Attorney General William P. Barr announced last week the launch of the Department of Justice’s National Nursing Home Initiative, which will coordinate and enhance civil and criminal efforts to pursue nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care to their residents.
This initiative is focusing on some of the worst nursing homes around the country and the Department already has initiated investigations into approximately thirty individual nursing facilities in nine states as part of this effort.
“Millions of seniors count on nursing homes to provide them with quality care, and to treat them with dignity and respect when they are most vulnerable,” said Attorney General William P. Barr. “Yet, all too often, we have found nursing home owners or operators who put profits over patients, leading to instances of gross abuse and neglect. This national initiative will bring to justice those owners and operators who have profited at the expense of their residents, and help to ensure residents receive the care to which they are entitled.”
The department considers a number of factors in identifying the most problematic nursing homes. For example, the department looks for nursing homes that consistently fail to provide adequate nursing staff to care for their residents, fail to adhere to basic protocols of hygiene and infection control, fail to provide their residents with enough food to eat so that they become emaciated and weak, withhold pain medication, or use physical or chemical restraints to restrain or otherwise sedate their residents. These care failures cause residents to suffer in pain and to be exposed to the great indignities. Care failures cause residents to develop pressure sores down to the bone, to lie in their own waste for hours, to starve because they cannot reach the food on their trays and to remain unwashed for weeks at a time. Nursing homes that provide grossly substandard care also force vulnerable elderly residents who cannot leave the facilities to live in filthy and dangerous conditions where there are leaks in the roofs, mold is found growing and rodents found living in residents’ rooms. These are some of the actions and the inactions that the department intends to pursue.
“The Department of Justice has a long history of holding nursing homes and long-term care providers accountable when they fail to provide their Medicare and Medicaid residents with even the most basic nursing services,” said Assistant Attorney General Jody Hunt for the Civil Division. “Through this National Initiative, we will more effectively and quickly pursue nursing homes that are jeopardizing the health and well-being of their residents.”
“The Administration for Community Living was created to help ensure that older adults and people with disabilities are able to live the lives they want, with the people they choose, fully participating in their communities,” said Administrator Lance Robertson for the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Our mission includes supporting their basic right to live with dignity, free from abuse. We appreciate the Department of Justice’s leadership on this important Initiative, and we are proud to work side by side with DOJ and all of our partners in the Elder Justice Coordinating Council to prevent elder abuse in all forms.”
“The HHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) continues to pursue nursing home operators who provide potentially harmful care to residents who are often unable to protect themselves,” said Chief Counsel to the Inspector General Gregory Demske of HHS. “Creating this Initiative sends a message to those in charge of caring for these beneficiaries that grossly substandard care will not be tolerated.”
The National Nursing Home Initiative reflects the department’s larger strategy and commitment to protecting our nation’s seniors, coordinated by the department’s Elder Justice Initiative in conjunction with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. The Elder Justice Initiative and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices are essential to the department’s investigative and enforcement efforts against nursing homes and other long-term care entities that deliver grossly substandard care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. The Initiative and the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices also support the efforts of state and local prosecutors, law enforcement, and other elder justice professionals to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, with the development of training, resources, and information.