HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - A shocking watchdog report out this week found that incidents of potential abuse and neglect at nursing homes were not always reported and investigated.
The Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s office revealed that nursing facilities have failed to report thousands of serious cases of potential neglect and abuse of seniors on Medicare even though it’s a federal requirement for them to do so. It calls for a new focus on protecting frail patients.
The auditors drilled down on episodes serious enough that the patient was taken straight from a nursing facility to a hospital emergency room. Scouring Medicare billing records, they estimated that in 2016 about 6,600 cases reflected potential neglect or abuse that was not reported as required. Nearly 6,200 patients were affected.
So what resources are available if you have concerns about care?
Alicia Howard is a ombudsman, or mediator. She's an advocate for people who live in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
"We are a local resource if they have concerns or complaints or if they just need general information about long term care, they can contact their local ombudsman," she explained.
Howard is with Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments or TARCOG. They serve a five county area in North Alabama: Dekalb, Jackson, Marshall, Madison and Limestone Counties. They work with 26 long term facilities and 40 assisted living facilities.
There are 18 certified ombudsmen in the state. You can call 256-830-0818 for the TARCOG Area Agency on Aging and they will direct you to your local ombudsman.
The local ombudsman contact information is also required to be posted in each nursing facility.
At each long term facility, re-certification surveys are done every year. You can download the reports from the state health department’s website at adph.org.
It's considered a public document.
If you don’t have access to the website or computer, the facility is also required to have that report readily available and easily visible. You can request to see it.
"Especially if they're looking for that local term care for their loved one. They can look and see that report and just see what they're working, what they've been cited on," Howard said.
Anyone can contact the Alabama Department of Public Health’s complaint division. The Department of Human Resources Adult Protective Services is also another resource, as well as TARCOG.
"If you suspect any type of abuse- physical abuse, financial exploitation, care neglect- there are resources. You can contact your local ombudsman. You can do so anonymously or leave your name. We are advocates of that particular resident, you can call us," Howard added.