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We know that abuse and neglect of nursing home residents is all too common. Make no mistake that nursing home management and ownership routinely psychologically abuse both the residents and family members of residents who confront abuse, neglect and other problems (including fraudulent billing) that takes place!

One such family member of a nursing home resident who has visited this blog wrote the following earlier today, “I just got a copy of a bill submitted to Medicare for $8,000 worth of therapies never done for my father by nursing home staff. Their fraudulent billing was so bold as to list therapies done on CHRISTMAS, a day when he was asleep 95% of the day!” When confronted by the family member, what did the nursing home’s administrator do? The family member continues, When I disputed the bill, the administrator told me perhaps it was time to move my father!”

THIS TYPE OF PSYCHOLOGICAL RETALIATION MUST STOP!!! It is NOT a crime or a bad thing to confront fraudulent nursing home billing! It is NOT fair to retaliate against a nursing home resident because their family member points out a legitimate problem! It is NEVER wrong to point out possible insurance fraud!

How is suggesting moving a family member to another nursing home a type of “psychological retaliation”? Because it is NOT in any way, shape or form an appropriate suggestion. Claims of possible fraudulent billing by a family member (or resident) isn’t something that should cause a nursing home administrator to even suggest a resident should be moved. The problem is the FRAUD committed by the facility and NOT reporting the possible fraud! The “sub-text” of this type of “suggestion” is actually a THREAT to involuntarily FORCE a resident to be moved as a way to punish the person concerned about fraudulent billing. Involuntary discharge from a nursing home because a resident or their family member reports possible fraud is ILLEGAL. Nursing homes are masterful in how they can cook up FALSE reasons (through lies and false charting of resident information) to make it appear that involuntary discharge is for legal reasons. Think of the stress inflicted upon the resident and/or family member to have to defend themselves against false claims. Think of the stress caused a family member when a nursing home resident, for no good reason, is forced to move to a different facility — some residents end up being moved literally hundreds of miles from their family member in order to find a facility that takes Medicare payment that will accept the resident. It isn’t easy to place a resident when the discharging facility has falsely documented problems about the resident in order to justify kicking them out.

If possible insurance fraud involves Medicare, as in the case of this reader, the official Medicare website (www.medicare.gov) offers the following information about how to report fraud

First, if you even suspect that Medicare is being charged for a service or supply that wasn’t provided your loved one (or a friend, or yourself), call toll-free 1-800-MEDICARE.

It will help to have the following information handy at the time you report fraud:

  • The provider’s name and any identifying number you may have.
  • The service or item you’re questioning.
  • The date the service or item was supposedly given or delivered.
  • The payment amount approved and paid by Medicare.
  • The name and Medicare number of the person the service or supplies were alegedly provided to.
  • The reason you think Medicare shouldn’t have paid.
  • Any other information you have showing why Medicare shouldn’t have paid for a service or item

Under certain circumstances fighting Medicare fraud can pay up to $1,000! You may be eligible for a reward of up to $1,000 if all of these 5 conditions are met:

  1. You report the suspected Medicare fraud. The allegation must be specific, not general.
  2. The suspected Medicare fraud you report must be confirmed as potential fraud by the Program Safeguard Contractor, the Zone Program Integrity Contractor, or the Medicare Drug Integrity Contractor (the Medicare contractors responsible for investigating potential fraud and abuse) and formally referred as part of a case by one of the contractors to the Office of Inspector General for further investigation.
  3. You aren’t an “excluded individual.” (Example: You didn’t participate in the fraud offense being reported. Or, there isn’t another reward that you qualify for under another government program).
  4. The person or organization you’re reporting isn’t already under investigation by law enforcement.
  5. Your report leads directly to the recovery of at least $100 of Medicare money. The incentive reward can’t exceed 10% of the overpayments recovered in the case or $1,000, whichever is less. If multiple individuals qualify for a reward, the reward is shared among them.

If you want to know more about Medicare’s Incentive Reward Program, call toll-free 1-800-MEDICARE.

My prayer is that nursing home residents and their family members may never again be subjected to psychological abuse in retaliation for telling the truth.

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Earlier tonight one of my readers shared about a very disturbing thing her mother, a nursing home resident, experienced this weekend. While waiting for one hour for a CNA or nurse to assist her with using a bed pan, the resident eventually soiled herself. To add insult to injury, the CNA who finally responded to the resident’s plea for help made a judgmental comment to the resident — which of course is beyond inappropriate!

The situation with this reader reminded of my own late mother’s many experiences of waiting 15, 30, 60 minutes…even over TWO HOURS for nursing home staff to respond to her call light. She wasn’t able to toilet herself and I wasn’t allowed to assist her. All she could do was remain in her bed, miserable with the urgent need to use the restroom. On many occasions she ended up soiling herself before nursing staff arrived. In many cases I was told by nursing home staff that it was not only OK for my mother to soil herself, but probably this was even a good thing!

“Good” for who? Not my mother. Not for the mother of the reader. Indeed the longer a person sits in their feces and/or urine, the greater the likelihood they will develop BED SORES. Along with being horribly painful, bed sores can even ultimately be deadly!

During the time my mother was a nursing home resident she was taking Lasix, a powerful diuretic medication. And, well duh…Diuretics make a person HAVE TO PEE!  Lasix can make a person HAVE TO PEE every hour for up to six hours after administered to the patient (FYI: “Lasix” is shorthand for “lasts six”, meaning it can make a person HAVE TO PEE for up to six hours after they take it). Yet my mother and myself were repeated verbally berated by nurses and CNAs over the years with comments like, “Well I just took her to the restroom two hours ago!” (What part of “EVERY hour for up to six hours” don’t they understand?)

As if not providing adequate staffing so a nursing home resident can be toileted regularly after being given Lasix isn’t bad enough, all of the nursing homes where my mother resided eventually noted in her chart that she was “incontinent”, inferring she was incapable of controlling her bowel and/or bladder function. Hmmm…Who wouldn’t be INcapable of controlling their bathroom functions if 1) they were given a medication that caused them to need to urinate and/or defecate hourly for several consecutive hours and 2) despite being unable to take themselves to and from the bathroom (for whatever reason) they weren’t given the nursing assistance — in a timely manner — needed to get to (and from) a toilet?!?

Sadly, what often happens to nursing home residents after they’ve been charted as being “incontinent” is this designation makes it more difficult for the resident to be accepted by a different nursing home — if and when the resident needs to move. Not being toileted regularly (let alone as needed) is a very good reason to want move to a different nursing home!

Incontinence is a reality for many persons, nursing home residents and otherwise. But when, as is often the case, incontinence can be PREVENTED by providing adequate staffing to assist residents who need help with toileting…that certainly could be a matter of criminal neglect.

Nearly every state’s legislature will begin their 2013 session this month. So January is the appropriate month to offer my five point agenda for nursing home reform. My hope is that state nursing home reform groups and individuals concerned with nursing home problems will lobby their legislators about these matters. My belief is that these five points can, at a reasonable cost to taxpayers and to nursing homes, help improve the quality of the care provided to residents.

Suggestion #1: Have each state mandate an INCREASE in the percentage of inspections (more frequently known as “surveys’) that MUST take place outside of regular business hours on weekdays. This standard should apply to both annual inspections (inspections the state conducts approximately once each year at all licensed nursing homes) as well as to surprise inspections (these are inspections that take place in response to complaints the state receives about a particular nursing home.

In many states at least 10% of nursing home inspections must begin at night or on the weekend. That means that 90% of inspections are likely done during 23% of time that accounts for regular weekday business hours. I believe that if state law would mandate a minimum of 25% – 33% of inspections begin on weekends and during hours when administrators are not normally at work the inspectors would get a more accurate view of the low quality of care that goes on in nursing homes on weekends, 2nd and 3rd shift and on holidays — the times when administrators are rarely on the job. As a family member of a nursing home resident, it was “after hours” that my mother experienced the worst neglect by her caregivers. These are the hours when the staffing levels are usually at their lowest and when management isn’t present to see for themselves what’s going on.

Inspections that take place during weekday first shift hours get a skewed picture of the care being offered. When nursing home owners and management get the message that the state CAN and WILL be showing up UNexpectedly more often, then I believe we’ll see improved staffing levels on second and third shift and on weekends and holidays.

Suggestion #2: Require management personnel to work staggered shits ALL THE TIME, not just when state inspectors are in their building. In large facilities that have an Assistant Administrator (or equivalent position), the state should mandate that the Administrator and their assistant must not be allowed to work identical shifts. In fact, I believe the state should require that the shifts for management can not overlap more than four hours per day (Example: Administrator works 8:00am – 4:30pm, while the Assistant Administrator is scheduled to work 12:30pm – 9:00pm).

The majority of nursing homes are too small to be able to afford an Assistant Administrator. Yet even these facilities MUST have a full-time Director of Nursing on staff. In these nursing homes the same “staggered shifts” rule should be in place for the Administrator and Director of Nursing.

Why suggest this legislative mandate? For much of the same reason that I made my first suggestion: after management is out of the building the quality of care given often suffers. As the cliche goes, “When the cat is away, the mouse will play!” And “play” they often do (e.g., taking excessive smoke breaks, ignoring call lights, talking on their personal cell phone instead of checking on or responding to their residents). One third shift nursing staff member at an Indiana facility where my mother lived admitted to me that she “preferred” to work overnight so “the big shots” couldn’t get in her way of doing her job the way she wanted to do it. Scary! One of CNAs who worked with this individual on third shift shared with me that this nurse took an average of seven (7) smoke breaks, OFF THE UNIT, per hour! This clearly wouldn’t be allowed by either the state or sane nursing home management — but how could the state or management know this was problem existed if they aren’t in the building at night? Residents with dementia likely aren’t capable of reporting such problems. Family members can’t stay with their loved one 24’7 non-stop to monitor this. Placement of a “Granny Cam” inside the room is incapable of documenting problems that take place outside of the resident’s rooms (as in documenting a lack of staffing at the nurse’s station caused by staff taking an excessive number of smoke breaks).

If it is impossible to have management in the building 24/7, then the state should mandate their presence a minimum of 12 hours per day on non-holiday weekdays and 4 hours (or more) per day on holidays and weekends.

Suggestion #3: When the state shows up for an any type of inspection (annual or in response to a complaint) the inspectors (a/k/a “surveyors”) should IMMEDIATELY seize payroll data to (before it can be altered) to verify staffing levels for the 14 continuous days immediately prior to the inspection. With this information in hand, inspectors should have the legal authority to insist that while they are in the building that the staffing level can NOT exceed the average staffing level for the previous 14 days.

Why would I suggest this issue requires a legislative intervention? Because calling in off-duty nursing staff during an inspection or even bring in temporary employees is one of the biggest (and most deceptive) things nursing home management does to make it appear that resident needs are being taken care of in a timely and appropriate manner — when the reality is that they aren’t being responded to in either a timely and/or appropriate manner when the state inspectors are not around. “Putting on a show” for state inspectors should be against the law! Inspectors should see and judge the quality of care based on the REALITY of ACTUAL staffing levels.

Suggestion #4: Pass legislation that prohibits nursing homes from either outright banning or limiting visits of residents by their family and friends. Once  nursing home staff identify a resident’s family member(s) or friend(s) as a “trouble maker” (e.g., that we really have the courage to report their facility to the state, as is our LEGAL RIGHT AND MORAL RESPONSIBILITY TO DO) then you can count on the facility to begin setting traps (coming up with schemes) to make it look like we are the bad guy), thus justifying prohibiting (or at least limiting) visits. Some facilities have even limited visits from family and friends from taking place on the unit where the resident resides — allowing, for instance, visits to only take place in the lobby. This way family and friends can’t observe the substandard care the resident is receiving, thus preventing them from being able to observe (and thus report to the state) problems with care.

Attempts to prevent family and friends from visiting nursing home residents (when no harm is being caused to the resident as the result of the visit and when the resident wants to receive visits from such individuals) is clearly a violation of nursing home resident’s civil rights! We activists must get through to these corrupt nursing home owners and managers that their facility is the HOME of the resident and therefore the SAME rights of visitation residents had at their house, apartment on condo apply inside the nursing home facility! Strongly worded legislation is clearly the only hope we have to prevent nursing homes from taking their residents hostage!

Suggestion #5: We need legislation that will mandate increased fines against nursing homes that are found guilty of abusing resident’s rights, especially with regard to forcing residents to move to another facility. Many nursing home residents find themselves being forced out of their facility as retaliation against the resident or their family for sticking up for their rights. This type of abuse of resident’s rights must stop! It is truly a twisted, dysfunctional way of thinking when a nursing home’s only way of handling it’s problems is to punish their residents (or the resident’s family) by forcing the resident to leave their facility. How many residents must suffer “eviction” before a facility is finally forced to look inside itself and make the changes needed to resolve their real problems?

How can you help to make these five changes happen within the state where you reside? Contacting your state legislators would be a good start. Also request the support of your local or state Long-Term Care Ombudsman to help promote this reform agenda. If your area or state doesn’t have a nursing home reform organization then start one! I’ll be glad to help you start and promote such an organization.

I believe that together we CAN make meaningful, important and positive changes take place within the nursing home industry. While the industry clearly has the big bucks to spend on maintaining the status quo, we have more than enough individuals on our side to make change HAPPEN!

Nursing Home News Watch

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