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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.

Please contact the Philadelphia nursing home negligence attorneys at Rosenbaum & Associates for a free consultation to learn about your rights. You can reach us toll-free at 1-800-7-LEGAL-7 or contact us online today.

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