Federal Government: Pennsylvania Nursing Home Wrongful Deaths Not Being Properly Investigated

It’s an unpleasant thought to consider, but the reality of the U.S. elder care system is that nursing home abuse is rampant.  And, while no single state has found a perfect solution to this problem, Pennsylvania nursing homes may be some of the nation’s worst offenders.  Following a journalistic investigation by Central Pennsylvania news outlet PennLive, which revealed numerous deficiencies in the state’s current system for categorizing and addressing violations, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services issued new guidance to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyer Brent Wieand discusses some of the violations that were uncovered by PennLive – and what the Department of Health intends to do about the problem.

PennLive Journalists: PA Dept. of Health Underreporting Severity of Deadly Nursing Home Violations, Federal Govt. Intervenes

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In 2016, PennLive began an ongoing investigative series titled “Failing the Frail,” which focused on violations and deficiencies in Pennsylvania’s system of nursing homes and long-term care facilities.  PennLive has published more than two dozen reports as part of its Failing the Frail series – one of which revealed that, among the 46 “care-related deaths” that occurred in Pennsylvania nursing homes from 2013 to 2015, a total of 29 deaths – more than 63% – did not result in a penalty for the facility at fault.

In one instance, a resident choked to death after she was fed a sandwich that didn’t meet her dietary requirements.  In another case, it took a nursing home more than 16 hours to respond to a doctor’s order to administer emergency fluids to a dehydrated resident, by which time it was already too late.  In another, a resident died after the facility failed to comply with a hospital’s directives to change the resident’s medication.  In yet another, a resident who was suffering from dementia and bound to a wheelchair was left totally unmonitored, falling to their death in a deserted stairwell.

The disturbing list goes on and on – yet every entry could have been prevented with better, more responsive care.

The sheer fact that these deaths occurred is cause enough for alarm; but the mishandling of care doesn’t end there.  PennLive’s most recent investigation revealed that not only were these deaths permitted to occur, but in addition, Pennsylvania nursing homes have been systematically understating the severity of lethal violations, allowing facilities to go unpunished while keeping the true scope of the crisis obscured.

In response to PennLive’s troubling findings, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began corresponding with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to assess the Department’s existing procedures for investigating, and rating the severity of, nursing home violations in Pennsylvania.

“As a result,” said CMS spokesperson Lorraine Ryan, “we have seen an increase in citations of deficiencies at the ‘actual harm’ and ‘immediate jeopardy’ level.”

In November 2016, LancasterOnline published the results of health inspections for Lancaster County nursing homes.  Every single one of the nine violations uncovered were rated as “minimal harm” – but PennLive’s findings cast doubt on the accuracy of those and countless other ratings.  As one attorney noted, the Department of Health’s systemic failure to properly grade violations means that the data provided to Nursing Home Compare – a vast government database widely regarded as the gold standard for rating nursing homes – is incomplete and thus potentially misleading.  To quote Charlene Harrington, professor emeritus of nursing and sociology at the University of California, “It shows that their oversight in the past has not been adequate.”

So, what is the Department of Health now doing to address these failures?  Frankly, the answers are not clear.  One thing it isn’t doing is retroactively penalizing the 29 homes which went unpunished – which, as one attorney noted, would have sent “a signal that things are changing and there will be more scrutiny on these types of cases.”

“Late last year, CMS did review the cases in questions and provided recommendations,” said Department of Health press secretary April Hutcheson.  “We used that feedback to ensure that we continue to align with federal regulations.”

According to PennLive, “Hutcheson did not respond to PennLive questions about whether the department had investigated why it had understated the severity of cases or whether it intended to investigate potential issues with other citations.”

Contact a Philadelphia Nursing Home Wrongful Death Attorney About Abuse or Neglect

Nursing home neglect and abuse are widespread issues in Pennsylvania.  In many cases, they are signaled by the sudden appearance of cuts, bruises, broken bones, depression, fearfulness, weight loss, and/or nursing home bedsores (pressure ulcers), which may develop because staff members have continuously failed to reposition bedbound residents or supply them with fresh sheets.

If you are worried that your parent or grandparent is being neglected or abused at his or her nursing home, help is only a phone call away – but you need to intervene immediately.  Call the Wieand Law Firm, LLC at (800) 481-5206 for a free and confidential legal consultation with a qualified Philadelphia personal injury lawyer or wrongful death attorney.

*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes.  It is not legal advice and should not be used as legal advice.  The Wieand Law Firm, LLC is based in Philadelphia, PA, and proud to serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.*