Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Minister promises new checks on elderly care

The ordeal faced by the grandmother of the Independent columnist Johann Hari as she was shunted between residential homes over 10 years was condemned as appalling last night by the Care Services minister.

Paul Burstow urged people with complaints about the treatment of relatives to come forward – and disclosed he was planning tougher protection for the elderly against abuse. Mr Burstow said: "What happened to Johann Hari's grandmother shouldn't happen to anyone's grandmother. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and kindness when they need care."

He added: "We all need to be vigilant about abuse. I am currently reviewing arrangements for protecting vulnerable adults to ensure everyone plays their part keeping people safe from those who would exploit and harm them."

Mr Burstow said that anyone worried about low-quality care should report it to the Care Quality Commission (CQC), which had been given extra powers to crack down on poorly-run homes. He also said he was determined to tackle concerns over the use of antipsychotic drugs.

Ministers have said they want to want to give the CQC more teeth. It stipulates that care home staff should have the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience to look after residents. Where staff are judged wanting by the regulator, companies that run care homes can have their licences to operate cancelled and face prosecution.

The Registered Nursing Home Association warned yesterday that care homes – which rely on council funding for around two-thirds of their income – could be forced to cut spending on staffing, food or activities because of the cash squeeze facing the sector. Frank Ursell, its chief executive officer, said: "People talk about quality but then they pay peanuts. What is it exactly that they expect?"

Minister promises new checks on elderly care - Home News, UK - The Independent

'Grannycam' video spurs state to shut Fair Oaks care home in Sacramento

Shortly after his grandmother moved into a residential care home in Fair Oaks, Sean Suh installed a small camera beside her bed to make sure the staff knew someone was watching.

But often when he visited, he said, he would find the "Grannycam" unplugged.

Suh decided to find a new place for Kyong Hui Duncan, a Korean immigrant and beloved matriarch who had become too frail to live on her own. But by the time he found one, Duncan, 73, was dead from a constellation of problems that her grandson said were inflicted upon her at Fair Oaks Residential Elderly Care.

A short video clip captured by Suh's "Grannycam" that shows a staffer violently shaking Duncan in her wheelchair now plays a key role in the state's decision to shut down the care home. The clip, which Suh discovered only after Duncan's death, is also at the center of a civil lawsuit the family filed Thursday that charges abuse, neglect and wrongful death.

"I have nightmares about it," Suh said of the videotaped image. "It's very hard for me to function, knowing she went through that."

Following an investigation spurred by Suh's complaint, the California Department of Social Services on Thursday ordered the care home's operators, Myung S. Kim and Jay J. Kim, to cease operations by the end of the business day. The state is moving to permanently revoke the home's license.

Such emergency actions are rare, said Wendy York, a Sacramento lawyer who represents the family and whose specialty is elder abuse. "In 15 years of prosecuting homes, I have not seen the state suspend a facility," York said.

The Fair Oaks home is licensed to care for 15 residents, and all had managed to find other accommodations by Thursday afternoon, said the facility's lawyer, Jeff Kravitz.

Kravitz said the home's operators reject all the allegations against them.

"We're disputing everything," he said. "All of the residents enjoyed staying there."

He said the Kims will appeal the suspension and hope to resume operating in the near future.

The state's suspension order accuses the home of violating the personal rights of residents. One of the concerns the state cites stems from the "Grannycam" clip, which shows staff members moving Duncan from the floor to her wheelchair, then dumping the chair backward with Duncan in it and shaking it. Among other allegations: that staff members improperly restrained Duncan and failed to quickly attend to her after she had fallen.

Once, the state alleges, family members arrived to find Duncan, crying and unattended, positioned upside down in her wheelchair. The order also cites instances in which Duncan suffered mysterious bruises and infections that went untreated.

Duncan's autopsy report showed potentially toxic levels of narcotics in her system, at least one of which her doctor had never prescribed, according to the document. The lawsuit charges that she suffered injuries, infection and "lethal doses of drugs," all of which contributed to her death.

The state also accuses the home of fire code violations, failing to dispose of contaminated needles, using prescription medicines that had expired and forging prescriptions.

Suh said he chose the Fair Oaks facility after informing administrators that he intended to install a camera. "I wanted to let them know I would be making sure that my grandmother got the utmost care and had the highest quality of life," he said.

The camera, he said, collected DVD images but was not connected to a computer. He said he looked at all the videotaped material shortly after his grandmother died.

Suh said his grandmother was a strong, determined woman who fled North Korea in the midst of war. A single parent to Suh's mother, she launched a successful restaurant business in Guam, at one point employing 300 people, he said. She later ran a coffee shop and a market in Southern California.

"She came to this country without knowing English, without knowing the culture, and she lived the American dream," even putting her grandson through college, said Suh, a teacher of people with disabilities. Duncan was "full of life, someone who entered a room and everyone knew she was there," he said.

After she retired, Suh moved his grandmother to the Sacramento area, where she lived in her own home until October 2009, he said. Her family began worrying about her welfare when she began falling, but she wanted to maintain her independence. So rather than move in with relatives she agreed to go to the Fair Oaks home, in part because the operators shared her ethnic background, Suh said.

Suh said he started searching for another residential home after she began suffering unexplained gashes and bruises and seemed to be "drugged" when he visited.

"I found a new place, and then I got the call that she had passed away," Suh said. "I guess I was just a couple of days too late."

Read more:'Grannycam' video spurs state to shut Fair Oaks care home - Sacramento News - Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

Ex-nursing home employee charged with abuse, mischief and harassment in

A Decatur woman accused of abusing an Athens nursing home resident and harassing and scratching the car of the employee who reported her has been arrested and charged by Athens Police.

Athens Police on Thursday arrested Larosalyn “Missy” Etherich Freeman, 39, of 1510 Riverview Ave., on charges of neglect or abuse of an aged or disable adult, first-degree criminal mischief and three counts of harassment, Capt. Floyd Johnson said Friday.

Freeman is accused of abusing a resident at Athens Convalescent Center in mid-November, Johnson said. He declined to specify how she allegedly mishandled the resident, but said the victim was not injured and did not require medical treatment.

Freeman was fired because of the incident and is currently barred from holding a caregivers license, Johnson said.

John Wallace, owner and administrator of the nursing home, told The News Courier on Friday there were no signs of harm to the resident.

“We took immediate action, discharged the employee and immediately reported the incident to the proper authorities,” Wallace said.

Records show Freeman was being held in the Limestone County Jail in lieu of posting a $5,000 bail on the two felony charges — neglect and criminal mischief. Bail on the three misdemeanor harassment charges was $1,500, records show.

Sgt. Dustin Lansford arrested Freeman following an investigation.

“In early December, while investigating several harassing communication cases, Lansford was made aware of a case the Alabama Department of Public Health was investigating involving the abuse of a patient reported to them by Athens Convalescent Center,” Johnson said.

The nursing home had already reported the incident to the Public Health Department when it occurred in mid-November, the captain said.

After talking to one of the Public Health investigators and interviewing witnesses, Lansford obtained an arrest warrant for Freeman, and she was arrested Thursday in Decatur by Lansford and Investigator Johnny Campbell, Johnson said.

Freeman was also charged Thursday with first-degree criminal mischief for allegedly scratching an employee’s car in the parking lot of the nursing home and with three counts of harassment relating to an employee, he said.

Johnson credited nursing home employees for their proper handling of the incident.

“It should be noted the Athens Convalescent Center has met all obligations required in investigating and reporting this case,” he said.

Ex-nursing home employee charged with abuse, mischief and harassment » Local News » The News-Courier in Athens, Alabama

Patient advocates object to nursing home liability limits

Tia Cheney, a 26-year-old diabetic, died in November 2009 purportedly because she was not given enough insulin while at a Port Washington nursing home.

Christine Larson, her mother, is among those opposing a bill that would limit punitive damages as well as extend the current cap of $750,000 on damages for pain and suffering in medical malpractice cases to nursing homes, hospices and assisted living facilities.

"The idea that our lawmakers now want to shield nursing homes from full responsibility for their neglect is the worst kind of public policy at the worst of times," Larson, who lives in West Bend, said before a legislative committee last week.

The caps are among the provisions in sweeping legislation proposed by Gov. Scott Walker to provide businesses with additional protections against lawsuits.

The Senate passed its version of the bill on Tuesday. The Assembly could vote as soon as Thursday.

Larson has not filed a lawsuit against the nursing home but does have an attorney. Citing respect for Cheney's privacy, the nursing home declined to comment.

Plaintiff attorneys have focused many of their arguments against the bill on nursing homes.

AARP, the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Alzheimer's Association of SE Wisconsin, Mental Health of America of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Alliance for Retired Americans, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and other advocacy groups also oppose the bill.

They opposed not only the caps on damages but also provisions that would shield the information in an incident report required by federal and state law whenever a resident is injured, preventing certain state reports from being used in court.

Nursing homes provide care to permanent residents as well as temporary residents who require long-term care but can't be cared for in their homes, such as people who have suffered a stroke or are recovering from hip-replacement surgery.

When a resident has been injured, he or she can sue for economic, noneconomic and punitive damages.

If the injury results in death, adult children can sue for wrongful death. Those awards by state law are capped at $350,000 for adults. They also can sue for economic, noneconomic and punitive damages because the potential claim becomes part of the estate.

The cap on punitive damages, designed to punish a defendant, could be the most significant change, said Pat Sullivan, an attorney with Siesennop & Sullivan.

"Most cases settle, and most get settled because of the risk of punitive damages," said Sullivan, who defends nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Punitive awards are relatively rare. "But they are a very big stick to wield," said Matthew Boller, a Madison plaintiffs' attorney.

The same holds to a lesser extent for awards for pain and suffering, or noneconomic damages.

The proposed cap of $750,000 for pain and suffering would be similar to those for doctors and hospitals. Those caps extend to some - though not all - nursing homes affiliated with nonprofit health systems.

Effects disputed
Economic damages, which are tied to lost earnings and medical expenses, can be relatively limited for residents in nursing home and assisted living centers.

Families can be compensated for funeral and out-of-pocket medical expenses. But awards for medical expenses stemming from the injury, such as hospital costs, typically reimburse Medicare, Medicaid and insurance companies - though plaintiff attorneys get to keep money for expenses and fees. Those typically amount to 30% to 40% of a settlement or award.

The caps on noneconomic and punitive damages would limit plaintiff attorneys' leverage in negotiating settlements because nursing homes and assisted living centers wouldn't have to fear multimillion-dollar awards if the lawsuit went to trial.

Brian Purtell, director of legal services for the Wisconsin Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said the cap would help stabilize rates for malpractice insurance.

Malpractice lawsuits against nursing homes are less common in Wisconsin than in other states, Purtell said. But he said the number of lawsuits has increased in the past five years, and national law firms that specialize in suing nursing homes have begun advertising in the state.

"People need to remember this bill is part of a much larger effort on the part of the governor to change the (business) environment," said Purtell, who also is executive director of the Wisconsin Center for Assisted Living, an affiliated trade group.

But John Hendrick, director of governmental affairs for the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, said the changes would limit people's ability to be compensated for injuries, neglect and abuse.

The advocacy groups opposing the proposed changes contend that if fewer people are harmed, fewer lawsuits will be filed and the cost of insurance will go down.

They also contend that the bill would increase the cost of the Medicaid program, which pays for nursing home care for people who are impoverished.

Medicaid is reimbursed when a resident or his or her estate is awarded damages for negligent care. And the Coalition for Wisconsin Aging Groups estimates that Medicaid pays for 62% of all nursing home residents in Wisconsin.

The advocacy groups also oppose sections of the bill that could make it harder to win lawsuits against nursing homes.

Those sections get technical but could be as important as the proposed caps.

They would protect incident reports - which must be filed by law when a patient has been injured - from being subpoenaed. The reports include interviews with and written statements from employees.

The bill also would prohibit certain state records - such as so-called statements of deficiency and misconduct incident reports - from being used in a deposition or in court.

Lawyers contend the reports can show a pattern, such as chronic understaffing, by a nursing home.

The reports would still be available to the public, but couldn't be used in court.

"I have a hard time understanding the rationale," said Jeff Pitman, an attorney with Pitman, Kyle, Sicula & Dentice S.C.

Nursing homes - as well as hospitals and other health care providers - contend that health care workers are more likely to be candid if their statements will not end up being used in a lawsuit. That is important in quality reviews and other work to improve patient safety.

"You want the opportunity to have that warts-and-all discussion," said Purtell of the Wisconsin Health Care Association.

Patient advocacy groups are unconvinced. But Sullivan, who defends nursing homes, contends the bill's potential effect is overstated.

"There still will be lawsuits against nursing homes," he said. "There will be fewer of them. But as I read the bill, there still will be opportunity for fair compensation for people injured by negligence."

Patient advocates object to nursing home liability limits - JSOnline

Wisconsin Law threatens Seniors

Everyone agrees our economy needs improvement.

But, supposedly in the name of jobs, jobs, jobs, Governor Walker has proposed legislation that would protect the profits of Fortune 500 nursing home corporations at the expense of senior citizens.

His proposed legislation limits the amount of money a jury can award in nursing home abuse and neglect cases and makes it almost impossible for a jury to force a Fortune 500 company to pay money that would punish it for bad conduct that kills or maims local senior citizens.

How will this create jobs?

This legislation would come on the heels of a belt tightening that already severely limits the number of state regulators investigating nursing home abuse cases. Even when the state issues citations to bad facilities that hurt senior citizens, the amount of the fine is almost always laughable. The fines are considered the price of “doing business” for a Fortune 500 company. In fact, many fines are discounted if the facilities agree not to fight the fine and pay within 30 days.

Try striking that bargain with your upcoming property tax bill.

Our tax dollars fund Medicare and Medicaid. The large nursing home claims accept this money to care for our most frail seniors. If and when these same companies abuse and neglect our seniors (their patients), we taxpayers currently can hold them accountable by using our jury system. Only a few of these cases ultimately make their way through the system.

If Walker’s proposals pass, even these cases will fall. So much for concepts like local control, accountability and respect.

We need more accountability. We need to protect seniors. We need to protect the sanctity of human life.

We cannot pull out of an economic downturn by turning a blind eye to bad conduct that hurts and kills our most vulnerable citizens.

The Dunn County News Online - Our Front Page

coroners help in some nursing home deaths

The coroner in Morgan County, Ill., notified nursing home investigators last year when he determined that a nursing home resident had died after choking on a piece of ham.

Coroner Jeff Lair, who asks that nursing homes in his county report all deaths to him, said investigators then cited the facility because the resident was supposed to be on a special diet and be supervised while eating but was not.

The coroner in Effingham County, Ill., also contacts state officials about nursing home deaths.

"We have to speak for these people," said Leigh Hammer, Effingham's coroner. "We have to give them a voice. Just because they are elderly doesn't mean that they were meant to die."

Kentucky does not require nursing homes to report most deaths to coroners, who are rarely called even when abuse or neglect are suspected. However, that might change if a bill proposed by Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, passes.

Read more:
States say coroners help in nursing home deaths | Voiceless & Vulnerable: Nursing Home Abuse |

Ex-nursing home workers get 2 years for photos, videos of helpless patients

Two nursing home workers who admitted taking photos and videos of nude, helpless patients were sentenced today to two years in prison.

Mary Ann Burgess, 52, and April Longmire, 37, pleaded guilty last year to four counts of health care abuse each.

Circuit Judge Richard Vance handed down their punishment during the women’s respective hearings at the Sevier County courthouse.

The women, who worked as certified nursing assistants at Pigeon Forge Care and Rehabilitation Center, were indicted in September 2009 after a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation determined they took numerous nude and degrading photos of elderly patients, some dating back to 2007. Some of the photos included shots of patients sitting on the toilet and lying naked on the floor.

The women’s duties included dressing, changing and feeding severely disabled adults, many of whom suffered from mild dementia to sever Alzheimer’s.

TBI Agent T.J. Battle testified today that the photos were discovered after a lost phone was turned into nursing home employees. Administrators there found the pictures while trying to find out who the phone belonged to.

Battle testified that during interviews both women admitted to taking the photos and said the phone belonged to Longmire.

One victim’s daughter cried on the stand as she pointed to photos both women had taken of her mother.

“She was never the same after those two sickos done what they done to her,” the woman testified.

“She was scared of everyone. There is not a doubt in my mind that those two will do this again. Please keep in mind how helpless my mother was.”

Assistant District Attorney General George Ioannides had asked the judge to sentence both women to two years in prison — the maximum punishment allowed by law.

“Because of the vulnerability of the victims, their age, their various mental capacity and the fact these offenses were committed, we say, for the defendants’ pleasure and excitement ... we ask the court to impose a sentence of significant confinement,” Ioannides said.

“They had rights to privacy. They had rights to decency.”

Both women’s attorneys had asked that their clients receive probation for the offenses because they showed remorse for their actions .

In the end, Vance sentenced both women to prison time.

“The nature of these off were so shocking, reprehensible and offensive,” Vance said.

He ordered her both women to report to the Sevier County jail Feb. 19 to begin serving their sentences.

Both women, fired from the nursing home after the incident, were banned from ever working in a health care facility again.

Ex-nursing home workers get 2 years for photos, videos of helpless patients » Knoxville News Sentinel