The Seattle Times had a shocking article about the systematic pattern of covering up neglect and abuse in adult family homes. In fact, a Seattle Times investigation has found, cover-ups by adult family homes are not unusual. The Times found that over the past five years, at least 357 of the adult family homes in this state have concealed cases of abuse or neglect of their residents. Many of those cases involved serious injury or death.
In dozens of these cases, untrained or unlicensed caregivers mishandled residents’ medications, sometimes giving them fatal overdoses. In other cases, residents became ill after being denied basic care and hygiene. A Seattle man died from infection after his catheter was not changed or sterilized for four months.
In many cases, these caregivers tried to conceal abuse or neglect by forging medical records, lying to state investigators or threatening residents with eviction if they provided witness statements. Worse yet, The Times found, even when DSHS was notified of an incident of abuse or neglect, as required by state law, the agency many times failed to adequately investigate.
Washington law requires mandatory reporting of suspected abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults in nursing homes and adult family homes. State legislators passed that requirement in 1984, intending to provide a wide safety net — if one caregiver failed to report abuse or neglect, someone else along the chain of care would be required to do it.
The Times found that many homes routinely violated this law but rarely faced stiff punishments. Even when adult family homes and their workers have been caught trying to hide problems, most have kept their state-issued licenses.
DSHS, which is required to inspect each of the state’s homes once every 18 months, finds on average about 20 failure-to-report violations each month, mostly by reviewing residents’ files and taking note of any reportable injuries. Even so, officials acknowledge, the agency rarely passes on the evidence to law enforcement for further action.
DSHS officials acknowledge that adult-home caregivers have routinely failed to report neglect. In the past 22 months, DSHS investigators have uncovered 425 instances of failure to report, each of which resulted in administrative, noncriminal fines and other sanctions, said Kathy Leitch, assistant secretary for aging and disability services.
However, in analyzing state files for 2007-09, The Times found at least 53 cases in which DSHS officials had failed to adequately investigate reports of neglect or to forward evidence of criminal acts to police or prosecutors.
Among cases that DSHS knew about but did not refer to police:
• A witness inside a Bellevue adult home described how two residents were neglected and had developed life-threatening pressure sores.
• A health-care worker who visited a Renton adult home provided evidence of a resident who was "soaked in urine," with blood draining from two open wounds.
• A health-care provider revealed that a resident from a Shoreline adult home had lapsed into a coma after untrained caregivers failed to swiftly provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation.
The agency also failed to notify police even after its investigations found evidence of crimes. For instance, DSHS officials never notified police about the 2006 death of Nadra McSherry, 80, who died from untreated pressure sores, which developed at a Tacoma adult home. Caregivers at Narrows View Manor, owned by Arlie Leno, were aware for weeks of the advanced wounds, which were open to the bone, but failed to notify family members or seek emergency help, DSHS found. The Times profiled McSherry’s case earlier this year but only recently learned that her death was not reported to police.
In another case this year, DSHS found that a Seattle adult home had failed to provide proper care to a resident who had suffered a broken arm, allowing him to suffer for nearly two weeks. DSHS levied a $1,200 civil fine against the home in June. But it wasn’t until The Times inquired about the case that the agency reported the violation to Seattle police.