The federal government unveiled a new tool last month for families to see if a nursing home facility was recently accused of abuse. The government-run Nursing Home Compare website, which aggregates nursing home safety information from across the country, will now flag nursing homes which have credible allegations of abuse reported to authorities in the last 12 months. A “small icon” of a “red circle with a white hand inside” will show up next to the name of the nursing home facility whenever it is searched for on the government website.
Nursing home advocates say the change is minor but long overdue. Studies show that as many as one in 20 nursing home patients are abused and the problem is rarely reported. Already, more than 5 percent of the nursing homes have been branded with the icon warning of abuse allegations, representing facilities with 1.4 million residents. Families who want more information on the allegations of nursing home abuse can look at the entries on inspection reports. The Wall Street Journal details one example where two wheelchair-bound residents with dementia got into a fight and staffers at the Pennsylvania nursing home chose not to intervene. The fight ended when a 95-year-old man died. Another example reported by the national newspaper involves a Maryland nursing home where health inspectors found maggots in the face wound of a dying cancer patient. Both facilities will now have red warning icons next to their name on the government website.
The government says that the red icons will be updated monthly and facilities can have the warning signal removed after going 12 months without any allegations of nursing home abuse. The nursing home industry has decried the new rating as unfair, saying many of the allegations are not proven and its only effect will be to discourage patients and staffers from wanting to work at their facility which could create even worse conditions for their nursing home residents. The government disagrees and says it will provide helpful information to families. “Families facing the decision to put a loved one in a care facility or nursing home deserve to have reliable tools to help make the best choice possible,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, a long-term advocate of reforming the nation’s nursing home industry. “They shouldn’t have to worry that their loved one will be abused at the hands of a caregiver,” he said at a Senate hearing in July. Grassley also noted that because the nursing home industry receives massive amounts of federal money – $70 billion in 2017, and growing each year – regulation and accountability are both necessary and appropriate.
Nursing home advocates hope the new label will finally help uncover the plague of nursing home abuse in the country. While the incidences of reported abuse doubled between 2013 and 2017, studies and government reports indicate the problem is still largely underreported. “We just hit the tip of the iceberg here,” Richard Mollot, executive director at Long Term Care Community Coalition in New York told the WSJ. “We are not finding the harm that’s out there. If we see a few occasions that are getting out, I think it’s an important alert for the public.”