Federal Government Enhancing Criminal Prosecution of Nursing Home Abuse
The United States is growing old! The National Academy of Sciences Engineering Medicine reports that the number of U.S. citizens ages 65 and older is going to nearly double from 2017 to 2060. Twenty percent of our country will be over age 60 by 2030, and, for the first time in history, by the year 2034 there will be more people over age 65 than under the age of 18. We are also seeing this trend in Arizona. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than a quarter of Arizona’s population will be over age 60 by the year 2030.
OK Boomers – why all the fuss?
Because as people age, people typically need significant care in their daily lives. This is getting more difficult to achieve, because the number of traditional family caregivers is shrinking. Decreasing marriage and fertility rates and increasing divorce rates mean that baby boomers will often be alone, with no spouse or adult child to care for them as they age and need help. Boomers also have higher rates of obesity, creating the likelihood of challenging physical conditions which will require significant assistance from others in those later years.
In addition to physical issues, older adults have a much higher rate of cognitive decline. In 2018, approximately 5.7 million people in the United States were diagnosed with some form of dementia. Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of these cases. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, “More than 50 percent of residents in assisted living and nursing homes have some form of dementia or cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s.” Looking to the future, by the year 2050, nearly 14 million people are expected to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. Half of primary care doctors believe that our medical profession is not ready to handle this explosion in dementia patients.
All of this adds up to a dramatic need for assisted living and other services. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 48% of adults who are 65 years or older will require long-term care for up to 12 months.
One category of care giving for vulnerable adults is nursing homes. Approximately 1.5 million people over age 65 reside in nursing homes currently. Unfortunately, this creates a huge population of adults who are easy targets of abuse and neglect.
Nationally, the National Adult Protective Services Association reports:
- One in nine seniors reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past twelve months
- Elder abuse is vastly under-reported; only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported
- Abused seniors are three times more likely to die
Regrettably, nursing homes have gained a lot of negative attention with the onslaught of Coronavirus/COVID-19 cases. As of mid-April 2020, more than 3,600 deaths from this disease in the United States were of nursing home residents. Officials also fear that the rates of abuse and neglect are rising during these stressful times of isolation.
According to Arizona Adult Protective Services, the second biggest category of alleged perpetrators of abuse and neglect are paid caregivers. Sadly, fewer than 10% of the complaints in Arizona are ever investigated at all. And, those that are investigated, are not being investigated for months after the report. Why is this happening? There are simply not enough resources to adequately investigate all claims. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona health department, said her department needs “an additional 44 staff and an additional $3.3 million appropriation and general fund allocation to properly investigate the nearly 2,500 complaints received annually.”
The U.S. Government is Expanding its Prosecution of Abuse Cases
Because of the lack of investigation of these cases by individual states, the Federal government is stepping up. The Department of Justice, celebrating its 150-year anniversary, has launched the National Nursing Home Initiative, which “will coordinate and enhance civil and criminal efforts to pursue nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care to their residents.“
Attorney General William P. Barr explains, “The department considers a number of factors in identifying the most problematic nursing homes. For example, the department looks for nursing homes that consistently fail to provide adequate nursing staff to care for their residents, fail to adhere to basic protocols of hygiene and infection control, fail to provide their residents with enough food to eat so that they become emaciated and weak, withhold pain medication, or use physical or chemical restraints to restrain or otherwise sedate their residents. These care failures cause residents to suffer in pain and to be exposed to the great indignities.”
The initiative falls under the Elder Justice Initiative of the Department of Justice, whose mission is to “support and coordinate the Department’s enforcement and programmatic efforts to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial fraud and scams that target our nation’s seniors.”
For more information about Elder Abuse, visit the Elder Justice Initiative website at https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/about-elder-abuse.
If you or someone you know has been neglected, abused or financially targeted, resources are available at Arizona Adult Protective Services. The hotline to call is 1-877-SOS-ADULT (1-877-767-2385), or you can report online at https://azdes-daas-online.secure.force.com/APS.
Berk Law Group is Here to Help
Fortunately, Arizona also has a robust Adult Protective Services Act (APSA). APSA includes powerful remedies for abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of Arizona’s large population of vulnerable adults. Learn more about APSA.
The Attorneys at Berk Law Group are Here to Help
Our attorneys have substantial experience dealing with vulnerable adult claims. If you have any questions or need assistance in pursuing a claim for vulnerable adult abuse, neglect or financial exploitation in Arizona, please give us a call at 480.607.7900 or contact our office.
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