Justice Department Sets It Sights on Elder Abuse

What is being done to stop elder abuse in nursing homes?

As our society ages, more elders are becoming the victims of elder abuse, whether physical, emotional or financial. Now the U.S. Department of Justice has initiated a program to fight the abuse of seniors who are patients in nursing homes. 

What is Nursing Home Abuse?

While many nursing homes provide quality care to their patients, there are growing reports of the mistreatment of elders, often referred to as nursing home abuse. This type of abuse includes physical abuse - assault and battery, sexual assault, or the prolonged deprivation of food and water. In addition, elder abuse in a nursing facility can come in the form of inappropriate use of physical and chemical restraints by staff members as a form of punishment, or for reasons that a physician has not approved. Lastly, emotional abuse occurs as elders are often verbally abused, ignored or isolated from other patients and residents.

Justice Department Task Forces

The Justice Department recently announced a new initiative to tackle the vexing issue of nursing home abuse. By establishing 10 regional Elder Justice Task Forces throughout the country, the DOJ intends to work in conjunction with federal, state and local agencies such as U.S. Attorneys offices, state Medicaid Fraud Control Units and other agencies that provide elder care services. The objective is to identify and hold accountable nursing facilities that provide substandard treatment to their patients.

The question remains, however, how effective these task forces will be in resolving  the issue. Many observers believe the elder care system that is dysfunctional and failing to protect seniors. Part of the problem lies with the Medicare system which often fails to ascertain the quality of care being provided before it pays these facilities. Further, elderly patients have challenging healthcare needs, but limited resources and the combination of these factors leaves many senior at risk of receiving substandard care.

The Takeaway

While enhanced government oversight may be helpful, the DOJ has yet to clarify what specific regions these task forces will serve and how their efforts will be aligned with other federal and state agencies.

In the meantime, elderly patients and their families need to be proactive in order to eliminate the risk  of nursing home abuse. The first step is having an estate plan that includes a plan for long-term care. In addition, selecting an elder care facility requires vigilance in exploring a nursing home's record. In the end, both of these objectives can be attained with the help of an experienced elder law attorney.

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