State Investigative Unit Offers Neutral Scrutiny of Suspicious Nursing Home Deaths

Last November, an elderly man was living in the Alzheimer's wing at an out-of-state and state-run nursing home when another patient beat him unconscious with a cane. He died a week later. Despite the beating, the coroner ruled that the man died of natural causes. But the death also triggered an investigation by the state Law Enforcement Divisions Vulnerable Adults Investigative Unit.

In place for two years, the unit was created to investigate abuse, neglect, exploitation and deaths in government nursing homes, such as the one referenced above.

So far the unit has received more than 2,500 reports and complaints.

"A patient might be 105, but maybe he wasn't supposed to die that day," said a SLED agent who works in the unit. "He has the same right to live as 5-year-olds with their whole lives ahead of them."

Lawmakers established the unit in 2007 after a nonprofit group, Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, issued a report that showed the departments of Mental Health and Disabilities and Special Needs had long ignored or covered up abuse cases.

The new unit is a more neutral investigative body for these agencies, said the SLED Captain who runs the Vulnerable Adults Investigative Unit and a separate one that investigates child deaths.

One of the unit's responsibilities is to investigate suspicious deaths at state-run facilities.

In the unit's first two years, agents received reports about 725 deaths. A majority, 474 deaths, were determined to be from natural causes, while 12 were deemed accidents. One death was found to be a suicide.

That leaves 231 death cases that are being investigated or are ones agents simply haven't had time to address, she said. For more, read the story.


Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia.


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