Last week I wrote about the dangers of mixing politics with nursing home regulations. A recent story by ABC News made these dangers even clearer: a millionaire nursing home operator, unhappy that his business is being prosecuted for covering up the sexual abuse of a nursing home patient, is financing political advertising to bring down a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. That candidate also happens to be the Kentucky Attorney General whose office is prosecuting that nursing home. It worries me, as a Philadelphia injury lawyer, that the welfare of nursing home patients depends not only on nursing homes' actions, but on whether nursing home corporations can pour money into elections to get the regulators they want.
Terry Forcht, the millionaire in question, owns Hazard Nursing Home in Hazard, Ky. In his role as Attorney General, Democratic Senate candidate Jack Conway told the Lexington Herald-Leader that nursing home administrator Sheila Noe and Forcht Group of Kentucky have been criminally charged with failure to report multiple incidents of suspected sexual abuse. The victim is an 88-year-old patient with Alzheimer's disease and the alleged perpetrator is another patient. State law required Hazard Nursing Home to report the suspected abuse. The state conducted an inspection when it became aware of the suspected abuse, and cited the home for endangering a resident's health or safety by violating state regulations. The victim's family members said that the nursing home covered up the abuse and only found out about it when an attorney notified them, after having learned of it in depositions for an unrelated case.
The victim's family has filed a lawsuit against the nursing home. In my view as a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, they made the right decision. Nursing home patients and their families can't rely only on the government to protect them from abusive or neglectful nursing homes. Government agencies' effectiveness in finding and stopping abuse can be undermined by weak penalties, like those the Hazard Nursing Home administrator could face for failure to report. That is a misdemeanor charge with a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and $250 fine. Worse, as this election in Kentucky shows, politics can interfere too, even if the workers within the agency want to do their best to help nursing home patients. Patients and their families must educate themselves about their rights and stand up for themselves.