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Lack of Formal Inspections and Reports Threaten Patient Safety in Wisconsin Nursing Homes

March 27, 2013

Last week, we reported on the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (WCIJ) and their recent series about harmful laws affecting patients in some health care facilities. The first of these two reports, collectively called “A Frail System,” details the inability of families to hold potentially negligent facilities accountable for poor care and neglect. For more information on this half of the story, please see our post from last week, “Wisconsin ‘Tort Reform’ Law Bars Some Health Care Inspection Reports from the Court.”

Legislation enabling this unfair protection of industry at the expense of patient’s rights was passed in 2011 by Governor Scott Walker and a pro-corporation lobbying group, The American Tort Reform Association. This organization has a well-documented reputation for  trying to prevent average citizens from accessing the courts to receive compensation for injuries, illnesses and deaths caused solely by the negligence of these corporations.

The second half of the WCIJ’s report, “Wisconsin nursing homes fail to report deaths, injuries,” details a few incidents involving neglect and inattentiveness on the part of nursing homes and other health care facilities, many of which ended tragically. Some cases involve patients who rang their call buttons and when nurses failed to come to their aid, attempted to get out of bed unassisted. Several of these patients fell trying to do so, breaking bones, fracturing skulls and sustaining bruises. There have been nearly 300 civil suits filed against long-term care facilities in Wisconsin in the past 25 years.

The WCIJ points out that any nursing home or similar practice accepting Medicare or Medicaid must report instances of mistreatment within 24 hours, and that several have failed to do so. This may not seem important, especially if the patient does not sustain any injuries or infections, but a health department spokeswoman explains that if an incident is not reported within 12 months, there can be no state investigation, and thus no investigation report to be used in a potential lawsuit. The Center writes:

“Federal law requires that federally certified nursing homes – those that accept Medicaid and Medicare – be inspected every nine to 15 months. Nursing homes that are not federally certified must be inspected every two years, according to state law. During an inspection, a state health team tours the nursing home, reviews records and interviews a sample of residents and staff to assess medical care, sanitation, measures taken to prevent neglect and abuse, and other facility practices.”

The authors of the article add that in the past four years, Wisconsin inspectors found “serious deficiencies–problems that pose immediate jeopardy to a resident’s health or safety” in about 25 percent of the state’s federally certified nursing homes. They also point out that aging baby boomers will, within a few decades, cause the number of senior citizens in the state to nearly double from 2010 (777 thousand) to 2013 (1.3 million). It is worth noting that the number of health inspectors has dropped 36 percent in the last 10 years while the number of complaints has risen by 50 percent. “Keeping a close watch on long-term care facilities will only grow more important,” the article notes.

Unless friends and families of patients are very vigilant about their loved one’s care in nursing home and long-term care facilities like these, those patients stand a risk of compromised medical and nursing care, nursing home abuse and not being able to seek compensation for injuries they may sustain through the medical negligence of the staff.

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