In the news again this week is the east coast based Skyline, a company that runs nursing homes for the elderly. At one time Skyline had over a 100 skilled nursing facilities in 11 states. Its employees oversaw the care of around 7,000 seniors. Beginning last year, seniors and assisted living residents and their family members began lodging complaints of neglect and short-staffing. It became apparent that financial struggles were also a problem as the company reportedly started bouncing checks. Short staffing spells neglect for the elderly and disabled that rely on daily assistance for their needs. Financial trouble for nursing home can have devastating effects on the elderly residents when, for example as in this case, vendors stopped delivering orders. When these vendors include food and medical supply orders, the residents’ well-being is obviously put in immediate jeopardy.

Short staffing and poor training can further heighten the risk. One older, disabled resident in a Skyline run nursing home in Arkansas claims to have fallen where he laid for close to an hour before anyone found him. Another resident in Tennessee was discovered with maggots and gangrene in a wound on his leg, according to a police report obtained by local news. He died two days later.

The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Senator Charles Glassey met with policy advisers and consumer advocates this year to address these growing concerns of neglect and abuse in nursing homes. Testimony was taken from those who have experienced it first hand, sharing their horrific stories of neglect and abuse, including severe dehydration, bed sores, fractures and even death. Recommendations were made for Congress and Medicare and/or Medicaid to assist in programs, efforts and oversights to help enforce minimum standards of compliance. One of the recommendations by the panel addressed effective methods of change and ways to encourage compliance, noting in the report that “civil court cases help deter bad actors, thereby protecting residents.”  The very real threat of a lawsuit can operate as an effective check on these businesses, helping to ensure owners do not take shortcuts that harm disabled residents, and making sure the people running the show actually take care to properly screen and train the employees the residents rely upon to care for them.

Nursing home facilities are responsible for the care of nearly 1.3 million elderly and disabled patients, and this number is expected to increase. The changing demographics of our society require stringent oversight of nursing and assisted living facilities. The US Census Bureau projects that the number of Americans aged 65 and older will increase from 16 percent to 23 percent of the total population, and that by 2060 this aged population group will nearly double in number from 52 million to 95 million. But shutting down the poorly run facilities like Skyline following rampant violations is too little too late. Steps need to be taken to avoid these situations for vulnerable seniors and disabled who need to be in an assisted living situation. Family members are in a good position to watch for bruising, behavioral or weight changes, complaints of pain or discomfort, and to take immediate steps through reporting and actually calling an nursing home abuse attorney.

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