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PBS Helps Expose Nursing Home Abuse

Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight a recent special on PBS’ Frontline, titled Life and Death in Assisted Living, which exposes some of the most prominent issues in the largely-unregulated senior assisted living community.

The multi-billion dollar assisted living industry examined in the Frontline feature differs significantly from skilled nursing facilities, which we write extensively about. Assisted living facilities differ from nursing homes in a variety of ways, most notably that they are much less subject to regulations and government oversight. Assisted living facilities do not provide 24-hour care, and no one is required to check on residents at specific intervals during the night, with the exception of memory care residents.

About five million Americans currently suffer from dementia. Even in memory care units, however, there are little to no government regulations requiring specific hours of nightly supervision. Conversely, skilled nursing facilities mandate supervision and resident-to-staff ratios.

Emeritus Senior Living has long been at thefore-front of assisted living issues. These types of facilities were designed to provide aging seniors with a more home-like environment than nursing homes, and are largely unregulated because they do not perform medical care or assistance. For this reason, for-profit chains such as Emeritus were drawn to the industry, where the federal government was not an issue, and fee increases were unlimited.

This generated enormous cash-flow and profits – in 2012, Emertius enjoyed nearly $1.6 billion in revenue. As the baby boomers retire, demand is increasing and will only continue to do so. Emeritus and other for-profits are looking to capitalize on these seniors, often at the cost of their health and safety.

These seniors often have complex, chronic health conditions; they show up to assisted living facilities requiring walkers and wheelchairs. Realistically and quite obviously, most people choose to stay in their homes until they are physically or otherwise incapable of doing so. Most residents of skilled nursing facilities have physical impairments that require medical assistance – the majority of residents (about two-thirds) in assisted living facilities, on the other hand, largely suffer from cognitive disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s, putting them at grave risk of abuse and neglect.

This means that about two-thirds of assisted living residents have impaired decision making abilities, short-term memory loss, and early memory loss. To meet this growing demand, Emertius is opening memory care facilities throughout the country, many of which cost upwards of $5,000 a month. Most of these facilities are unable to care for residents’ acute medical care, however, and staff is generally untrained in memory care to begin with.

Staff training in memory care includes a general introduction lecture along with another eight-hour course. To put this in perspective, yoga instructors are required to complete 200 hours of training before they can be certified.

Emeritus is currently home to more than 40,000 seniors, and in California, the state with the largest amount of assisted living facilities, Emeritus has the most amount of unsubstantiated consumer complaints than any other competitor. It has numerous legal citations, from fraudulent understaffing to accepting seniors who are medically inapplicably for such facilities. Frontline identified more 25 uninvestigated deaths – one of which, a resident froze to death. In another, a resident was beaten to death by another brain-damaged resident. In yet another, a female resident was repeatedly sexually assaulted, which the staff knew about and refused to address, until her ultimate death.

Near Jackson, Missisippi, a woman named Mearle went to live at Emeritus at Ridgeland Pointe. Mearle had dementia, and paid about $3,500 per month for care at Ridgeland. Within the first few days, Mearle was drugged, unwashed, and forced to sit in her own urine. About nine days after admittance, Mearle packed a bag and jumped out a second-story window, and died three days later. Her family subsequently filed suit against Emertius, which is ongoing. Mississippi decided not to file any citations or fines against the company over Mearle’s death.

Elder abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins encourage anyone with an aging parent or loved one to watch the Frontline feature on assisted living facilities. Our attorneys are concerned that these facilities are moving in residents that should be in skilled nursing homes, and urge anyone with specific legal issues or concerns to contact us as soon as possible.