Despite increased awareness about nursing home abuse, as well as tougher federal regulations, the abuse and neglect of elderly patients remains a problem at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in Wisconsin and across the country.
In fact, a recent article in USA Today indicates nearly one-third of the nation’s nursing homes received lower ratings on the federal government’s quality scale than they did the previous year. While the report suggests this is due to more stringent standards, it’s clear that there is still work to be done in safeguarding our elderly citizens who rely on the quality care these facilities are supposed to provide.
The Madison attorneys at Boller & Vaughan are dedicated to protecting the rights of nursing home residents. If you suspect a loved one is suffering from neglect or abuse in a nursing home or assisted-care center, please call us at 608-268-0268 for your free consultation with one of our experienced lawyers.
The Sad Consequences of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse
A 2013 report from Milwaukee’s Fox6 News focused on two Wisconsin nursing homes found to have consistently violated state and federal regulations regarding the care of elderly patients. One of the cases cited in the report became the subject of a high-profile wrongful death lawsuit and led to testimony before the Wisconsin Senate.
In 2008, Richard Witt made the difficult decision to place his wife, Kathy, in the Mayville Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Frail with age and the effects of a long-term battle with cancer, Kathy Witt was largely confined to a bed that was outfitted with a push-button alarm she could use when she required assistance. In testimony before state lawmakers in 2011, Witt said his wife was not to move without caregiver aid and a blood-pressure check.
In late March of 2008, Kathy Witt sounded her bell. After she received no timely help, she attempted to get out of bed on her own, fell, and struck her head on the floor. She suffered catastrophic injuries and was removed from life support days later. Witt’s appearance before state lawmakers was in response to a proposed law that sought to block initial reports of such incidents at nursing homes from being introduced as evidence in civil or criminal cases.
Incidentally, the same nursing home where Kathy Witt suffered a fatal fall later faced charges of providing a resident with the wrong medication and ignoring another resident’s request for medical treatment for back pain and breathing problems.
Physical Abuse of Nursing Home Residents
In June 2014, a former caregiver at a New Lisbon nursing home pleaded no contest to a felony charge of resident neglect stemming from a 2012 incident in which she verbally and physically abused an 86-year-old resident.
Over a period of at least six months, Ginger S. Newlun, then a certified nursing assistant at the Crest View Nursing Home, allegedly used excessive physical force on, pulled the hair of, and spit into the face of the elderly resident, according to a WiscNews article. Newlun’s actions were reported by fellow caregivers, who also said that she repeatedly verbally abused the patient.
Newlun initially faced charges of patient abuse and aggravated battery. The lesser felony charges of neglect carried a maximum prison sentence of three-and-a-half years.
Nursing Home Residents and Invasion of Privacy
In December 2013, two Wisconsin nursing home employees were sentenced to prison time and two years probation after they were convicted of using cell phones to record and share images of nude residents.
Michelle Bulger and Ashley Schaumberg worked as caregivers at Brookview Meadows, an assisted-living community in Howard. The two captured video of nude and semi-nude elderly residents without consent, then shared the video with others and posted photos to Snapchat, a social image-sharing site that deletes photos after allowing them to be viewed for a few seconds, according to an article in the Green Bay Press Gazette.
Just as, if not more, disturbing as the nonconsensual act itself is the fact that some of the video was taken while residents were in states of duress. One 81-year-old resident was reportedly undergoing treatment for obstructed bowels when the video was shot. Although the two women initially faced felony charges, they eventually pleaded no contest to invasion of privacy charges; Bulger was sentenced to six months in prison, Schaumberg received 30 days of prison time, and both women additionally received two years of probation.
Financial Abuse of Nursing Home Residents
Nursing home abuse is not limited to physical harm and mental cruelty. Unscrupulous caregivers, family members and acquaintances sometimes exploit nursing home residents’ vulnerabilities to fleece them financially.
In March 2015, a bookkeeper for a Wisconsin nursing home was convicted on five felony counts, sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and ordered to repay about $296,000 she embezzled from residents’ insurance proceeds over the course of a decade. According to a Wisconsin State Journal article that cites a report by a forensic accountant, Joyce Ziehli, a bookkeeper at the New Glarus Home for 31 years, actually stole more than $800,000 over a 10-year span; the figure was lowered to about $300,000 after the nursing home was unable to provide some of the financial records ordered by the court.
Ziehli’s scheme consisted of under-reporting insurance proceeds sent to the nursing home to cover individual resident expenses. She transferred money into bank accounts she maintained for personal use via electronic credit card transfers, and checks made out to herself and to cash.
Nursing Home Abuse: A Systemic Problem
It should be said that many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities operate according to state and federal laws, and in the best interests of their patients. But when neglect and abuse are present, the problem is often systemic.
Consider the case of Senior Lifestyle Corp., a Chicago-based company that operates more than a dozen nursing homes in Wisconsin. In June 2013, the company posted more than 100 vacancies for positions at nine Wisconsin facilities after a series of violations related to resident injuries and deaths, according to a Post Crescent article.
State inspections and a series of complaints led to mass firings throughout the chain of nursing homes. A number of individual facilities were cited with infractions ranging from patient neglect to physical abuse.
Although the violations occurred when the facilities were owned and operated by CRL Senior Living Communities, a company that is now dissolved, Senior Lifestyle Corp. was tasked with paying related fines and overhauling the management of care. However, a February 2015 report in the Green Bay Press Gazette says that Wisconsin nursing homes operated by Senior Lifestyle Corp. are again being investigated after a recent wave of injuries, illnesses and deaths.
Nursing Home Resources
There are a number of consumer resources for choosing safe nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, and for reporting suspected neglect and abuse.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) provides a guide to finding and choosing a nursing home. This site includes information about nursing home regulations, a county-by-county directory of care providers, and factors to consider when selecting a nursing home or assisted-living center.
Through the Division of Quality Assurance, the Wisconsin DHS also offers information about and details for registering complaints regarding nursing home and assisted-living care. This site also addresses complaints regarding facilities that serve those with developmental disabilities, as well as agencies that provide hospice and at-home health care.
If you believe a loved one is suffering neglect or abuse in a Wisconsin nursing home or assisted-living center, please contact Boller & Vaughan online or call us at 608-268-0268 to schedule your free consultation with one of our attorneys.