In trying to describe the system of accountability that exists for nursing homes and the options that families have when they suspect abuse or neglect, I couldn’t decide between “frail web” or “thin ice.” So I compromised.
Nursing home oversight is a frail web of thin ice. Here’s why. Nursing home residents don’t have many options to turn to in the face of nursing home neglect, and the options that do exist are much weaker than they appear to be.
The first option for many families is the facility’s resident council. Nursing home residents have the right to form a council and lobby their nursing home as a group. This right is federally mandated. However, a resident council often has a similar effect to a student council in a high school. In other words: none at all. Nursing homes have no obligation to the resident council outside allowing them to meet without harassment.
The second option for families is usually the state’s long-term care Ombudsman. The Ombudsman program was initiated in the early 1970s. Each state has an Ombudsman who harnesses volunteers to spend time in nursing homes and attempt to resolve problems within those facilities. In Illinois, the long-term care ombudsman information can be found here.
Similar to the resident councils, however, long-term care ombudsman have no power to shut down or penalize a nursing home regardless of the evidence. The Ombudsman is selected by the state Governor. Some do a wonderful job on behalf of nursing home residents. Others do not. In Florida, for instance, the long-term care Ombudsman was recently placed under house arrest and is the subject of an internal investigation, but few details have been released.
The third option are the nursing home inspectors employed by the state on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). These inspectors have the power to penalize and shut down nursing homes that are guilty of nursing home neglect. However, a 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office showed that nursing home inspectors frequently understate the severity of the neglect that they witness in nursing homes.
The final option for families is the court system. As a Chicago nursing home lawyer, I’ve fought my entire career to make nursing homes accountable for the neglect that occurs on their watch. The only way to change the way that nursing homes operate is to take away the profit that bad nursing homes make. Nursing homes allow widespread nursing home neglect because it’s extremely profitable.
If you have a loved one in an Illinois nursing home, and you feel they have been the victim of nursing home neglect, contact my law offices for a free and confidential evaluation of your case. At the Law Offices of Barry G. Doyle, we never charge a fee unless we earn a recovery for you.