout the country and found that a staggering 80% of facilities report higher levels of registered nursing care to consumer websites than in actual reports to Medicare.

Notably, eight out of then ten states with the largest differences in reporting are in the south; and Arkansas and Louisiana's self-reported staffing levels were more than twice the actual numbers reported to Medicare.

The self-reporting system referred to in this report is the Nursing Home Compare website, which is extraordinarily popular and used by millions of families to find the "best" nursing home for their loved one. We have written about this website and its deficiencies in the past; the posts can be found here.

Experts believe - and are proven correct - that the staffing levels on this website are artificially inflated and, in many cases, extremely overestimated. Families who are looking to place loved ones in nursing homes have few resources at their disposal for finding the best facility. Making matters worse, most are given only a few days to find a facility after their loved ones are discharged from hospital or rehabilitation centers.

As a result, families rely on websites like Nursing Home Compare, and genuinely believe that their loved one is in a well-staffed, high-quality nursing home when that is quite far from the reality. It is only after an avoidable injury or extreme deterioration in health that the truth becomes known, and quite often, that comes too late.

Further complicating the issue, some data indicates that at least 700 nursing homes in the U.S. (and 250 in Illinois alone) have staffing levels that are actually lower than what is required by state law. Only 33 states and Washington D.C. directly mandate staffing requirements.

Real Patients, Real Harm


Too many Americans read stories like this and think it's a problem that does not, or will not apply to them. As the baby boomers grow older, however, more and more Americans will need to be placed in nursing homes in the coming decades, and it is often their families who will have to make the decision.

In its report, the Center for Public Integrity detailed the story of a resident admitted to nursing homes in Little Rock, Arkansas, and her family's experiences. Edna Irving was placed in Chenal Heights Health and Rehabilitation Center when she was 80-years-old. Her daughters believed the facility provided quality care based on the upper-class neighborhood it was in and high ratings on the Nursing Home Compare website.

Just one week after being admitted, however, Edna was hospitalized for a bowel obstruction. After being admitted back into Chenal Heights, her daughter went to check on her and found her lying in her own feces. A month later, Edna fell from her wheelchair, suffering a large laceration to her forehead. One week after this Edna developed a urinary tract infection because of inadequate catheter care.

Continue reading "Investigation Finds Nursing Home Care Lower Than Families Believe " »

Falls a Serious Threat as Population Ages

November 3, 2014

The nursing home negligence attorneys at Pintas & Mullins law firm have decades of experience working with residents who suffer from serious or repeated falls in nursing homes. As the baby boomers age - about 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day - more and more people are entering nursing homes. A large percentage of these residents will fall during their time in these facilities, suffering serious and sometimes fatal injuries.

14658335956_58f10a9b9d_b.jpg The New York Times recently published a series of two articles exclusively on this topic. The first, published on November 2, 2014, begins by profiling a retirement in San Francisco that had strict requirements for residents during meal times to help reduce falls. The residents were required to park their walkers once they reached their table to eat, and remain seated while staff brought them their meal - no additional trips to the buffet were warranted and they could not pick out their own meals.

This was a requirement until a resident sued the retirement community, claiming it took away her freedom to move as she pleased. Now, residents at The Sequoias are allowed to talk their walkers to and from the buffet, but not during peak hours.

Similar battles are being waged in nursing homes and assisted living centers throughout the country, where more and more residents are being admitted with serious disabilities and fall risks. Recently, there has been much attention on how to prevent falls among residents, as more often than not, falls result in disability, decreased quality of life, functional decline, and feelings of helplessness.

Some facilities hire interior designers and architects to mediate the environmental hazards in nursing homes. Some of their recommendations involve floor lighting in bedrooms and energy-absorbing flooring in bathrooms to make falls less severe if they do occur. In research, the National Institute on Aging and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute recently began a $30 million dollar study on elder fall prevention.

Life-Changing Consequences


In 2012 alone, more than 24,000 Americans aged 65 and older died after a fall, and millions more were treated in the ER for injuries from falls. Unfortunately, many aging residents do not acknowledge their risk of falling or the necessity of taking precautions to prevent it from happening. My 95-year-old grandfather lives alone and does his own laundry, in the basement, down stairs with no railing. "I can do my own laundry," he insists whenever my family inquires.

This is a familiar story for so many families whose loved one refuses to recognize their own vulnerability. Stairs and getting in and out of bed can be particularly hazardous. Nursing homes should regularly inspect rooms to measure bed height, toilet height, grab bars, furniture that could fall if grabbed for support, and other safety measures.

Any failure to take precautions to prevent falls in a nursing home could be considered negligence if those failures lead to a serious injury. Everyone who enters a nursing home is required to be evaluated for fall risk and other conditions so the nursing home can create a unique, comprehensive care plan for each resident. These care plans then need to be routinely updated to account for new, worsened, or improved health conditions.

If a fall does occur, it must be reported to the staff, who then must report it to their higher-ups. This is the only way staff can know the true extent of someone's fall risk and help protect them. When nursing homes are extremely understaffed, which is common among for-profit nursing home chains, residents can lie alone on the floor for hours, even days at time, with a serious injury.

Continue reading "Falls a Serious Threat as Population Ages" »

Nursing Home Reforms Desperately Needed

October 17, 2014

Thumbnail image for christian-nursing-home-1.jpgCorporate America pushes for big business with a heavy emphasis on high profits, and it is affecting nearly every aspect of our economy, from grocery stores to gyms. What many people do not know is that big business now owns most of the country's nursing homes, running the facilities like any other for-profit, investor-owned corporation. Nursing home attorneys at Pintas & Mullins detail these for-profit companies and how they have impacted the care residents receive.

Nursing home chains are expanding throughout the country, operating facilities across multiple states and reaping in profits. As this trend proliferates, these chains are also facing massive liability for their poor standards of care. Nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits are filed on behalf of residents after they are seriously injured, or in many cases, killed by inadequate care.

Because corporate owners purposefully skimp on resources to boost profits, residents receive less time with nurses, who are so overworked and understaffed that they are physically unable to adequately care for each patient. This leads to wrong medications, frequent falls, dehydration or malnutrition, bedsores, or even elopement, when residents leave the facility without supervision.

Lawsuits Reveal Reality


Some of the most recent lawsuits receiving national media attention include a case in Maine where a resident was discovered to have maggot infestations in his chest wound. Another, in Syracuse, New York, involved a claim of sexual molestation. One nursing home chain in particular, Extendicare, is facing a $40 million settlement for illegal billing practices and substandard care.

Chains keep profits high and costs low largely by reducing staffing, primarily registered nurses, who can be costly to retain. Staff wages are also cut, putting immense stress on those working and causing resentment, fatigue, and stress.

One study found that the four largest for-profit chains, which were purchased by private equity firms between 2003-2008, were cited for more deficiencies after they were purchased. Nursing homes are inspected at least once per year by state officials. Deficiencies include poor sanitary conditions, resident mistreatment, infections, failure to prevent bedsores, severe resident weight loss, and other indicators that residents are facing harm.

This was one of the first studies to definitively link private equity acquisition to a decrease in resident care. The authors of this study point to the need for an increase in oversight and greater accountability, along with funding incentives and support for better staffing levels.

If you live anywhere in Illinois, you have seen the recent attacks on governor candidate Bruce Rauner for the role his own private equity firm, GTCR, played in an exorbitantly negligent nursing home chain. The chain, Trans Health Management and Trans Healthcare, is facing billions in liability after several resident deaths and consequent lawsuits.

Continue reading "Nursing Home Reforms Desperately Needed" »

Illinois Ranks Last in Nursing Home Safety

October 7, 2014

elderly-woman-her-view.jpgA recent nursing home report card gave Illinois an "F" grade, putting our state at the bottom of national rankings for nursing home care. The report card is issued once per year by Families for Better Care, a nursing home resident advocacy group. The elder neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins take a closer look at this nursing home report card and why Illinois is ranked so poorly.

Families for Better Care scores each state based on eight factors, including:

1. The average amount of time professional nurses or assistants spend per resident per day
2. The percentage of nursing homes with above average professional nursing staff
3. The percentage of nursing homes with above average health inspections
4. The percentage of nursing homes with deficiencies and severe deficiencies

Severe deficiencies are defined as a violation that places residents in immediate jeopardy, or actual reports of resident abuse, neglect, injury or death. In total, 11 states received a failing grade, including many of our surrounding states, such as Missouri, Michigan, Iowa, and Indiana.

The most obvious difference between the best states for nursing homes and the worst is the amount of time staff spends with residents every day. Unfortunately, Illinois is among the most inadequate places for hiring and retaining enough staff to properly care for residents.

On the brighter side, there are quite a few nursing homes in Central Illinois that consistently do a great job caring for residents and keeping staff and safety levels up. In the state overall, one in four nursing homes cited a severe deficiency within the past year.

Government Takes Action


The conditions in American nursing homes are a serious issue needing immediate attention, and although individual legislators are largely failing to act, federal agencies are attempting to take the reins. The agency that oversees nursing homes, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), recently issued a press release on a quality improvement initiative.

The press release details two initiatives aimed at improving the quality of nursing home care. The first is the expansion and strengthening of the Five Star Quality Rating System for nursing homes, which we recently wrote about here. This rating system is widely used and trusted by families who need to place a loved one in a nursing home but are unsure where to start looking. The system, however, is immensely flawed, which is why CMS is taking measures to improve it.

The second initiative CMS will establish new conditions for the home health agency, which deliver care to patients living at home. Starting in 2015, CMS will make changes to the Five Star system by conducting random inspections in a sample of nursing homes, verify staffing reporting with payroll information, increase the number and type of quality measures used to rate facilities, and improve the methods they use to score nursing homes.

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Rauner Avoids Responsibility in Nursing Home Tragedies

September 25, 2014

Thumbnail image for 4084144518_8db40df1cb_o.jpgTrans Healthcare and Trans Health Management, nursing home companies that controls a chain of nursing homes throughout the country seems to be continuously fighting off lawsuits, bad press, and claims of fraud. Bruce Rauner, the candidate for Illinois Governor, is snared in these issues, as his former company is accused of scheming to avoid liability for resident deaths. Nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins unpack this story to separate fact from hearsay.

As a federal trial begins in Florida, Rauner is making the media rounds in Chicago to promote himself as the Republican candidate for Illinois governor. When asked questions about Trans Healthcare, Rauner purposefully sweeps the issue under the rug, underplaying his role in the company and declining to respond further.

The scandal is quite complex, which makes it easier for Rauner to avoid the issue while campaigning. It also helps that the federal trial are in Florida bankruptcy court, involving shell companies, private equity firms, and nearly a decade of legal twists and turns. In other words, it isn't exactly the simplified, sensationalist media bait so loved by political candidates.

Elder Neglect, Deaths, and Exploitation


The saga begins, for our purposes, in 2003, at a Trans Healthcare-run nursing home in Florida. A resident there, 76-yaer-old Juanita Jackson, died five weeks after she was discharged from the nursing home due to injuries incurred during her stay. Her family claims the nursing home was negligent in its care for Jackson, leading to severe and numerous bedsores, falls causing head injuries, and malnutrition. A jury agreed with her family, deciding that Trans Healthcare should pay $110 million for her wrongful death.

Trans Healthcare and Trans Health Management were ordered to pay $55 million each, which the Jackson family has yet to see. Sadly, they are not alone: five other families with claims of wrongful deaths against the nursing home companies are stalled as well.

The bankruptcy court trial centers on claims that Bruce Rauner's private equity firm, GTCR, created a shell company to avoid paying over $1 billion for these wrongful death claims. In 2006, Trans Healthcare transferred its assets to a separate holding company (the shell company), while legal liability was transferred to an entirely different firm, which we will call Firm B.

In a heartbreaking testimony, which was videotaped and played for the court on Monday, an elderly graphic artist with absolutely no nursing home experience recounts how he, inexplicably, came to own Firm B. The man, Barry Saacks, testified that he had no idea that he was the lone shareholder of Firm B, and that he did not remember ever signing papers to buy Trans Healthcare.

It is fairly obvious that Saacks was used as a pawn, and his age brings suspect that it may have been a case of elder exploitation and financial abuse. In his testimony tapes, Saacks appears consistently confused by lawyers' questions and disoriented about the company that he supposedly owned. In many interviews, he is in a hospital gown and sits in a wheelchair. He says he's never heard of Trans Healthcare, only that he created logos and designs for an investor who was a partner with GTCR and Trans Healthcare.

Other lawyers state that Saacks was given cash to sign closing documents that made him the sole shareholder of Trans Healthcare. He is now himself living in a nursing home, and is listed as a plaintiff alongside the families with pending wrongful death suits. They are asking the federal judge to unravel the transfers and transactions and rule that the companies engaged in fraud.

Bruce Rauner ran GTCR for over twenty years and left only recently to pursue his campaign for Illinois governor, though he insists that he had little to no involvement in the actions of Trans Healthcare and its nursing homes. GTCR launched the Trans Healthcare nursing home chain in 1998, and Rauner was a member of its board. GTCR asks the judge to dismiss the claims.

Continue reading "Rauner Avoids Responsibility in Nursing Home Tragedies " »

Proposed Law to Allow Cameras in Nursing Home Resident Rooms

September 9, 2014

14655032011_2f87222b1e_c.jpgThe Illinois Attorney General's Office recently proposed a new law that would allow camera and audio recordings in the private rooms of nursing home residents. The resident would need to consent to the cameras and they or their family would cover all costs. Nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins applaud this effort by the attorney general, and hope this new piece of legislation is passed.

This law is in response to the thousands of complaints from nursing home residents and their families who are concerned about resident health and safety. Current Illinois law does not allow recording devices to be used in resident rooms, however many elder care advocates argue that cameras can be exceedingly helpful in deterring or preventing abuse and neglect in nursing homes.

In cases where abuse or neglect is confirmed, the recordings could be used in court to hold abusers responsible. This would be particularly useful in situations where injured residents suffer from dementia or other health problems that render them unable to adequately convey what happened to them. The proposal will allow recordings to be used in court, including harsh penalties for anyone caught tampering with the devices.

The main issue causing hesitation among nursing home advocates relates to privacy and whether or not the cameras will breach privacy rights. This needs to be addressed in the legislation, which is now being drafted. Since the cameras will only be installed with the explicit consent of the resident, it seems logical that privacy issues will be few and far between.

State-Wide Outrage Over Nursing Home Safety


Nearly 20,000 complaints against nursing homes are filed every year with the Illinois Department of Public Health (and they can now be filed online - more information here). Complaints ranges from minor, such as inadequate meal planning, to devastating, like the series of assaults, rapes, and abuse in nursing homes.

In 2009, the Illinois Senate held a hearing in which the outrage over the safety and conditions at nursing homes was finally expressed. In response to the uproar, one of Governor Quinn's top advisors outlined steps the state would take to end the cycle of abuse and neglect. Among those steps included efforts to end placing mentally ill adults into nursing homes, many of whom have felony records of victimizing their elderly cohabitants.

Illinois state senators called for a full-scale overhaul of how nursing homes are inspected and monitored, including developing a better screening system for helping mentally ill adults coming from jails, shelters, and psychiatric wards. For families concerned with security and safety of their loved ones, cameras could be an invaluable source of comfort.

More than 100,000 Illinois residents live in nursing homes - a number that is expected to increase steadily as the baby boomers age. Unfortunately, the nursing homes not only in Illinois but throughout the country are not meeting basic standards of health and safety. A recent federal report stated that one in four nursing homes are so substandard that they pose a threat to resident's wellbeing.

"Grannycam" Laws


Five states have similar laws allowing cameras in nursing homes: Maryland, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington, with additional efforts in Michigan. The legislation in Maryland was the first of its kind to pass, and was driven by the testimony of a state Delegate whose mother was abused in a nursing home. Susan Hecht's mother, who suffers from dementia, repeatedly told loved ones that she was afraid to be in the facility and that she was not receiving good care. Her cognitive problems rendered her unable to remember the names or specific identity of her abusers.

Continue reading "Proposed Law to Allow Cameras in Nursing Home Resident Rooms" »

California Nursing Homes Charged with Overmedicating Residents

September 4, 2014

christian-nursing-home-1.jpgAt least two California nursing homes have been charged with habitually overmedicating elderly residents for no other reason than to staff convenience. The drugs given are known as antipsychotics, and are given to residents without any psychiatric diagnoses. Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight this often-fatal form of abuse against the elderly, and how to spot signs of overmedication in elderly loved ones.

The two California nursing homes with charges filed against them are Watsonville Nursing Center and Watsonville Post-Acute Care Center. One of the charges centers on an elderly resident who was given the drugs Haldol and Risperdal without his, his family's or his physician's consent. Two weeks after dosing him, the patient was hospitalized for an array of ailments including infected bedsores and sepsis, which is a blood infection caused by untreated bedsores.

Without knowing anything further of this case, one can make a few guesses as to what exactly happened at this nursing home. Understaffing is a widespread problem in nursing homes like Watsonville that are run by for-profit corporations. Because the facilities are so understaffed, the employees who are working are stressed and overwhelmed by the high-needs residents, and most are untrained in mental health care. Often times, for the convenience of overworked employees, nursing homes overmedicate residents as a simple way to sedate them and make them less "needy."

If a bed-ridden resident is sedated they are unable to ask for help or even recognize that they are developing serious injuries like bedsores. Bedsores, also called pressure ulcers, occur when a patient with limited mobility is not moved from certain positions for long periods of time. Sores often develop on skin close to the bone, such as the back, sacrum, heels and elbows. If these bedsores continue untreated, they decay the skin, muscle and bone, ultimately causing life-threatening infections like sepsis.

Bedsores are one of the most common and indicative signs of nursing home abuse or neglect. Any resident who is immobile or unable to move around on their own is at risk of developing bedsores, which the nursing home must take all necessary steps to avoid. It is their legal responsibility to prevent bedsores from developing and to treat them so they do not progress.

Nearly Three-Fourths of Florida Residents on Antipsychotics


In 2010, the University of South Florida conducted a study and found that more than 70% of Medicaid residents in state nursing homes received a psychoactive drug. Most of these residents did not have any psychiatric diagnoses, and were not taking such medications before entering the nursing home. Another 15% were taking four or more psychoactive drugs.

True, some nursing home residents may medically require a psychoactive drug to manage their symptoms of schizophrenia or bipolar disease - but certainly not 71%. The FDA has even made it explicitly clear that psychoactive drugs like Risperdal are extremely dangerous in the elderly, significantly increasing the risk of premature death.

Making matters worse, antipsychotic drugs can negatively interact with the other medications residents may be taking; the average nursing home resident is prescribed 10 or more drugs. More often than not, it is the dangerous combination of powerful drugs that cause things like falls, confusion, and repeated hospitalizations in residents.

When a resident is admitted to a nursing home, the law requires that they are assessed for mental illness. However, in many states, new residents who are admitted directly from hospitals are exempt from these evaluations. Thus, less than half of residents with major mental illnesses ever actually receive these assessments upon admittance.

Imagine this scenario: a single nurse is overseeing the night shift at an 80-bed nursing home. In the middle of the night, one of the residents starts screaming and refuses the nurse's help, becoming more and more agitated. She is waking the other residents, who are troubled by the commotion, so the nurse decides to administer a tranquilizer without first checking how the drug will interact with the patient's other medications.

If the nurse was not the only one on duty that night, or she had better psychiatric training, she would have more time and resources to calm the agitated resident. A medication, however, is a simpler fix for someone in her situation. The consequences of this practice (commonly referred to as "chemical restraints") are far-reaching.

In 2013, the U.S. Justice Department brought criminal charges against Eli Lilly for illegally promoting its antipsychotic drug Zyprexa to nursing home physicians. The drugmaker was accused of encouraging doctors to prescribe Zyprexa to residents with sleep problems and dementia, even though it is only approved for schizophrenia and bipolar. The result was a $1.4 billion civil settlement.

How to Help Stop the Abuse


It is important to note that overmedication practice do not stem exclusively from negligent or abuse staff - it is just one factor in the wider, systemic problems within the nursing home industry. The solution, therefore, is multi-faceted. There needs to be more mental health professionals in nursing homes who specialize in senior care, and employees need to be more heavily trained in psychiatric conditions and alternative treatments. For their part, insurance companies need to cover mental health care at the same rate as physical medical care, so treatments like behavioral therapy are not out of the question for residents on a budget.

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Medicare Star Ratings May Do More Harm Than Good

August 26, 2014

2454143641_00d9fa44e5_o.jpgChoosing a nursing home for yourself or a loved one can be among the most decisions difficult of your life. In a culture increasingly dependent on the internet, Medicare's nursing home ranking website is exceedingly popular. There are more than 15,000 nursing homes in the United States; trying to find the right one is overwhelming, which is why systems that rank facilities are so widely used.

Nursing home lawyers at Pintas & Mullins and throughout the country are concerned that these online ranking systems are actually causing much more harm than good. Here, we delve into this matter and the reality of Medicare's five-star system.

The New York Times recently published an in-depth, wonderfully written yet harrowing account of how Medicare's ratings allow nursing homes to cheat the system - and ultimately elderly patients. Although the five-start Medicare program is relatively new (it was established in 2009), it has become exceedingly popular. Consider this scenario: your elderly mother lives with you, and one day she falls and breaks her leg, requiring emergency surgery and rehabilitation. After surgery, the hospital gives you just one day to choose a rehab center for recovery. Pressed for time and overwhelmed by the situation, you turn to Medicare.gov for help.

This is exactly what happened to the Chandler family, of Sacramento, California, in 2011. Wanting to keep her close to home, the Chandlers placed their 90-year-old mother in Rosewood Post-Acute Rehab, which had a five-star rating on Medicare.gov. Like so many others, they did not know how the rating system actually worked, and the hotel-like appearance of Rosewood comforted them. They placed Essie May Chandler in Rosewood for a six month stay.

In her six months at Rosewood, Essie lost 40 pounds, fell 11 times, had massive bruising across her body, and broke both her legs. Another six months after she returned home to her family, she passed away. The Chandlers now live with this guilt, clearly unable to forgive themselves.

What Went Wrong


Medicare's ranking system is based on three factors: inspection reports, staffing levels, and quality measures. These last two criteria rely only on data the nursing home self-reports to the government; and the feds never go in to check if the numbers are accurate. Therefore there is not much deterring nursing homes from over-reporting and sending false data to Medicare to boost their ratings.

To say the basis of this system is incomplete or lacking would be an understatement. It seriously misleads consumers because of its flaws and because it does not account for important factors, like complaints filed, or fines and enforcement actions. If that information was factored in, it is unlikely Rosewood would have five stars; from 2009 to 2013, officials received about 150 complaints and reports of problems at Rosewood, which is twice the state average.

To investigate further, Times reporters interviewed current and former residents at Rosewood, most of who said they did not think the facility deserved a five-star rating. Many residents live in a room with two other people, the facility is understaffed, and basic supplies are scarce. Rosewood has also recently been named in about a dozen lawsuits (including several resident deaths) from families who accuse staff of mistreatment and substandard care.

When injured residents or their families sue nursing homes for negligence or abuse, they quite often have to go up against the nursing home's parent companies. Rosewood, for instance, is actually operated by North American Health Care, which also owns more than 30 other nursing facilities. This offers a glimpse into why Rosewood appears so well-run on the outside, but fails its residents so egregiously.

North American Health Care is a for-profit corporation, focused on pleasing investors and increasing the bottom line. The nursing home industry is made up primarily of corporations like North American Health Care, who own dozens, if not hundreds of nursing homes. Understaffing, failing to keep up with supplies, and overcrowding rooms actually help boost profits, though cause grave harm to residents.

Many nursing homes have expertly learned how to play the rating game - one analysis shows that even facilities with illustrious histories of inadequate care have high ratings in the self-reported criteria. Case in point: of 50 nursing homes on federal watch for poor quality, two-thirds have four or five stars for quality data and staff levels, while the state-reported health inspections earned them one or two stars.

Continue reading "Medicare Star Ratings May Do More Harm Than Good" »

Nursing Home Complaints Can Now be Submitted Online

August 20, 2014

7019381983_7be24d1bef_c.jpgIllinois Governor Quinn recently signed into law two pieces of legislation that will help nursing home residents voice concerns about their care. The first law, effective immediately, allows these complaints to be submitted electronically rather than only over the phone. Nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins explain these new laws and how nursing home residents can make the best of them.

The second law, which will take effect on January 1, 2015, will expand the rights and protections given to ombudsmen and those in community-based care. These measures are part of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, which is a federal initiative within the Administration on Aging.

Ombudsmen are advocates for residents of nursing homes and other similar facilities; they work to resolve problems that individual residents may have regarding their care, and to bring about positive change within the industry. They are critically important to improving the care and quality of life at nursing homes, and programs for them exist in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Each state has a full-time official ombudsman, and there are thousands of local advocates throughout American communities as well.

Allowing nursing home residents to file complaints online will greatly help those residents who are nervous about voicing their complaints aloud out of fear of retribution. Too often, elderly residents are afraid of reporting substandard care at their nursing homes. If this fear is due to outright threats by nursing home staff, it can be considered a form of nursing home abuse.

Some nursing homes are better than others at policing their staff. Generally, non-profit or private nursing homes are better run, because they do not have to please investors or cut corners to save costs. For-profit nursing home chains are, unfortunately, notorious for understaffing their facilities and budgeting supplies so low there is not enough to go around. Understaffed, overworked nursing home employees are typically the perpetrators of resident abuse or neglect.

Some nursing homes are members of a national accrediting organization called the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), which inspects facilities and assesses staff performance. Nursing homes are also inspected by state officials about every six to 15 months; Illinois has about 200 inspectors of many different disciplines, including registered nurses, nutritionists, and environmental health practitioner.

For concerned families, information on these inspections are available. Complete survey reports can be found at the specific nursing home or through your state's Department of Public Health (typically within the Division of Communications).

What Happens After a Complaint is Made?


Complaints regarding care - which, as mentioned, can now be submitted online - are reviewed by ombudsmen in that state. These ombudsmen and their volunteers are trained and certified to investigate complaints and resolve them. If more than one complaint is issued against the same caregiver, an official case is opened, and visits are made to that particular nursing home. If necessary, the staff is given a training sessions on topics like residents' rights and safe practices. Private consultations are also available for managers or residents and their families.

According to the federal ombudsman website, the five most common nursing home complaints are:

1. Medications, such as wrongful administration and lack of organization
2. Improper eviction or inadequate discharges
3. Resident conflict
4. Lack of respect for residents
5. Poor attitude among staff

Medication errors are among the most dangerous forms of negligence at nursing homes. Antipsychotic drugs in particular have been used for many years as a type of "chemical restraint" for aggressive or unruly residents. Not only is this illegal, but it is incredibly abusive: there are specific labels on antipsychotic drugs stating that these drugs should not be used in the elderly or those with dementia, as it could cause premature death.

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Illinois Revokes License of Nursing Home Psychiatrist

August 13, 2014

78217195_07b2df9cdb_o.jpgA popular Chicago psychiatrist, Dr. Michael Reinstein, recently had his license suspended by the Illinois medical board due to his illegal prescribing of clozapine, an antipsychotic. He prescribed the dangerous drug to countless nursing home residents despite clear and irrefutable evidence that it could cause premature death in the elderly. Nursing home abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight this case and how residents succumb to corrupt doctors.

According to investigative reports, Reinstein, who worked out of an office in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago, gave clozapine to more than half of all his patients. Clozapine is a powerful antipsychotic drug, recommended for patients as a last resort. It can cause seizures, serious drops in white blood cells, heart wall inflammation, and death.

Reinstein received at least $350,000 in illegal payments from clozapine's manufacturer - a fact that came to light after a joint investigation by the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica, a non-profit advocacy group. After this investigation, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation stepped in, beginning a two-year legal fight.

Reinstein has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in his practice, and is seeking an to stop his license suspension in Cook County Circuit Court. He claims that every clozapine prescription was medically necessary, despite immense payments from the drugs' manufacturer, Teva Pharmaceuticals. Reinstein reportedly received $50,000 every year from Teva in a "consulting agreement."

In addition to this annual agreement, Reinstein also received numerous gifts from Teva, including free travel to and from Miami, fishing trips, lavish dinners, a boat cruise, and many tickets to sporting events. He enjoyed these gifts from 2003 to about 2009, when the investigation began, and Reinstein, undoubtedly feeling the heat, asked the drug maker to stop payments.

The legal battle is not looking promising for Reinstein. In March of this year, Teva agreed to pay a $27.6 million fine over claims that it paid Reinstein to prescribe the drugs. Another 2012 lawsuits against the disgraced doctor is currently pending in federal court regarding hundreds of thousands of false Medicare and Medicaid claims.

Nursing Home Deaths Tied to Clozapine


In addition to his Uptown clinic, Reinstein also served as a psychiatric medical director at over a dozen local nursing homes; one year he issued more prescriptions for clozapine than all doctors in Texas combined. It is impossible to understate how much damage he single-handed caused in the lives and wellbeing of his patients. At least three patients died of clozapine intoxication while under his care, and countless others lost their quality of life from this powerful antipsychotic drug.

One of his victims was a 50-year-old man named Alvin Essary, who was a resident at Somerset Place nursing home when he died in 1999. According to his medical records, he had over five times the toxic level of clozapine in his blood at the time of his death. Consequently, Essary's family sued Reinstein for his negligence, ultimately settling for about $85,000.

Another of Resinstein's patients was just 27 when she died of medication intoxication. According to investigations, Reinstein increased the dosage for Wendy Cureton at twice the recommended pace, and combined the drug with a sedative despite clear medical warnings not to do so. After yet another dosage increase, Cureton collapsed and died.

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Nursing Homes Linked to IL Governor Candidate Facing Lawsuits and Violations

July 16, 2014

7019381983_7be24d1bef_c.jpgFor those living in Illinois, Bruce Rauner is already a household name as the Republican nominee for governor of Illinois. Rauner is an incredibly successful businessman, and is running his campaign under the promise that he would run our (admittedly bankrupt) state more like a business. Nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins see one glaring problem with that promise: the serious violations coming out of a chain of nursing homes Rauner previously owned.

American Habilitation Services operates long-term care facilities for the elderly and disabled in Illinois and a handful of other states, including Texas, Arizona and Florida. Unfortunately, the chain has recently had to defend itself against several lawsuits and federal inspections after multiple residents passed away and hundreds of others were found living in deplorable conditions. American Habilitation Services (AHS) is one of Rauner's former companies, however, his spokespeople stated that he is not involved in the chain's day-to-day management.

Most of the nursing homes in the United States are run by for-profit corporations like AHS, which have only one goal in mind: to profit as much as possible. Too often, those profits come at the expense of patients, who are our nation's most vulnerable citizens. One would hope that a nursing home chain formerly owned by a political hopeful would demonstrate outstanding ethics or at least treat patients with respect; unfortunately, this is not the case.

It is no surprise that families of those elderly and disabled victims are taking legal action against AHS. Among their claims are several cases of wrongful death, one in an 11-year-old resident who was attacked and killed by an older resident. Other lawsuits allege instances of sexual assault, dangerous transfers, and severe negligence.

One lawsuit stemming from the 2001 death of a woman at and AHS facility in Arizona resulted in a $45.5 million verdict against the company. The case, which was one of the largest verdicts in Arizona within the past decade, arose when a disabled woman drowned in a bathtub after being left alone by AHS employees.

Around the same time, AHS was defending itself in a lawsuit filed by the Texas attorney general, after a woman at the Indian Wells House suffered numerous sexual assaults from an AHS worker. Two years later, the Texas attorney general again brought a suit against AHS, claiming the company improperly transferred a resident. The resident was found unconscious in the new home, without a heart rate. Employees of her new home were apparently unaware of her congestive heart failure diagnosis, and she later died in the ER.

In yet another example of gross negligence, in 2004 the Florida inspector general cited AHS for several violations, including overbilling the state for $7,000, several complaints regarding lack of food, and failing to report at least one sexual assault. Rauner left AHS's parent company in 2012, when he launched his campaign for Illinois governor.

Sadly, as the population ages, long-term care facilities like AHS will only become more crowded, making the residents more susceptible to harm and mistreatment. As stated, nursing home chains that run for-profit often leave their facilities without the resources necessary to properly care for and monitor all their patients. Similarly, to increase profits, many facilities are chronically understaffed, which leaves the employees who do work there incredibly overworked, stressed, and unable to fulfill their job duties.

Nursing home residents have considerable medical needs - some need constant supervision and care, which, if not received, can lead to significant physical deterioration and ultimately death. Many states have seen a trend in nursing home litigation and multi-million dollar verdicts. More often than not, these lawsuits are directly linked to issues of understaffing, lack of resources, and budget issues.

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After the Fall: Immobility in Nursing Homes

June 30, 2014

navigating-the-perils-of-broadway-and-79th-street-1.jpgOur nursing home negligence lawyers often see the dire and life-threatening consequences of frequent falls in nursing homes. Recent studies find that half of residents who suffer a hip fracture after falling either pass away or lose mobility completely. Families need to remember that there is help available, and many recovery options for elderly nursing home residents.

The above-mentioned study was conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine. Researchers at the University observed more than 60,000 nursing home residents who were hospitalized for hip fractures in a four-year period. Among their findings, researchers noted that residents above the age of 90 and those who did not undergo surgery for the fracture were most likely to pass away or become disabled.

Most of the nursing home residents observed for this study were able to move around on their own before they suffered a hip fracture, however, after the injury they suffered from many different types of disabilities. This reinforces the need to focus on preventing falls in the first place.

Six months after hospitalization, about one in three nursing home residents had passed away. Interestingly, males had a much higher mortality rate compared to female residents. By the one-year mark from injury date, about half of the patients had died.

Among the residents who survived, nearly 30% had to depend on others to help them get around, to get in and out of bed, and to perform personal hygiene. This significantly restricted their ability to participate in nursing home activities, so they spend much more time in bed, which in turn only amplifies their fragility.

How Families Can Help


Families with a loved one in a nursing home should be aware that, if a fall does occur and the patient suffers a hip fracture or break, they will likely never return to their pre-injury health state. It may also be helpful to encourage residents to undergo surgery for the fracture, even if they express hesitation. In these and other areas, families should begin planning for the future care of their loved one, who may become newly dependent on nursing home staff to get around.

About 12% of those involved in the study did not elect for surgery after their fracture, and that 12% were significantly more likely to die or need constant assistance than those who did undergo surgery. It is important for patients and their families to discuss the option of surgery with their doctors, even if it is not originally recommended. Surgery may still be possible even for those who have a host of other medical conditions.

Hip fractures left untreated can be extremely painful, with pieces of broken bone rubbing together with even minor movement. The benefits of reparative surgery can range from extending life to improving mobility, however, no one should be forced to undergo a procedure if they do not want it.

Many nursing home residents, because of cognitive conditions like dementia, are unable to make complex medical decisions for themselves. Compounding this, dementia residents are typically more vulnerable to falls and broken bones than other nursing home residents. In this type of case, is it important for family members to work together with the nursing home and medical care team to determine the best course of action for the resident.

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Nursing Home Deaths Prompt Bed Handle Recall

May 21, 2014

386416510_aeb24a731d_o.jpgOver 110,000 portable adult bed handles were recently recalled after at least three elderly women died from suffocating between the bed handles and mattress. The bed handles are frequently used in assisted living facilities to help residents get in and out of bed. Nursing home negligence lawyers at Pintas & Mullins look into this issue more carefully and highlight a few ways to keep elderly loved ones safe.

Bed Handles Inc. is recalling all the adult portable rails that it sold from prior to 2007. Specifically, the company is recalling models BA10W, BA11W and AJ1. All three deaths caused by these handles occurred in assisted living or adult family homes, similar somewhat to nursing homes though with less supervision and nursing care. Two of the women were living in Washington State, and the third was residing in Minnesota.

The handles were sold by home health care stores, medical equipment stores and even drug stores throughout the U.S. from 1994 to 2007. They are L-shaped steel bed handles and can be up to 20 inches tall.

The handles are so dangerous because they can shift away from the mattress, creating a gap that disabled or elderly patients can fall in to and potentially strangle or become trapped. Any facility or private home with these bed handles are urged to stop using them immediately.

Bed handles should only be used when a safety retention strap is also in place, to hold the handle to the bed frame. These straps are about three-feet long and slip under the mattress. In a statement, Bed Handles Inc. said it will be sending customers these safety retention straps along with instructions on how to correctly install them.

Unsafe Nursing Home Beds Cause for Concern


Of all the dangerous aspects of a nursing home, beds and bed handles are likely low on the list of threats for families to consider. We have seen many cases of residents seriously injured by unsafe beds, however. In a recent lawsuit in Illinois, a man in his mid-50s was residing in a nursing home, where his bed was installed with side rails.

After an assessment, the nursing home staff decided to remove the side rails, however staff only removed the horizontal rails, leaving some posts in place. One night, the man tried to get out of his bed, lost his balance and fell backward. One of the posts negligently left in place pierced his rectum, tearing it, which required surgery.

His family filed a lawsuit against the nursing home for failing to properly remove the bed rails, and during interviews employees stated that the only reason they left the remaining posts on the bed was for convenience. Staff agreed that the posts posed an unnecessary hazard to the resident, and the man ultimately received about $125,000 for his injury.

It is now widely asserted that bed rails and handles can cause serious injury and even death in nursing homes, however the risk is still little-known among families. Patients who are particularly frail, or those with Alzheimer's or dementia, are particularly at risk. The good news, is that injuries from bed rails are largely preventable.

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Telephone Tax Scam Targeting Seniors

March 31, 2014

10293765284_87848338cd.jpgAs tax day approaches, criminals posing as IRS agents are taking to the phones to try to scam senior citizens out of their retirement money. Elder law attorneys at Pintas & Mullins detail how the telephone scam works and how to protect your loved ones.

The Fraud Watch Network recently issued a press released outlining this new and wide-spread scam, which has already taken over $1 million from tens of thousands of taxpayers. Scammers call citizens, targeting older individuals, pretending to be IRS agents and demanding tax payments using wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. The fake agents threaten legal action against the person on the phone if they refuse to pay.

The caller is typically listed as 'private' on caller IDs, and some may even know intensely personal information like the last four digits of the victim's social security number. Some even follow-up on the victim with an official-seeming email to convince them that they do indeed owe money to the IRS.

Some of the tax victims were recent immigrants, which scammers took advantage of, threatening to have them deported if they refused to pay. Similar tactics would be used against elderly victims, who may be unaware that the IRS typically communicates with taxpayers through the mail.

How to Protect your Loved One

Remind your aging loved ones that, if they are concerned about any owed back taxes, they should call the IRS themselves, at 1-800-829-1040. Also remind them that the IRS and other government agencies would never require a wire transfer or prepaid debit card payment, and would never threaten someone with deportation or drivers' license suspension like these scammers are currently doing. Government agencies would also never request PIN numbers or banking passwords over the phone.

Many people with elderly parents want to believe their mom or dad is still "all there," or at least competent enough to recognize scams like this. Unfortunately, even the most highly-educated and intelligent seniors are prone to lapses in judgment, especially when victimized by clever criminals.

In some cases, such as with those with advanced dementia, scammers may be able to get large sums of money out of seniors. If you recognize this happening to your elderly loved one, it is possible to obtain Power of Attorney over them to protect their funds and livelihood.

A Power of Attorney is a legal document giving the agent (typically a son or daughter of the elderly person) the right to act on behalf of that person. This can be limited to a specific event, like selling of a house, or during a specific time frame, such as while that person is receiving medical care. It can also be used specifically for medical decision (called a Health Care Power of Attorney) or, in this case, for financial concerns.

It is absolutely necessary, however, that the elderly person has full mental capacity when they sign the Power of Attorney in order for it to be valid. If this is impossible, other alternatives are available, such as going through court proceedings to be named a legal guardian or conservator. Therefore, it is often best to talk to your aging parents while they are still fully understanding about the possibility of becoming their Power of Attorney, should they ever develop a cognitive condition like dementia.

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