Illinois 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.