While many states – including Florida – offer extensive information about abuse and neglect reports generated from care in nursing homes and hospitals, most make it very difficult to obtain information on the care in state-regulated facilities. In one example recently chronicled by the Associated Press, a man rendered severely and permanently disabled by a car accident more than a quarter century ago suffered for weeks with an infestation of maggots.
According to the report, the man, who is unable to walk, talk or even breathe on his own, was helpless when the tiny larval flies invaded a hole in his throat near his breathing tube. It was the first of two such infestations he suffered, resulting in numerous hospital emergency department trips and extensive treatment. A subsequent investigation by the state revealed his caretakers neglected him for days at a time, allowing the infestation to take hold. And yet, despite the egregiousness in the lapse of care, no one might have learned anything about it had the AP not made specific and detailed requests for the information.
As noted by the reporters, it’s far simpler for a member of the public to learn about possible health code violations in a restaurant than to learn about errors or lapses in care at institutions run by the state. That kind of information could be invaluable to those searching for information about where to send a loved one who requires around-the-clock medical care.
In Florida, such issues are reported to the Agency for Health Care Administration. The AP reports numerous states and even the federal government have stringent rules involving both personal and medical privacy, which is what is often cited in refusal to release investigatory records, or at least unredacted reports. While redaction protecting one’s identity is understandable, the AP reports many of these records are so redacted, it’s difficult to make out complete sentences. Some advocates and lawmakers told the AP such redactions aren’t so much about protecting patient privacy as protecting these institutions from headlines that could embarrass them.
Of course, when such information is under wraps, it creates little incentive to modify harmful policy – particularly if doing so would be a hit to the facility’s bottom line.
In New York, when the state comptroller attempted to audit the agency responsible for oversight of state-run disabled care centers, he received only 8 percent of the more than 80,000 neglect and abuse complaints filed between 2013 and 2016.
Of course, cases that result in arrest will likely be announced through a local law enforcement agency. However, that only involves a small percentage, as care center and nursing home negligence isn’t always a criminal offense. Cases that are more routine – often involving inadequate supervision of patients and staff – are often unreported. In many cases, we may only hear about broad statistics on the number of complaints, as well as the percentage of those substantiated.
When advocates tried to get a bare-minimum report via a federal Freedom of Information Act request on the number of sexual assaults and deaths at a given facility over a 2-year period, it took eight months.
Florida does have one of the most open government records policies in the country. And yet, officials here still routinely will cite patient privacy as a means not to disclose key details about deaths of patients in state care.
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.
Case of maggots in throat offers rare look at neglect probes, Aug. 10, 2017, By David Klepper, AP
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