State finds probable abuse in 18 percent of nursing home investigations

Proof of problems, elder advocate says

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comMarch 25, 2011 

In fiscal year 2010, state adult protection workers determined that abuse and neglect probably occurred in about 18 percent of investigations involving residents of Kentucky's long-term care facilities, according to a report released Thursday.

The annual report, titled Elder Abuse in Kentucky, showed that social workers conducted 2,048 investigations of adult abuse and neglect in nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other long-term care facilities last year. They found that abuse and neglect probably occurred in 368 investigations. Multiple investigations can involve a single resident.

This is the first time the Cabinet for Health and Family Services has included in its report statistics on state investigations of alleged abuse in long-term care facilities. The findings were presented Thursday to representatives of several state agencies, industry groups and advocates at an Elder Abuse Committee meeting in Frankfort.

"Over time, it will be very revealing," said nursing home reform advocate Bernie Vonderheide. "It proves what we've been saying all along. There are problems in these long-term care facilities."

It's difficult to determine whether nursing home residents have been abused and to bring criminal charges against abusers, said Jim Grace, assistant director of the cabinet's Division of Protection and Permanency.

Grace said residents might not be able to tell investigators what happened to them, and supporting evidence often is lacking.

The report shows that abuse allegations involving vulnerable adults living outside nursing homes also are difficult to investigate.

Of 7,365 abuse investigations of people 60 and older during 2010, probable abuse was found in 1,859. Only 316 criminal charges were filed under the Kentucky Adult Protection Act, according to the report.

However, Grace said that even if the cases are not prosecuted, perpetrators typically are removed from long-term care facilities and kept away from victims.

Vonderheide, founder of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said he has been pushing for better coordination between law enforcement and other agencies to boost the number of prosecutions.

The report also showed there is significant abuse involving residents ages 18 to 59 in long-term care facilities.

There were 975 investigations involving that age group in long-term care facilities in 2010, and state social workers said abuse probably happened in 204 investigations.

The elder abuse committee, which is required to meet by law, had languished in recent years.

It was revitalized as one of 20 recommendations issued after Gov. Steve Beshear asked Cabinet Secretary Janie Miller to conduct a review of state policies on abuse and neglect in nursing homes. The review followed a series of articles in the Herald-Leader last summer that showed there were gaps in the system Kentucky officials use to investigate elder abuse at nursing homes.

Reach Valarie Honeycutt Spears at (859) 231-3409 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3409.

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