On March 3rd, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched its National Nursing Home Initiative to increase awareness of—and legal action against—nursing home abuse. The program, a partnership between the DOJ, the Administration for Community Living, and the Office of Inspector General (both part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) seeks to coordinate efforts between the agencies when it comes to investigating and penalizing nursing homes that provide substandard care.
Working together, the departments will be able to leverage criminal and civil penalties against nursing homes where patients face neglect and abuse. Some facilities are already facing investigation; the early targets are all known serial violators of patient’s rights. However, the DOJ has a message for all of us: You can help by reporting nursing home abuse wherever you see it.
Identifying Violations of Elders’ Rights
Though the federal government has begun investigating nursing homes suspected of abuse, anyone can make a claim. Visitors, care staff, emergency responders, and even facility managers can and should file a report if they notice signs of patient neglect. Nursing homes are legally required to respect patients’ rights and maintain a certain standard of care and quality of life for all residents. When they fail to do so, they may be held liable in both criminal and civil courts.
Nursing home abuse may take many forms, including:
- Chronic understaffing that leads to neglect
- Lack of proper hygiene practices
- Weak or missing infection control procedures
- Failing to provide enough food or water to residents
- Withholding prescribed medications
- Use of restraints, physical or chemical (i.e., sedatives)
- Filthy accommodations that force residents to deal with problems including rats, cockroaches, and mold
- Deteriorating buildings with leaky roofs and windows
When vulnerable patients suffer neglect every day, they are likely to see their health decline at an accelerated pace. Sadly, nursing home abuse often ends in serious medical conditions or even death. Residents in poorly run facilities also must deal with the mental anguish of having no way to protect themselves against this mistreatment.
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Blowing the Whistle on Nursing Home Abuse
Families, upon discovering their loved one has been continually neglected or victimized, have the option to file a nursing home abuse case in civil court to recover damages. We have helped clients prevail in many such claims, bringing them a sense of closure and justice. However, neglectful nursing homes can be held accountable by the federal government as well.
When these facilities violate the standards they are held to, their owners and/or managers can face federal charges. The DOJ may leverage criminal law against egregious offenders. Thanks to the False Claims Act (FCA), the government can also pursue civil cases against any medical facility that receives Medicare/Medicaid money. The FCA has already been used against facilities where:
- Nursing home residents were submitted to unnecessary and dangerous treatments
- Bills were sent to the federal government for care that was not provided
- Doctors lied about patients’ eligibility for reimbursable treatment
This act provides the government with a wide platform through which they can file charges for unlawful treatment.
Doing Your Part with a Qui Tam Lawsuit
If you see nursing home abuse, you can do more than just reporting it (though you should do that, too). Qui tam law allows citizens to file lawsuits on behalf of the government when fraudulent parties try to take advantage. To incentivize whistleblowers, the government allots a portion of their recovery to anyone who brings a suit on their behalf. Under the FCA, the government can recover up to three times the amount fraudulently paid to a facility, meaning settlements can easily hit the multi-millions.
Any time a healthcare facility makes the choice to put profits over patients, it is an ethical violation as well as a legal one. Ashcraft & Gerel has been defending nursing home abuse victims for over 65 years, and we plan to continue holding them to account in any way possible.
If you suspect nursing home abuse, call our offices at (866) 709-0505 or reach out online. With locations in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., our team is poised to help wherever possible.