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The Abuse of Nursing Home Residents Nationwide Needs to Stop

A recent congressional report stated that in “numerous” nursing homes across the nation, older adult residents experience serious physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. A study was performed by the minority (Democratic and Independent) staff of the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee that found that 30% of nursing homes in America—a total of 5,283 facilities—were cited for an estimated 9,000 occurrences of abuse over a recent two-year period, from January 1999 to January 2001.

Untreated bedsores, deficient medical care, malnutrition, dehydration, preventable accidents, and poor sanitation and hygiene were among the most common problems. The report also noted that most of the abuse violations led to residents being harmed.

In 1,601 cases, the abuse violations caused serious harm to residents and significantly increased their risk of death or serious injury. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the minority leader of the committee and director of the study, described the findings as “shocking.” The report documents occurrences of residents getting punched, slapped, choked or kicked by staff members or other residents, leading to injuries that included fractured bones or lacerations.  Instances in which residents were sexually abused by nursing home staff have also been reported. Moreover, many nursing homes have been reported to provide inadequate protection from harm for their residents.

The report states that elderly abuse among nursing home residents appears to be increasing. The percentage of nursing homes that possess violations has risen every year since 1996.

The nursing home industry partially attributes these problems to a nationwide challenge in attracting and maintaining an adequate number of skilled, quality staff. According to Anne Burns Johnson, CEO of the California Association of Homes & Services for the Aging, California has a shortage of licensed vocational nurses and working aides or certified nursing assistants. “There are not enough people entering the field. And so staffing becomes more complicated when you can’t even hire people,” she says.

Regardless of this claim, there is no excuse for providing insufficient care, especially if the nursing home advertises quality care to attract patients to become their residents. It is the nursing home’s responsibility to protect their vulnerable residents from any kind of abuse. It is also their responsibility to meet the care needs of their patients in order to provide them with the best quality of life.