July 30 -- Reports of serious, physical, sexual and verbal abuse are "numerous" among the nation's nursing homes, according to a congressional report released today.
The study, prepared by the minority (Democratic and Independent) staff of the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee, finds that 30 percent of nursing homes in the United States — 5,283 facilities — were cited for almost 9,000 instances of abuse over a recent two-year period, from January 1999 to January 2001.
Common problems included untreated bedsores, inadequate medical care, malnutrition, dehydration, preventable accidents, and inadequate sanitation and hygiene, the report said.
Many of the abuse violations caused harm to the residents, the report said.
In 1,601 cases, the abuse violations were serious enough "to cause actual harm to residents or to place the residents in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury," it said.
"What we have found is shocking," says Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the committee's minority leader, who instructed the staff to do the study.
Kelley Queale, director of communications for the California Association of Health Facilities, however, says reports such as the one released today can be misleading, since stringent regulations require reporting even the most minor of incidents, such as one resident slapping another.
"That inflates the figures and makes it sound a lot worse than the reality is," she says. "We believe that nursing homes are providing the best care they can in a difficult environment."
In some reported cases, a member of the nursing home's staff was accused of committing physical or sexual abuse. In others, staff were cited for failing to protect people from abuse by other residents.
The report documents instances of residents being punched, slapped, choked or kicked by staff members or other residents, causing injuries such as fractured bones or lacerations.
Some of the violations uncovered are particularly disturbing. In one case, according to the report, an attendant walked into a resident's room, said "I'm tired of your ass," and hit her in the face, breaking her nose.