There is a special place in hell for people who have the audacity and malice to steal from vulnerable elderly people residing in nursing homes.  I do not understand how someone can betray the trust of these residents in such a way.  Recently, I saw an article in the Staten Island Advance that discussed a case where a husband-and-wife team working at a Stapleton nursing home stole a credit card from a patient’s bedside drawer and used it at two locations on Staten Island.

Denard Brown, 44, and his wife, Benedicta Charles, 44, allegedly swiped the card from a patient.  Ms. Charles was responsible for providing care as a nurse’s aide at St. Elizabeth Ann’s Health Care and Rehabilitation Center, Stapleton.

The victim reported the card missing, which prompted investigators to monitor the card’s account for activity. Detectives got a hit last week at Waldbaum’s store.  Waldbaum’s turned over video surveillance tape that captured the couple using the card on Sept. 7. Armed with the tape, and bank records that implicated them in the crime, police arrested the couple at St. Elizabeth Ann’s when they reported to work.  Under questioning, Brown admitted he also used the card Sept. 4 to buy gas at a Hess station.

Ms. Charles and Brown have been "suspended pending an investigation," Fagan said.  Both are charged with grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and endangering the welfare of an "incompetent person."

 

 

Emmy Pei works for a technology provider in the medical  industry called Direct Alert (www.directalert.ca).  She was kind enough to share an article with us and we are pleased to include it on our blog. 

Elderly Care with Technology

There exists a looming problem in the healthcare system for our baby boomer population, and that is the shortage of people available to provide hands-on care for the elderly and the aging. Enter…the robots. Or to be more specific, a robot named Pearl.

Developed by a research team at Carnegie Mellon University, Pearl is undergoing a trial run in a Pittsburgh nursing home, guiding residents around the building, helping them get from their rooms to the dining hall, or from the library to their physical therapy session. Pearl is also able to give verbal alerts to remind residents to eat or to take their medications.

Advancements in assistive technology will not only improve the care for elderly people in institutions like nursing homes and hospitals, but they will also help to keep them out of said institutions. Fall detectors, pressure mats, door monitors, and bed alerts and medical alerts all serve to improve home safety, increasing people’s ability to live in the comfort of their homes for much longer.

There are also several new options to address problems such as failing to take medications on time or remembering to take them at all. Smartmeds offers a wireless service that delivers notifications to take medications via cell phone calls. The On-Time-Rx software for Palm pilots provides a similar service, sounding an alarm and displaying a set of instructions at the appropriate time. More 21st century style options include wristwatches with preset alarms as medication reminders, or automatic dispensers which sound an alarm and dispense the pills at the right times. Also featured is the medical alert bracelets which carry the direct alert receiver. These two pieces can be worn with comfort and confidence.

One obstacle to overcome is the intimidation factor. Something as simple as cell phone buttons being too small, or wheel-mouse devices that are too sensitive can prevent some folk from adopting new technologies. Recognizing this potential pitfall, Jeffrey Pepper founded ElderVision in 1999, a company devoted to helping technophobic seniors get online. The Touchtone system replaces the mouse and keyboard with voice and touch-sensitive activation, making computers more accessible to a generation who grew up without them. To send an e-mail, for example, you can simply touch an onscreen photo of the intended recipient, instead of having to worry about typing it out.

Technological developments like these allow older generations to stay more connected, while enhancing their independence. With their health and well being in the hands of people who care and with the proper technological tools, senior citizens can live more relaxed and comfortable lives. And while the age of robots still remains on the horizon, residents of the Pittsburgh nursing home told the Carnegie Mellon team that Pearl is fine, as long as it’s not seen as a replacement for human contact
 

Seattlepi.com had an article about the lawsuit against the infamous Extendicare.  See article here.

The article mentions that the lawsuit against Extendicare has been expanded to include new allegations that the homes admitted residents with disregard to meeting their needs in order to boost profits. The suit also alleges that Milwaukee-based Extendicare Health Services violated consumer protection laws by advertising high-quality, skilled nursing care and failing to deliver.

Extendicare, which runs one of the largest nursing-home chains in North America, violated a state law that bars nursing homes from making residents sign a form waiving liability for injury or property loss. Extendicare is "more interested in protecting themselves from liability and thereby increasing profits than protecting the rights, health and safety of their own elderly and vulnerable residents," the complaint states.

Federal records show that nearly all of Extendicare’s Washington homes have higher-than-average scores for health deficiencies from state inspectors.

 

Thanks to Stark & Stark’sNursing Home Law blog for posting an article from Lawyers USA about the hurdles that Plaintiffs face if they want to sue a nursing home.  I know you’ve heard us say it before, but nursing home companies make it harder and harder to get to court, and once there, they make it harder and harder to collect any judgment you might get against the nursing home.

Let me be fair, Mom and Pop nursing homes don’t have the same corporate structures typically as the national chains do, but they still use arbitration clauses in order to avoid a jury trial, so they have their own ways of avoiding litigation.

Whatever happened to providing good, consistent, quality care?  It seems to me that that would be the most effective way to avoid litigation.  I know it would be the preferred way to avoid litigation according to all residents and family members of residents of nursing homes.

 Anyway, the article talks about the corporate shell game that is currently all the rage for national nursing home chains, and how the companies set up a myriad of holding companies which profits are funneled through so that the nursing home itself has no money.

Couple that with failure to carry insurance, and the first thing that happens whenever a Plaintiff files suit is, the defense attorney says, well, there’s no money there.  That’s because a half a million dollars has been paid to the management company, or to a holding company that has no employees and provides no services.  A half million dollars that could be used to appropriately staff the facility in the first place. 

The full article can be accessed here, with quotes from some of the best nursing home lawyers in the country.  Its worth reading. 

Barbara O’Connell responded to a recent post about finding a good nursing home:

I just read your post below and thought you might like to know about www.WhereToFindCare.com. It’s easier to use and has more information than the site you referenced, including quality data and more types of providers. This should help your readers a little more. Learn more here http://wheretofindcare.com/mediaroom.aspx.

Numerous media outlets have discussed the recent report from the Inspector General that shows that 92% of all nursing homes violate the standards established by the federal and state governments.  ABC News had a good article here.

A government report released found extensive problems in America’s nursing homes. Nearly one in five of the nearly 15,000 nursing homes examined were cited for violations that put patients in immediate harm in 2007.   92 percent were cited for some type of deficiencies during each of the last three years.

The quality of care in nursing homes was the focus of those deficiencies. Experts also found that  far too many residents waited too long to get the help they needed.

"Very few of these deficiencies ever result in a financial penalty," said Wes Bledsoe, founder of A Perfect Cause, a non-profit group that advocates for the reform in long-term care. "And if they do, they are not collected. The system has no teeth."

"It’s a priority for me in this office because sometimes it’s a double crime," New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said. "First of all, it’s a fraud against the taxpayer. In many cases, taxpayers are actually funding these organizations and these institutions and they’re being defrauded. And secondly you are literally affecting the most vulnerable in our society. And that’s our first priority — to protect those people who literally can’t protect themselves."

This week’s report revealed that for profit homes are actually more likely to have problems than facilities run by local governments or non-profits despite having more resources and making substantial profits.
 

Family sues nursing home after senior falls, dies (09/26/08 Orange County Register) By Rachanee Srisavasdi and Courtney Perkes

Luveda Fern Kessler fell and cut her leg as she got out of bed at her Laguna Hills assisted living apartment.   It was 1:33 a.m. The 83-year-old woman did as she had been told to do: Press a personal emergency response call button.  She waited, bleeding from the two-inch gash. Twenty-four minutes later, at 1:57 a.m., an unidentified staffer at Villa Valencia Health Care Center called 911.  Valencia is owned and operated by Sunrise Senior Living that owns hundreds of for profit nursing homes.

Paramedics arrived at 2:10 a.m. Kessler lay on her stomach, nonresponsive. She was soon pronounced dead at a local hospital. Villa Valencia did not report the incident to the state.  

The Virginia-based company – which runs 445 senior centers internationally – has garnered criticism in two other lawsuits this year over care of residents at Villa Valencia’s adjacent nursing home unit.

In one of the cases, a jury in May awarded $2 million to the family of Mary Adams, who died in March 2005 after a brief stay at the center. Lawyers representing the Adams family argued that Villa Valencia was understaffed to give Adams adequate treatment for her pressure ulcers – which lead to her death.

A nurse identified Kessler as being at risk for falls, but she was not given assistance getting out of bed or going to the bathroom.

"My preference would be to have her at my house,” said Joanne Kessler, who lives in Aliso Viejo. "But I have a condo with a tri-level. There’s no way she could handle stairs. I thought, ‘It was better than her being alone, back in Seal Beach.’ "

Multimillion verdict against Life Care thrown out (09/26/08 Cleveland Banner) By Linda Womack

Life Care Centers of America was given another trial when an $11.5 million verdict was thrown out.  The nursing home was found to have been negligent and reckless in the death of a former resident. Former Circuit Court Judge Ginger Wilson Buchanan was the judge.  Buchanan did not offer a reason on why the original verdict was set aside.

A Bradley County Circuit Court jury awarded the multi-million verdict in compensatory and punitive damages as a result of the June trial. Dennis Matthews, son of Verdie Matthews a former Life Care resident, filed a lawsuit against Life Care Centers of America alleging the nursing home allowed his mother to develop severe dehydration and severe malnutrition which ultimately played a role in her death.   The jury found Life Care Centers acted negligent and reckless in a three week trial in June.

Ms. Matthews was a resident at the nursing home for four weeks when she was admitted to the Bradley Memorial Hospital on May 1, 2006. She died three days later. Her cause of death was determined by the hospital to be severe nutrition and severe dehydration.

Medical records indicated at the time of Ms. Matthews admission to the nursing home her weight was reportedly 105 pounds. At the time of her death, four weeks later, she reportedly weighed 92 pounds.   Throughout the trial Mr. Matthews’ attorney, Thomas Hornbuckle, argued the nursing home falsified fluid and nutrition intake records for Ms. Matthews and did not properly feed and hydrate her.

The NY Times had a recent article about the prevalence of violations in the vast majority of nursing homes. National for profit chains seem to get more violations than others.  The article cited that more than 90 percent of nursing homes were cited for violations of federal health and safety standards last year.   About 17 percent of nursing homes had deficiencies that caused “actual harm or immediate jeopardy” to patients, said the report, by Daniel R. Levinson, the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Problems included infected bedsores, medication mix-ups, poor nutrition, and abuse and neglect of patients.  Inspectors received 37,150 complaints about conditions in nursing homes last year, and they substantiated 39 percent of them, the report said. About one-fifth of the complaints verified by federal and state authorities involved the abuse or neglect of patients.

About two-thirds of nursing homes are owned by for-profit companies, while 27 percent are owned by nonprofit organizations and 6 percent by government entities, the report said.  The inspector general said 94 percent of for-profit nursing homes were cited for deficiencies last year, compared with 88 percent of nonprofit homes and 91 percent of government homes.

“For-profit nursing homes had a higher average number of deficiencies than the other types of nursing homes,” Mr. Levinson said. “In 2007, for-profit nursing homes averaged 7.6 deficiencies per home, while not-for-profit and government homes averaged 5.7 and 6.3, respectively.”

On Monday, Mr. Levinson issued a compliance guide for nursing homes that says some homes “have systematically failed to provide staff in sufficient numbers and with appropriate clinical expertise to serve their residents.” Researchers have found that people receive better care at homes with a higher ratio of nursing staff members to patients.

The inspector general said he had found some cases in which nursing homes billed Medicare and Medicaid for services that “were not provided, or were so wholly deficient that they amounted to no care at all.”

More than 1.5 million people live in the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes. The homes are only inspected once a year and must meet federal standards as a condition of participating in Medicaid and Medicare, which cover more than two-thirds of their residents, at a cost of more than $75 billion a year.

Medicare pays a fixed daily amount for each nursing home resident, with higher payments for patients who are more severely ill. Mr. Levinson said some nursing homes had improperly classified patients or overstated the severity of their illnesses so the homes could claim larger Medicare payments.

 

Associated Press reported that a nursing home was fined $360,000 related to the suspicious deaths of 6 patients at a northern Illinois nursing home.  Investigators have evidence that leads them to believe that the nurses employed by the nursing home was giving unnecessary drugs to the residents so they would not have to care for them.  This kind of behavior is considered a chemical restraint.  Because of patient load and lack of adequate staffing, the nurses give sedatives and other medications to quiet the residents so less care is required.  If the residents are asleep, the staff doesn’t have to respond to call bells, change briefs, or feed the residents. 

Penny Whitlock was indicted last spring on criminal charges including neglect and obstruction of justice.   Authorities began investigating the facility in Woodstock after six patients suspiciously died in 2006. Another employee, nurse Marty Himebaugh, also has been charged in the case.