One of the greatest impediments to preventing nursing home abuse is the culture of secrecy in which so many facilities operate. An increasing number are for-profit ventures, too often concerned more about their bottom line than the health and well-being of the patients they serve. Reports or solid evidence of abuse has the potential to threaten those profits, giving administrators an incentive to quiet these reports before they surface.
We see evidence of this in employment action lawsuits that have arisen in recent years. A recent example was reported in Illinois, where McKnights Long Term Care News reports a nurse was awarded $5.2 million after her termination from a nursing home, shortly following her reporting of alleged patient abuse.
Plaintiff in that case was a licensed practical nurse (LPN) at a nursing home in late 2012 when she was fired by her employer, a for-profit nursing home company that operates nearly 55 facilities. She alleged she was terminated because she refused to follow orders by the director of the nursing home to “drop a pill,” which was understood to mean give a double dose of anti-anxiety medications to patients who were agitated. The LPN also alleged she had refused to omit or delete any records that contained suspicious injuries incurred by residents.
She reportedly called to complain about these actions to the corporate hotline, and named her supervisor in her call. She was fired soon thereafter.
The damage award includes both past wages and benefits, as well as $5 million in punitive damage. The nurse was employed at the facility for less than two years. Jurors deliberated just two hours following an eight-day trial. A representative of the nursing home stated the facility planned to appeal, and flatly deny plaintiff’s allegations, which fell under the state’s whistleblower protection laws. These provisions protect workers from retaliation when they report conduct that is illegal or improper at long-term care facilities.
While this report is indeed troubling, the reality is there is evidence a significant portion of serious nursing home abuse injuries aren’t reported. The Office of the Inspector General with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported last year that approximately one-quarter of all nursing home abuse cases are not reported to local police. This is a major problem not only because it leaves victims unprotected, but also because to withhold this information is a violation of federal and state laws.
Government investigators who released the report say their research is ongoing, but they released their initial report last summer, citing the serious safety concerns involving nursing home patients across the country.
Several of the cases that the OIG investigated involved patient injuries so severe that individuals were sent to the emergency room. In one instance, an elderly woman was severely bruised after suffering an apparent sexual assault at a nursing home. Although federal law would require such an incident to be reported to police within two hours, the nursing home never reported it, the OIG alleged. In fact, they destroyed evidence by cleaning the victim immediately after her injuries were discovered. Further, the family of the abuse victim wasn’t notified until the following day. It was the family that called police. Even at that time, the facility reportedly told police they “did not need an outside facility to investigate” and were uncooperative in turning over the patient’s records.
This is why if you have any suspicion your loved one has been abused at a nursing home, it’s imperative to contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney in Orlando as soon as possible.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Jury awards $5.2 million to former nurse at Dwight nursing home, Dec. 12, 2017, By Edith Brady-Lunny, Herald & Review
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