The AJC has recently run a series of articles which explores just how bad the nursing home industry is in Georgia. While this is something that we have known about for many years (it does not seem to be getting any better), it is good that the public is seeing in print what we have been seeing in lawsuits for decades. Among the (not so surprising) findings which simply underscore the general picture that Georgia fails to adequately protect seniors in assisted living communities and large personal care homes:
■ Nursing care homes in Georgia largely rely on low-wage workers who may not be properly vetted or trained and who may be given unreasonable workloads. Two out of every five homes were cited for training violations.
■ A fourth of all Georgia nursing homes have been cited for failing to complete criminal background checks of workers. Eleven of these facilities were cited for employing someone whose criminal record should have barred them from working in senior care facilities. In other words, the nursing homes are hiring criminals to take care of their patrons.
■ Inadequate staffing is a significant reason for problems in Georgia Nursing homes with almost 20% of facilities having been cited for failing to have enough qualified workers on duty to meet residents’ needs.
■ The Department of Community Health (“DCH”), the state agency that licenses and inspects nursing homes in Georgia does little to clearly identify and call out those homes who habitually fall below the standard of care for nursing homes in Georgia and post data that is vague, incomplete or misleading. This leads to a death of competent information for prospective customers to access when making decisions about which nursing home to place their loved ones in.
■ The different governmental entities that are charged with oversight do not work in accordance with each other, lack the ability (or desire) to share information and investigative results and fall flat in educating the public to the horrific care afforded to our seniors in Georgia. In addition, nursing home crimes such as theft, abuse and exploitation, as well as serious food violations went unreported by DCH. The information is available from other sources such as police reports and health inspection reports, yet DCH chooses to not incorporate this information in their “report cards” on Georgia nursing homes. Why? Because they are not doing their job, plain and simple.
■ In addition to DCH not reporting serious crimes and health violations, the Georgia nursing homes themselves are failing to report serious incidents as required. Nearly 30% of facilities have been cited for failing to report to state regulators or to police serious incidents as required. Why? Because the DCH has failed to uphold their accountability and oversight. Without adequate oversight and accountability, the nursing homes themselves have little incentive to self report. Yet, there needs to be a system in place that holds the nursing homes accountable. Sadly, the only major deterrent is the prospect of lawsuits by attorneys who, unfortunately for all concerned, have assumed the role of industry watch dogs. In other words, the only accountability that now takes place in Georgia nursing homes is when the nursing home gets sued for nursing home abuse or negligence. If they have to pay large sums of money to settle these lawsuits, they may try to clean up their acts, but not necessarily as some of these very much for profit nursing homes consider it a cost of doing business and continue to understaff their homes to cut costs.
Robert J. Fleming is a partner in the law firm of Katz Wright Fleming Dodson & Mildenhall, LLC in Atlanta and Decatur, Georgia. He is a personal injury attorney who has been handling nursing home abuse, dental malpractice, professional negligence, car accidents and premises injury cases for individuals and families who have been severely injured or died as a result of negligence for over 25 years. He practices in the Atlanta, Georgia area including handling lawsuits in Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Cobb counties in Georgia and nearby cities such as Alpharetta, Chamblee, College Park, Conyers, Duluth, Decatur, Johns Creek, Jonesboro, Lawrenceville, Norcross, Peachtree City, Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Stone Mountain. If you or a family member has been seriously injured or died as a result of suspected nursing home abuse and would like to discuss your case in complete confidence, contact Robert J. Fleming directly on (404) 525-5150 or contact us online. We are here to help.