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Nursing Home Abuse Going Unreported

More than 1 in 4 cases of possible sexual and physical abuse against nursing home patients went unreported to police, according to a government audit. These unreported cases violate a federal law requiring immediate notification of nursing home abuse.

The Health and Human Services inspector general’s office issued an “early alert” on preliminary findings from a large sampling of cases in 33 states.

Auditors identified 134 cases in which emergency room records indicated possible sexual or physical abuse, or neglect. The incidents spanned a two-year period from 2015-2016.

In 38 of the total cases (28 percent), investigators could find no evidence in hospital records that the incident had been reported to local law enforcement, despite a federal law requiring prompt reporting by nursing homes, as well as similar state and local requirements.

Of the unreported cases, about 4 out of 5 involved alleged or suspected rape or sexual abuse.

Even among the 96 cases that were ultimately reported to police departments, investigators were unable to tell if the federal requirement for “immediate” notification was followed.

Illinois had the largest number of incidents overall, with 17. It was followed by Michigan (13), Texas (9), and California (8).

“We hope that we can stop this from happening to anybody else,” said Curtis Roy, an audit manager with the inspector general’s office, which investigates fraud, waste and abuse in the health care system. The audit is part of a larger ongoing probe, and additional findings are expected.

In a statement, Medicare emphasized that nursing home safety is a high priority, but said it will await a complete report before announcing a response. Iowa Senator Charles Grassley was not satisfied with that statement, who said he will push for Medicare to take immediate action.

“A crime is a crime wherever it takes place,” Grassley said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable for more than one-fourth of potential crimes in nursing homes to apparently go unreported.”

Nursing home personnel must immediately report incidents that involve a suspected crime, within a two-hour window if there’s serious bodily injury. Otherwise, authorities must be notified within 24 hours.

In a statement, the nursing home industry trade group said its members know they must immediately report alleged abuse. The American Health Care Association said it will work with the government to ensure safety.

Around 1.4 million people live in U.S. nursing homes and that number is expected to grow in coming years as more people live into their 80s and 90s.