In California, the non-profit Center for Investigative Reporting has been working hard to learn more about alleged abuse and maltreatment of developmentally disabled patient in the care of state-run centers.
After drawn-out litigation over public records that the state refused to turn over, the journalists finally prevailed. What those records ultimately revealed, according to a recent report, paints a deeply troubling picture.
Since 2002, the Department of Public Health found state-run homes responsible for the deaths of 13 people. Even more deaths and serious injuries were cited as being the cause of administrators and staffers allowing highly dangerous living situations, even if that wasn’t the direct cause.
Just a few of the examples cited:
- One teen resident allegedly smothered and killed another after the worker in charge skipped her normal rounds.
- A resident in his late 40s died known to have a poor immune system succumbed to infection after the physician failed to treat him for MRSA, a dangerous, highly-contagious condition, even though lab work clearly showed he tested positive.
- In another case, a patient battled an infection for months resulting from an improperly-placed feeding tube the medical staff didn’t notice.
These were just a sampling of the cases reported in state records the facilities fought to shield from public view. Within these six state-run facilities, some 1,115 patients reside, paid for by taxpayers, usually because they either have no families or relatives are unable to provide them the necessary 24-hour care.
Almost all of those who reside in these facilities are extremely vulnerable to nursing home abuse and neglect because many are either non-verbal or their vocabulary is extremely limited. They also require constant attention and care, and any failure can have severe consequences to their health and well-being.
When the CIR finally received the records via court order, they combed through them to find the health department had fined these facilities for actions in a total of 22 death cases in the last 13 years.
The incidents documented range from verbal abuse to sexual assault to death. Patients were often sworn at, shoved, grabbed by their hair. One died after falling out of bed because the railing on either side hadn’t been properly attached. One was humiliated by being forced to walk naked down the hallway. One was allegedly kicked while on the toilet. Some residents were Tasered. One endured ice water dumped on top of him. Several were abused sexually, either by patients or staff members.
In many of these cases, the facilities failed to properly investigate complaints or reports when they were first initiated. Citations in death cases resulted in fines of between $10,000 to $90,000.
A spokeswoman for the state department that oversees the facilities responded its administrators were aware of the need for “continuous improvement.” The center refused to respond to specific questions about these incidents, citing patient privacy concerns.
Patient privacy was also used as an excuse to shield these incidents from public knowledge in the first place. When the state initially produced documents pertaining to these incidents, the records were heavily redacted. In addition to removing the patient’s name and identifying information, the state also redacted any information relating to the circumstances surrounding these incidents, which made it impossible to know what had gone wrong or who had been injured or what happened.
The court order required the state to turn over some 900 pages of records that detail investigations into neglect, abuse and death of vulnerable residents.
These kinds of incidents are certainly not isolated to California or to state-run facilities. In fact, there is evidence such incidents would be more easily concealed by private, for-profit facilities.
Our experienced nursing home abuse lawyers make it our goal too to expose the truth and obtain justice for you and your loved ones.
Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
13 deaths blamed on abuse and neglect at California state-run homes, April 7, 2015, By Rachael Bale, The Center for Investigative Reporting
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CFPB: Forced Arbitration Bad for Consumers; Elderly Advocates Urge Policy Change, April 11, 2015, Broward County Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Blog