Recently in nursing home resources Category

July 24, 2013

Federal Report Finds 'Huge Number' of Younger People Unnecessarily in Nursing Homes


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to see a report criticizing the states for overusing nursing homes for disabled but younger people. According to McKnight's Long-Term Care News, a report from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found that states are not living up to a 14-year-old obligation to transition working-age and younger people out of nursing homes. The obligation was created by a 1999 court ruling in Olmstead v. L.C., which was based on the states' obligation to integrate disabled people into society under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Fourteen years later, the Senate HELP Committee investigation found that almost a quarter of a million of working-age disabled adults are in nursing homes. In fact, the committee's press release said, the number of institutionalized disabled adults is actually growing. It called for actions that would provide community care for more disabled adults.

The Olmstead ruling found that the ability to live within the community is a protected civil right for disabled people under the ADA. Thus, states were asked to transition non-elderly disabled people out of nursing homes if they were able to live independently with some help. But according to the committee report, states are reporting very little progress. Of all 50 states, the report said, only 12 are spending more than half of their Medicare funds on community-based care rather than institutional care. As the committee's press release notes, this is especially disappointing because institutionalization is more expensive than community-based care. It's also less popular among the patients themselves, the press release said. The federal report came less than a week before the federal government sued the state of Florida for "warehousing" disabled children in nursing homes unnecessarily.

In my experience as a Philadelphia injury lawyer, this problem is not limited to working-age adults or children. Frequently, disabled elderly people are able to live at home with some help, but the systems aren't in place to make that possible. This forces them to leave home, often against their will, and accept far more expensive institutional care under Medicaid. That's especially disturbing because nursing homes are not necessarily safer than living at home. Away from loved ones or neighbors who know them, and in the care of facilities that stretch their staffs too thin, patients can become victims of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. And the abuse can lead to even more serious health problems, including expensive hospitalization or chronic problems that could truly require an institution. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I think Pennsylvania's disabled people, seniors or not, deserve better.

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August 16, 2012

Pennsylvania Nursing Home Abuse Law, Designed to Limit Punitive Damages, Stalls in the PA Legislature


As a firm that's very active in Pennsylvania nursing home abuse and neglect law, Rosenbaum & Associates pays close attention to the relevant machinations going on in Harrisburg.

As readers of this blog might remember, last fall, the Pennsylvania House passed a bill supported by associations like Pennsylvania Health Care Association/Center for Assisted Living Management. The bill aimed to limit punitive damages that liable nursing homes would have to pay in certain cases. Damages would be limited to double compensatory damages (at best), with an exception for situations in which intentional misconduct occurred.

The bill would also compel plaintiffs to file in the county in which the abuse/negligence happened -- as opposed to in counties that have a reputation for being more favorable to plaintiffs.

The Nursing Home Associations' push may have stalled out for now, but analysts believe that the effort could be kick started again in the fall.

Advocates of the legislation cite the fact that Pennsylvania's malpractice insurers paid out nearly $320 million in 2011, according to National Practitioner Data Bank research. That would make Pennsylvania the second biggest medical malpractice payout state - ahead of New Jersey and Illinois, but significantly short of New York's numbers (a $680 million payout!)

The Nursing Home Association has also complained that nursing facilities often operate on small margins; and these fragile businesses could lose everything in a single massive lawsuit. Advocates of the bill also point to massive, almost cartoon-like judgments in places like Florida, where two state facilities last year got hit with judgments of $200 million and $900 million, respectively.

What advocates of this Pennsylvania Nursing Home legislation are not paying attention to...

It's true that abuse/neglect lawsuits and settlements can place a burden on facilities. But isn't that burden a good thing? If you or someone you love got hurt in a PA nursing home due to a prescription medication foul-up, bedsore metastasizing into life threatening sepsis, or other horrific scenario, wouldn't you want to be able to leverage a full suite of legal tools to get compensated and to take care of your loved one?

Is our current system always totally fair? No.

But it's more unfair to victims of abuse or neglect than it is to owners of negligent facilities - by a long shot.

Perhaps if advocacy groups like the Pennsylvania Health Care Association/Center for Assisted Living Management spent more time identifying best practices for senior care -- and punishing facilities for straying from a high standard -- there would be less need for law firms and less need for the kind of legal actions that these groups rail against.

The horror stories that we've personally heard - and have helped to abate - along with compelling statistics at both the national and state levels suggest that the onus is on delinquent nursing facilities. These facilities need to do a better job of taking care of people: of fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities not only to their patients but also to our communities.


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June 7, 2012

Guilty Verdict in Nursing Home Manslaughter Case: Nurse Who Gave Alzheimer's Patients Morphine Gets 5 Months Behind Bars


As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse attorney, I was shocked and saddened to read about the tragedy of Rachel Holliday, an 84 year old patient at a Chapel Hill nursing home, who passed away after being horribly abused. She allegedly got sick after being doped with morphine by a nurse who apparently didn't want to be bothered to care for her patients.

Nurse Angela Almore was sentenced last Monday to five months behind bars and two and a half years of probation as part of a plea deal she made with prosecutors. The allegations against Almore were all too familiar to anyone who has studied the nursing home abuse case literature. Nurse Almore had been on duty at Britthaven Nursing Home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on February 13 and February 14, 2010. On Valentine's Day evening, Holliday started suffering respiratory distress; and she had to be rushed to UNC Hospitals for treatment.

Doctors at first couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. They eventually realized that there were opiates in her system. This was confusing, since she had not been prescribed opiates.

As her medical crisis deepened, other patients in the Alzheimer's unit began to exhibit lethargy and signs of health problems. Many of them needed to be rushed to hospital as well. All told, 14 patients in the unit tested positive for opiates - and only one had been prescribed opiates.

Sadly, Rachel Holliday passed away from morphine toxicity. The other affected patients fortunately survived their overdoses. Investigators with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation found circumstantial evidence pegging Almore as the responsible party. The local district attorney, Lamar Proctor Jr., told the judge in the case that "[Almore] made some statements that she didn't want to see patients that night...[so] she knocked all their a**es out."

After reflecting on the gravity and sadness of the situation, we'd be in remiss if we did not try to extract useful lessons. Here's one key takeaway: when caregivers shirk their duties - even innocuously -- the effects on patients can be profound, damaging, and perhaps even fatal.

At her trial, Almore openly sobbed and expressed contrition. But what she did cannot be undone. Unfortunately, the slight errors of omission - or acts of disrespect - that often constitute Pennsylvania nursing home abuse/neglect can easily create havoc and pain for elderly residents and their families.

That said, building a compelling case against a nursing home or a nursing home employee can be surprisingly difficult. At Rosenbaum & Associates, we have nearly two and a half decades of experience helping hurt elderly patients and their relatives obtain compensation and justice.

If you're confused or frustrated about what's happened to your loved one, our Pennsylvania personal injury team can empower you and help you develop a complete, aggressive strategy to get you results.

May 14, 2012

Investigation Finds Nursing Home Overuse of Antipsychotics Correlates With Less Staff


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I've kept a close eye on the issue of overuse of antipsychotics in nursing home patients. These powerful drugs are intended for use in people with serious mental illnesses, but they became popular in the past decade for "off-label" use to control the symptoms of dementia. That popularity plummeted more recently, when medical studies began showing an elevated risk of death or serious health problems like strokes among elderly dementia patients taking the drugs. A recent investigative series of stories from the Boston Globe reports that 185,370 Medicare and Medicaid patients took antipsychotics for inappropriate reasons in 2010, down dramatically from 237,510 in 2005. However, the data from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also showed that those homes that do continue using the drugs inappropriately tend to be understaffed.

The newspaper compiled a database using the federal data, which allows families considering nursing homes to look up each home's use of antipsychotics. The database excludes homes with fewer than 50 residents, but includes 15,600 homes of 50 or more, from across the United States. Of those homes, 21 percent were giving inappropriate antipsychotic medications to a quarter of their residents or more. Even more tellingly, the newspaper found "a clear link" between low staffing levels and high use of antipsychotics. Homes that most often used the antipsychotics off-label had fewer registered nurses, who direct medical care, and nurses' aides, who provide much of the hands-on care. The newspaper suggested that this is because lower staffing levels make it hard to find the time necessary to control the negative behaviors of dementia without drugs. By contrast, antipsychotics frequently have a sedative effect, leading some to call them "chemical restraints" in an analogy to the physical restraints homes once used.

This is a form of Pennsylvania nursing home abuse, as any Philadelphia injury lawyer will explain. All nursing home patients deserve to have their basic dignity respected, and that means not drugging them into insensibility or physically restraining them just because it's convenient for the staff. Nor should this be done for the sake of profit for the nursing home's parent company, which can save money on staffing by drugging patients and charging the cost of the drugs to Medicare or Medicaid. (Indeed, the Globe found homes that overused antipsychotics tended to have more patients enrolled in Medicaid.) But perhaps the worst thing about the practice of using antipsychotics in elderly dementia patients is that the drugs' known side effects include a risk of death. In fact, the risk is clear enough that the FDA has ordered its strongest warning on the drugs' labels, telling patients and doctors about the increased risk of stroke and serious cardiovascular problems for elderly patients with dementia. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I strongly suggest that patients and families trying to make a well-educated decision about nursing home care take advantage of the Globe's report to determine which homes near them are misusing these powerful drugs.

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September 5, 2011

State of Iowa Nursing Home Inspector Refuses to Turn Over Nursing Home Statistics


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I have been watching news about the state of Iowa's nursing home agency with some interest. Iowa is a battleground for proponents of safety in nursing homes because its governor, Republican Terry Branstad, is perceived by some as overly friendly with the nursing home industry. Branstad has taken campaign donations from nursing home companies, and during his first term as governor, he was cited by three separate state officials for failing to adequately regulate nursing homes. During this term, he has cited budget problems as a reason for cutting 10 Iowa state nursing home inspectors, bringing the office from 38 to 28, even though the positions were 75 percent federally funded. When the state Legislature restored the funds, the inspectors' department used them for something else. Now, the Des Moines Register reported Sept. 3, the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, a state agency, has declined to turn over statistics it compiles to the Register or the ACLU of Iowa.

The Register asked the Department of Inspections and Appeals in July for answers to six questions about violations, time spent on inspections and uninvestigated complaints. The newspaper also requested two statistical reports the Department compiles for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. That agency adds the Iowa statistics to a federal database that is publicly available, and it also helps to fund the state Department. Saying the data belongs to the federal government, the Department declined to release the data. This got the interest of the ACLU of Iowa, which wrote a letter to the Department this month asking for the legal reasoning behind its refusal to release the information. In the letter, the ACLU's legal director noted that the federal government does not fund the Department completely and asked for letters, regulations or other rules the Department is relying on. CMS has given the Register the statistical reports in question, but the questions have gone unanswered. Answering them could tell readers how nursing home patients are faring in Branstad's era of looser regulation.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I suspect the Department might not want to turn over the information because it could make the Department -- and the Branstad administration -- look bad. By cutting all of those nursing home inspectors, the administration was constraining the Department's ability to do its job. Thus, it would not be surprising to find that more problems at nursing homes are going unnoticed -- and thus, uncorrected. In fact, judging by Branstad's campaign comments that nursing home inspectors have a "gotcha attitude," it's possible that this was actually a goal for him. Regardless of what the voters of Iowa think of this, the dependent elderly and disabled people of Iowa deserve to be safe in their homes, not neglected or abused. That's why, as a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope the ACLU and the Register succeed in drawing attention to any problems they uncover under the Branstad administration -- both public attention and the attention of federal regulators.

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May 23, 2011

Some Nursing Homes Want an Exemption From Employer Mandate in Health Care Reform


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to see a recent piece on how health care reform affects nursing homes -- as employers rather than care providers. As the New York Times reported May 15, many nursing homes are lobbying Congress for an exception to the employer mandate part of the Affordable Care Act because they're concerned about the cost of insuring their employees. The Act will require all employers with 50 employees or more to offer health insurance starting in 2014, with a financial penalty for failing to do so. The homes say they need an exemption because they depend heavily on Medicare and Medicaid, whose reimbursement rates are going down rather than up. As a result, they say, they can't simply raise the price of the service they provide.

According to the Times, one in four nursing home employees does not have health insurance. The president of a nursing home industry group told the newspaper that employees who do have insurance typically don't have very good benefits, which means they may also not meet the Act's standards. Employees also dropped coverage when they couldn't afford it. The nursing home industry is exploring several ways around the Act, including laws that would allow homes to deduct the cost of penalties for non-coverage from their taxes; a waiver or reduced fee for homes "placed in financial distress as a result of the new mandates and fines"; and an extension of the time until the law takes effect. A nursing school professor told the newspaper that health insurance would make nursing home employees less likely to pass on infections to their patients and more likely to be treated when they have an occupational injury.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I know those are both frequent problems for nursing home employees. According to the article, nursing home workers are injured twice as often as average, with many back injuries among those who help bed-bound and wheelchair-bound patients into and out of bed. And I've written here several times about the probability of sick employees spreading disease through a nursing home's closed population of vulnerable people. Often, workers come to work sick because they can't afford not to -- because, as the Times notes, the front-line workers make $10 to $12 an hour and frequently don't have adequate health insurance. Sometimes, a sick day for one staff member understaffs the home for the whole day, resulting in thin-stretched workers who are too busy to meet every patient's needs. This keeps costs low for employers, but in the long run, it poses risks that could be far more expensive -- including the risk of communicable disease, neglect and Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope nursing homes realize that insuring their workers can save money and lives in the long run, as well as being required by law.

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March 7, 2011

Federal Study Finds 92 Percent of Nursing Homes Have Hired a Convicted Criminal


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I know criminal backgrounds are an ongoing problem in Pennsylvania and across the nation. Criminal background checks are required by state law in Pennsylvania and 42 other states, but the databases used can be incomplete and the employees sometimes start before the check is complete So I was extremely interested to see a report about a new federal study saying the vast majority of nursing homes have hired a convicted criminal in the past. As CBS reported March 2, the federal Department of Health and Human Services also found that about half of the homes had hired five or more people with criminal convictions.

The Inspector General of HHS conducted the study by checking names of about 35,000 employees at 260 facilities against the FBI's list of convicted criminals. The study found that five percent of all nursing home employees examined had at least one criminal conviction. The majority of the crimes, at 44 percent, were property crimes -- theft, shoplifting or bouncing checks. Another 12.5 percent were convicted of crimes against a person, such as assault and battery. Perhaps most disturbingly, seven of the 35,000 employees were registered sex offenders. And 16 percent of the convictions had come after the employee was already working in nursing homes. The inspector general recommended that nursing homes use a nationwide criminal background check program. In fact, such a program was passed along with the Obama administration's controversial health care bill, but each state's participation is voluntary.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I believe it would best serve patients if participation were mandatory. I've written here several times about criminal convictions for nursing home employees, and one theme I've noticed is incomplete background checks. Convictions from Pennsylvania might show up in Pennsylvania's database, but convictions from New York or New Jersey might not. Some of this is simple bad record-keeping, but as CBS noted, only 10 of the states that require background checks require use of the FBI database. That means someone with a problematic history, including a history of nursing home abuse, sexual assault or opportunistic theft can slip under the radar simply by moving to a new state. In my opinion as a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, this puts nursing home patients at an unnecessary risk. Nursing homes could be legally and financially liable for any Pennsylvania nursing home abuse that sloppy background checks fail to prevent, so careful background checks are also in their best interests.

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February 1, 2011

Pennsylvania Legislature Considers Medicaid Cuts That Could Affect Nursing Homes


As a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer, I was interested to read an article about an ongoing debate in the state legislature on cutting Medicaid costs to balance the budget. The Pocono Record reported Feb. 1 on the proposal and the debate surrounding it in Harrisburg and around our state. New governor Tom Corbett campaigned in part on a promise to cut the budget, and he had enthusiastic support in some areas. But state Sen. Pat Vance, who is a former nurse, told a York County audience recently that there just isn't much left to cut because most of the Medicaid funding goes to the elderly and disabled. The state Department of Public Welfare said the elderly are the fastest-growing group of Medicaid recipients in Pennsylvania.

Medicaid costs are a problem in every state, with an aging population and medical advances that prolong lives. In Pennsylvania, the elderly are 14 percent of all Medicaid recipients but incur 33 percent of costs. About 50,000 of the estimated 2 million Pennsylvania Medicaid enrollees are in nursing homes; another estimated 35,000 are in alternative care such as small group homes or in-home care. Vance promoted in-home care in her speech, noting that it's less than half the cost of nursing homes ($25,000 instead of $60,000 per patient per year). Ironically, however, alternative care may be cut from the state budget because that coverage is not federally required, as nursing home care is. Stuart Shapiro, president of the industry group Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said cutting in-home care would likely mean family and friends would care for the recipients instead, with "a tiny percentage" going to nursing homes.

As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I find that difficult to believe. Families use in-home caregivers because they don't usually have the skills needed to care for someone with a serious disability, or the money to quit their jobs and become full-time caregivers. Families who lose their safety nets would likely turn to Medicare or even sell an older loved one's home in order to get that person needed, professional care. That would be a shame, because in-home care offers advantages beyond financial savings. Keeping patients in familiar settings is easier on them personally, and in-home care avoids some of the institutional problems with nursing home care. Caregivers are more likely to be consistent and familiar with the patient's needs, and less likely to be overwhelmed by work and forget important things or commit Pennsylvania nursing home abuse. And of course, no community of other patients reduces exposure to communicable diseases. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope the state takes a long view on elder care when doing the hard work of cutting the budget.

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January 19, 2011

Study Finds Health Care Underfunded by Medicaid in Pennsylvania and Other States


As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I was interested to see a recent report on the ongoing funding problems for nursing homes that accept Medicaid. The American Health Care Association, a nonprofit long-term care trade group, released a study last week showing that nationally, state Medicaid programs underpaid nursing homes by $5.6 billion. That works out to a national payment of $7.17 per hour per patient, which the AHCA points out is below the current minimum wage. The states with the seven biggest funding shortfalls included Pennsylvania, at number six, and neighbors New York, New Jersey and Ohio.

The study (PDF) was commissioned by AHCA and performed by private company Eljay LLC. It puts Pennsylvania's projected funding deficit for 2010 at $15.13 per hour per patient. The deficits come from the difference between the "allowable costs" for Medicaid services and what Medicaid pays homes. The actual cost of providing nursing home services might exceed Medicaid allowable costs, the report said, which means the shortfall might be even bigger. This is a major issue for nursing homes because Medicaid makes up about 64 percent of their funding, along with Medicare, long-term care insurance and private payment. A separate study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that nursing homes eliminated about five percent of their beds between 1998 and 2008 because of budget cuts, with a disproportionately high number of those beds disappearing in communities with high percentages of minorities or poverty.

This issue is interesting to Pennsylvania nursing home lawyers like me because funding has a direct effect on the quality of care patients receive. If, for example, nursing homes choose to let go of staff members, those staff members have less time to spend with each individual patient, and may be tempted to leave more often for higher-paying jobs elsewhere. The results can be disastrous, including patients allowed to wander without supervision, staff members who don't notice bedsores or other problems, distracted aides who mix up drugs and overworked staff members giving inappropriate dementia drugs just to keep patients cooperative. These and other cutbacks can expose patients to unacceptable Pennsylvania nursing home abuse, which means adequate funding for elder care must be a priority.

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November 5, 2010

Study Finds Link Between Profits and Pennsylvania Nursing Home Quality Ratings


A recent study in the journal Health Economics reported that nursing homes stand to gain profits if they increase their quality-of-care rating on the Nursing Home Compare report card from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. As a Philadelphia injury lawyer, I'm always glad to hear of ways to encourage nursing homes to improve the care they give to their patients. However, it's important for families to be aware of their rights to high-quality care, even if the nursing homes don't stand to increase their profits.

In the Health Economics study, researchers compared financial performance of nursing homes before the Nursing Home Compare report card was instituted in 2002 with their performance after the report card went public. The report card rates facilities on how well they control patients' pain, prevent bedsores, keep their residents active and other criteria. Their conclusion: Raising their quality ratings tended to result in financial gains for nursing homes. Nursing homes that rated poorer on quality could increase their scores in subsequent years, but it took significant improvements for this to result in higher profits.

Nursing homes that scored poorly tended to be cautious about making expensive investments in quality of care without evidence that it would yield higher profits. The study's lead author, Dr. Jeongyoung Park of the American Board of Internal Medicine, said that there could be a widening gap between higher- and lower-quality nursing homes because Medicare and private-payer patients tend to choose higher-quality nursing homes, and those patients are the ones who spur nursing homes to make the investments in raising their quality. Thus, the lower-quality nursing homes continue to have poorer patients and fail to make improvements.

Regardless of the quality rating, all nursing homes must provide adequate care for their patients, free of neglect or abuse of any kind. As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I have seen many cases in which nursing home patients have been seriously injured and killed because of neglect and negligence. Low staffing levels and poor training of staff in nursing homes more focused on profits than patient care can lead to life-threatening problems. These include severe bedsores; injuries from moving patients without the right precautions; and even patients harming one another when they are left unsupervised. Patients and their families must educate themselves about their rights, choose very carefully and stand up for themselves when they feel that they're not getting the kind of care they should.

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October 8, 2010

Many Pennsylvania Nursing Homes Score Poorly in Federal Quality Ratings


The Daily Item of Sunbury, Pennsylvania recently reported that many Pennsylvania nursing homes have earned substandard scores on the federal government's five-star quality rating system. The ratings are available on the Nursing Home Compare website at Medicare.gov. As a Pennsylvania nursing home negligence attorney, I think it's unfortunate that so many nursing homes are not performing as well as they should be. However, it's great that patients and their families have this information, so that they can make better-informed choices about which nursing homes will give them the care that they deserve.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) began making the quality ratings available in December 2008. The ratings include nursing homes that participate in Medicare or Medicaid, and are based on three areas: staffing, quality-of-care measures and, most importantly, health inspections. Mary Kahn, senior public affairs specialist for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, said that the ratings offer "an incredibly detailed look at nursing homes' health and safety: administration of medications, incidents of avoidable issues like bed sores, whether residents decline in an unexpected way." Kahn added that families should also visit nursing homes to see for themselves what they're like, and they should use the ratings to ask questions about areas in which the homes have scored poorly. For example, if the home has scored poorly in staff-to-patient ratios, a family might ask the nursing home administrator whether they plan to hire additional staff, and when.

Here in Pennsylvania, families will have to ask a lot of questions. In Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union Counties, there were six nursing homes that rated only one star out of five, far below average: Kramm Healthcare Center in Milton; Mount Carmel Nursing and Rehabilitation in Mount Carmel; and Mountain View, A Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Coal Township. The other three are Grandview Health Homes Inc. in Danville; the Manor at Penn Village in Selinsgrove; and Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village in Lewisburg. Six other nursing homes rated only two out of five stars: Golden Living Center Mansion in Sunbury; Kramm Nursing Home in Watsontown; Manor Care Health Services in Sunbury; Nottingham Village in Northumberland; Sunbury Community Hospital's Skilled Nursing Facility; and Rolling Hills Manor in Millmont. Only three nursing homes in these counties earned three or more stars. RiverWoods in Lewisburg managed to rise from a one-star rating in 2008 to a three-star rating; and Emmanuel Center for Nursing in Danville and Shamokin Area Community Hospital's Skilled Nursing Facility both have four stars out of five.

A low rating doesn't necessarily mean that patients are in danger, but in my experience as a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, it's a sign that patients and their families should pay attention to. A low rating can signal that a nursing home prioritizes profits over patients, or that it's not training its staff or hiring them in sufficient numbers to ensure good patient care.

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September 17, 2010

Pennsylvania Families Cannot Trust State Regulators as Sole Watchdogs of Nursing Homes


As a Pennsylvania nursing home negligence attorney, I was dismayed to read an article from the Seattle Times detailing serious abuse suffered by many residents in adult family homes, residential settings for adults who need somewhat less assistance than is provided in nursing homes. The horrors described in the article underscore how important it is for Pennsylvania families of nursing home patients to trust their instincts about how their loved ones are treated in nursing homes.

According to the Times, Audree Hopkins, a 68-year-old partially blind stroke victim suffering from emphysema lived in the TLC Adult Family Home in Seattle. She was a smoker even though she was unable to light a cigarette herself and used an oxygen pump to help her breathe at night. A devastating explosion occurred in March 2007, six months after Hopkins moved in, searing off her earlobes and the end of her nose. Seattle police detective Suzanne Moore questioned the home's caregivers about the incident, and they all claimed that Hopkins had caused the accident herself. They said none of them had given her a cigarette, and she was not using the oxygen pump.

But Moore found that Hopkins's husband had preserved important evidence -- her melted wheelchair, burned clothing, and damaged oxygen pump -- and that the fire department responders had seen the oxygen pump at the scene. Tests by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that a cigarette had set off the explosion, which burned the same path along her skin as the oxygen tube. Hopkins's caregivers had lied about their role in the explosion, and also failed to report the incident to the Department of Social and Health Services, as was legally required. In all, the Times found 357 cases over five years in which caregivers covered up abuse and neglect, often involving serious injury or death. Unfortunately, the state of Washington imposed few regulations on adult family homes, and the DSHS often failed to enforce the ones that did exist, or to report abuse to law enforcement.

Pennsylvania families can insist on better care than that, because Pennsylvania carefully regulates those who care for the elderly and others. As the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader points out, the Pennsylvania Department of Health now requires home care agencies and registries to be licensed, and by the end of 2011, all their direct care workers must meet state-mandated competency requirements. Family members can view online training videos for caregivers to learn more about the kinds of skills that competent caregivers are expected to have.

Even though these regulations and educational opportunities exist, some nursing homes continue to put profits ahead of their patients' well-being, and they count on state agencies' being overworked and underfunded to help them get away with it. That's why families shouldn't leave it up to state or federal regulators to make sure that their loved ones are being treated properly in nursing homes. Families who think that their loved ones are not receiving the kind of care that they expect should discuss their suspicions with a Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyer.

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August 31, 2010

Pennsylvania Families Can Use Nursing Home Compare to Avoid Unsafe Homes


As a Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorney, I was interested in a recent article in the New York Times that discussed a rating system now available to families seeking information about nursing homes. This is an important tool to help families assess these facilities as they make decisions about where they or their loved ones will be cared for. As a Pennsylvania nursing home abuse lawyer, I've seen many cases of abuse, neglect and other negligence in nursing homes where profits come before patients, and I know that families need all the help they can get to avoid substandard facilities.

The Nursing Home Compare tool on Medicare.gov allows families to find and compare information about every Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing home in the country, using a rating system of one to five stars. One star means that the nursing home is far below average, and five stars indicates that it's far above average, on measures of health inspections, staffing, and quality. It also provides an overall rating based on annual inspections and data reported by nursing home administrators.

Staffing issues are often the basis for claims brought by Philadelphia injury lawyers when a nursing home resident receives substandard care.

Experts advise families seeking nursing homes to use the rating system, in addition to visiting the nursing homes they're considering at varying times of the day and asking the nursing aides how long they've been in their jobs. They also suggest talking to nursing home administrators, other families and the local aging agency's ombudsman. By putting all these sources of information together, families may be able to avoid some of the worst problems that nursing home patients can experience, like bedsores and other injuries that result from understaffing, inexperienced or poorly screened staff, and financial abuse by poorly supervised staff members.

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July 20, 2010

Budget Cuts Mean Pennsylvania Families Must Watch for Nursing Home Negligence


As Pennsylvania nursing home neglect attorneys, we pay attention to news about investigations of nursing homes that neglect or abuse patients. In Kentucky, there has been an uproar over how long it takes for the state to investigate reports of abuse and neglect. Families of nursing home patients in Pennsylvania should take note of this conflict in Kentucky, because state budget cuts in Pennsylvania could lead to similar problems here. With state agencies increasingly trying to do more with less, nursing home patients' families should not depend entirely on the state to make sure nursing homes live up to their responsibilities to care for patients properly.

Because of the current recession, it's especially important for families to watch carefully to make sure that their loved ones are receiving proper care in nursing homes. State agencies are severely underfunded and have a limited ability to enforce their own rules. Pennsylvania's 2010-2011 budget will require layoffs from every state agency. More state employees will be laid off if the state does not receive $850 million for Medicaid, which helps to pay for many nursing home patients' care, from the federal government. Even though there are laws and regulations governing how nursing homes should treat their patients, state regulators will be trying to do their jobs with less money and fewer people. Inspections may not happen as often as they should, and follow-up after those inspections to make sure violations are corrected may take longer, or not happen at all. Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers play an important role in continuing to fight for residents' rights. Politicians, possibly looking for donations from nursing home companies, sometimes pressure state regulatory agencies to overlook nursing homes' negligence. Then, poorly run homes can get away with hurting people longer, sometimes until someone dies.

As Philadelphia nursing home abuse lawyers, we have seen many cases of neglectful and abusive treatment of nursing home patients, including theft and financial exploitation; life-threatening bedsores caused by staff members' poor training, lack of caring, or understaffing; and infections caused by poor hygiene. Unfortunately, government regulators are unlikely to catch and correct all of these violations given their own underfunded circumstances. Sadly, families simply can't afford to trust regulators to make sure that their loved ones are being treated properly in nursing homes.

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February 27, 2010

Beware of Binding Arbitration in Pennsylvania Nursing Home Contracts


When residents enter nursing homes, they are almost always asked to sign contracts. These contracts specify all of the obligations the home has to the resident and his or her family, as well as the family's obligation to the home. Our Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys recommend reading any contract carefully, of course. But in particular, we advise families to watch nursing home contracts carefully for a provision requiring something called binding arbitration. Binding arbitration removes families' ability to sue in the event of any abuse, neglect or other wrongdoing at the home.

Binding arbitration is essentially private judging. Rather than going to a courthouse and explaining your case to a jury and judge, you and the nursing home would hire a private arbitrator (sometimes a retired judge) to hear the case and make a decision. Companies say it's faster than going to court, and sometimes cheaper. However, binding arbitration has come under criticism in the past few years after statistics showed that arbitrators decide in favor of the companies in an unusually high proportion of cases. Overwhelmingly, the companies are also the ones that pay the arbitrators' bills. The resulting public outcry has led to two bills in Congress to ban the practice -- including one that applies specifically to nursing homes.

In nursing homes, there are two major problems with binding arbitration. At worst, families' cases are decided by someone who was bought and paid for by the nursing home company. Because their contracts specify that the arbitrator's decision is final, families can rarely appeal to a state court. This denies justice in that one case. However, there's also a larger problem of "moral hazard." Binding arbitration with a friendly arbitrator allows nursing home companies to escape accountability for their actions. In essence, that means nursing homes have no incentive to cover up unsafe and illegal conditions -- placing more residents at risk.

Consumers often don't realize binding arbitration is buried in contracts until after they sign. Some states have thrown these contracts out of court, but Pennsylvania is not currently one of them. That means Pennsylvania families should look for binding arbitration clauses anytime they're ready to place a loved one in a nursing home. If they find one and prefer not to agree to it, they can and should ask the nursing home to change or remove it. Families who have already signed a binding arbitration contract should not give up, however. You can and should have a Philadelphia nursing home abuse attorney represent you in arbitration hearings, as well as in any court case necessary to fight the arbitration clause.

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