A recent front-page article in the Philadelphia Inquirer revealed the complex relationship between lawmakers and law firms when it comes to prosecuting understaffed and negligent nursing homes. Partnerships between government and high-profile firms for the sake of the public good is nothing new. On the plus side, law firms with deep pockets and expertise can save taxpayers a lot of money working up class action and other complex litigation while only getting paid if they win; on the minus side, such relationships invite uncomfortable ethical questions, including “pay-to-play” arrangement where political donors are awarded lucrative government deals.
Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Leaving aside the politics, however, we find that perhaps the bigger and more novel question debated in the article is over whether nursing home abuse and neglect has reached the scale suggested by the government-private partnerships. Lawmakers insist that enough nursing homes receiving government subsidies or support remain understaffed, thus increasing profit at the expense of care, to justify subpoenas and investigations. The nursing home industry vehemently disagrees, and they have found their own lawyers to drive their point home.
What is the truth? Are lawmakers and lawyers, as the nursing home industry suggests, creating a problem where none really exists? Or are nursing homes, as lawmakers and lawyers assert, resisting scrutiny because they have something to hide. Time will tell, we suppose.
However, both parties must agree that given the historic demographic shift in our population toward longer lives, more and more of which are spend in nursing homes and care facilities, greater scrutiny, accountability, and regulation of this industry is probably a good thing. Who does the scrutinizing and how they are compensated is another.
Problem of Abuse and Neglect in Care Facilities Understated
Here are some key statistics on nursing home abuse according to a recent study by the National Center for Elder Abuse:
In 2000, one study interviewing 2,000 nursing home residents reported that 44% said they had been abused and 95% said they had been neglected or seen another resident neglected.
A May, 2008 study conducted by the U.S. General Accountability Office revealed that state surveys understate problems in licensed facilities: 70% of state surveys miss at least one deficiency and 15% of surveys miss actual harm and immediate jeopardy of a nursing home resident.
These alarming figures suggest that, politics controversy aside, issues surrounding care and negligence in our nursing homes and related facilities are real and need urgently to be addressed.