Nursing Homes:

Many Shortcomings Exist in Efforts to Protect Residents from Abuse

GAO-02-448T: Published: Mar 4, 2002. Publicly Released: Mar 4, 2002.

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Often suffering from multiple physical and mental impairments, the 1.5 million elderly and disabled Americans living in nursing homes are a highly vulnerable population. These individuals typically require extensive help with daily living, such as such as dressing, feeding, and bathing. Many require skilled nursing or rehabilitative care. In recent years, reports of inadequate care, including malnutrition, dehydration, and other forms of neglect, have led to mounting scrutiny from state and federal authorities. Concerns have also been growing that some residents are abused--pushed, slapped, or beaten--by the very individuals to whom their care has been entrusted. GAO found that allegations of physical and sexual abuse of nursing home residents are not reported promptly. Local law enforcement officials said that they are seldom summoned to nursing homes to immediately investigate allegations of abuse and that few allegations are ever prosecuted. Some agencies use different policies when deciding whether to refer allegations of abuse to law enforcement. As a result, law enforcement agencies were never told of some incidents or were notified only after lengthy delays. GAO found that federal and state safeguards intended to protect nursing home residents from abuse are inadequate. No federal statute requires criminal background checks for nursing home employees. Background checks are also not required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which sets the standards that nursing homes must meet to participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. State agencies rarely recommend that sanctions be imposed on nursing homes. Although state agencies compile lists of aids who have previously abused residents, which can prevent an aide from being hired at another nursing home, GAO found that delays in making these identifications can limit the usefulness of these registries. This testimony summarizes a March report (GAO-02-312).

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