Study Reveals State Social Services Slow Response to Nursing Home Complaints

When one woman pulled her father out of his nursing home in August 2007, the 76-year-old retired construction worker had wasted away from 132 to 109 pounds. He was dehydrated, feverish with pneumonia and suffering from two gaping bedsores on his buttocks that had rotted his tissue to the bone. Hospital staff who admitted him were so alarmed by his condition that they immediately reported his case to state investigators at the Department of Aging and Disability Services.

“He must have been in so much pain,” said the man's daughter, who filed a complaint against the nursing home in September 2007. “He was still entitled to a little dignity, a little respect.”

Unfortunately, like many complaints against nursing homes, state investigators arrived late — weeks after the deadline imposed under state rules — and found the nursing home was not at fault. This case was among more than 2,200 claims of abuse, neglect and bad medical care against the state's licensed nursing homes between 2006 and 2009.

According to a study by the San Antonio Express-News, some of the city's most frail and vulnerable residents are suffering at the hands of their caregivers. Yet state officials allow nursing homes to continue operating with little or no penalty for their infractions.

In many nursing homes, elderly residents were left for hours in their own urine and feces. Other facilities were infested with cockroaches and rats. Employees yelled insults at residents and handled them roughly. Nursing home staff stole medication and administered the wrong drugs to residents. State inspectors found dirty feeding tubes and broken medical equipment.

The state received nearly 16,200 reports of poor treatment last year, but most — about four out of five — were unsubstantiated by investigators, who often don't investigate until weeks after receiving the complaint. While many of the state's nursing homes usually provide safe, clean conditions for residents, some homes repeatedly failed to provide safe conditions and appropriate medical care.

State investigators do say that not every complaint goes unsubstantiated. State surveyors verify one out of five complaints, and also spot violations when they perform unannounced inspections. 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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