Families’ abilities to hold potentially negligent nursing facilities accountable have been diminished by a recent change in state law that bars records of abuse and neglect from use in the courts, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism has found. The Center’s investigation also shows that some long-term care facilities are failing to report deaths and injuries, as required by law.
This project, A Frail System, explores those issues and offers families help in identifying which of the state’s nursing homes have been sued or cited for major problems.
Since 1986, at least 297 personal injury, wrongful death and medical malpractice lawsuits have been filed against Wisconsin nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
Attorneys for families of residents say that facilities’ failure to report serious injuries or deaths related to abuse or neglect is not uncommon. Far more often, they say, the state health department only learns about a case of alleged neglect or abuse after a family member files a complaint. Advocates for health care providers stress that incidents of neglect and abuse are extremely rare, and can come to regulators’ attention in a variety of ways.
In response to the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism’s inquiries into an accident involving a 88-year-old woman at a Milwaukee nursing home, the state Department of Health Services launched an internal review, which concluded that state officials did not properly respond. As a result, the department says it has reviewed its intake procedures and made changes to ensure that complaints against nursing homes are triaged appropriately and investigated in a timely fashion.
Federal inspection records of Wisconsin nursing homes, September 2009 through November 2012, focusing on only those deficiencies deemed to put residents in “immediate jeopardy.” Data were compiled by ProPublica.
A new Wisconsin law, which went into effect in February 2011, bars families from using state health investigation records in state civil suits filed against long-term providers, including nursing homes and hospices. It also makes such records inadmissible in criminal cases against health care providers accused of neglecting or abusing patients.