Nursing home abuse is an incredibly widespread problem in the United States. Vulnerable people in need of long-term care are increasingly at risk of ill treatment – largely because facility owners care more for making profits than residents' safety.
If this fact isn't bad enough, however, the ways these profits are spent is beginning to raise further concern.
Medicaid Funds Stolen for Illegal Activity
Last week, St. Louis nursing home owner Johnnie Mac Sells pleaded guilty to stealing$667,000 in Medicaid funding. As well as a fine, he is facing up to 3 years in prison.
Over 3 years, Sells reportedly spent $4,500 of this government funding at casinos, $12,000 at his country club, $15,000 on pet care, and $185,000 on strippers at adult entertainment clubs.
This is almost a year after the nursing home was shut down. Sixty residents were relocated after Missouri health officials reportedly discovered unsanitary pile-ups of trash, food shortages, and unpaid bills.
Needless to say, it is frightening to think that a person capable of these crimes runs a medical facility for the vulnerable elderly. Yet his behavior is representative of countless other nursing home supervisors abusing their authority and their residents for the sake of cold, hard cash.
Meanwhile, Across the Nation…
Benchmark Healthcare was the last remaining facility of the nursing home empire established by Sells's grandmother, Clara Sells, in 1938. Before its collapse, Legacy Health Systems had owned 27 homes across the region and was worth $100 Million.
Elsewhere, similarly disturbing events are occurring at other nursing homes. In Ohio, for example, a new report has found that the state's nursing home inspections are failing to meet federal guidelines. Not only is there a serious lack of inspection staff, but they repeatedly missed deadlines to inspect Ohio's 960 nursing facilities by an average of a month.
“The people in nursing homes require daily care; that's why they are there,” said Richard Mollott, executive director of New York-based nonprofit Long Term Care Community Coalition. “It's incumbent on the state to make sure they are getting that care. If you aren't getting inspectors in there every year to check on what's going on, then you have a problem.”
Another horrific case that earned national headlines was that of Mark Allen Keeney. The state-licensed residential care facility owner was charged with sexually abusing mentally impaired residents. Despite all the evidence against him, Keeney pleaded not guilty.
A Nightmare That Just Won't End
Nursing home and elder abuse has become so pervasive that federal ombudsmen have recorded over 20,000 complaints of sexual abuse at long-term care facilities in a 20-year period. This amounts to nearly 3 complaints every day.
We can never really know the number of actual incidents of nursing home misconduct. While many victims are too embarrassed or too ill to speak up, witnesses also plead ignorance. And without diligent reporting, complaints will never reach the ears of the regulators who can prevent it.
Sadly, sexual abuse is only the tip of the iceberg. Other types include bodily injury, neglect, emotional abuse, and financial exploitation.
In the Keeney and Sells cases, the homes in question were shut down relatively quickly. But elder care advocates argue that regulators aren't doing enough. To end the abuse pervading thousands of nursing homes, authorities owe it to victims to believe their abuse claims and make them publicly known to protect others.
Visitors of homes, too, need to act on anything that seems amiss. In the end, it was a citizen who caught Keeney.
“People don't even think that an older person would be sexually assaulted, would be raped, would be a victim,” said Edwin Walker, deputy assistant secretary at the Administration on Aging. Yet even looking only at reported data, the numbers don't lie.