One of the most high-profile and saddening things I do as a Pennsylvania nursing home lawyer is representing victims of physical abuse and their families. Pennsylvania nursing home abuse encompasses more than just hitting, but physical violence does happen, and it’s completely inexcusable. Such an incident apparently occurred Feb. 7 in Washington County, Penn., outside Pittsburgh. According to a March 16 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 34-year-old Michael Ashmore, an employee at the Washington County Health Center, is accused of snapping a towel in the face of a 93-year-old resident, and attempting to punch and choke the man.
Few details about the incident were available. According to the article, Ashmore is charged by Chartiers Township police with simple assault, neglecting to care for a dependent person and making terroristic threats. He has been fired from his job at the state-run home as well. Though the incident occurred in early February, reports of the arrest and charges began surfacing March 15. The Post-Gazette said officials at the home waited to report the incident until after they had finished an internal investigation. All three of the charges are misdemeanors, and Ashmore could face a wide range of penalties, including jail or prison time. However, the incident also likely means Ashmore will be ineligible to work with nursing home or dependent patients in the future.
As a Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyer, I hope that’s the case. Pennsylvania nursing homes are supposed to do criminal background checks on all new employees, and decline to hire people with certain convictions in their past. However, as a recent federal study showed, nursing homes across the nation have still employed people with criminal convictions that should have disqualified them. There are many reasons for this: incomplete databases, no state law requiring a background check and allowing employees to start work before the background check comes through. Unfortunately, some homes even intentionally ignore or sidestep the background check requirements, irresponsibly letting inappropriate people loose to abuse or neglect vulnerable sick or elderly people. When homes hire people they knew or should have known were unqualified as caregivers, they leave themselves liable in lawsuits by injured patients and their families.
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