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Georgia Nursing Homes Get Additional Protections From Lawsuits Just as Their Malpractice Rises

A new report based on an Atlanta Journal Constitution (“AJC”) review of inspection reports for Georgia’s assisted living communities (which includes nursing homes and senior living facilities) and large personal care homes revealed hundreds of recent infractions, including 140 violations of residents’ rights, 51 citations for failing to report serious incidents and dozens of medication errors and cases where residents with dementia went missing. Yet, despite these horrific incidents of negligence and malpractice, these very same facilities are benefitting from laxer oversight and accountability in the form of recent legislation to protect them against lawsuits.

The AJC review also exposed 180 new cases with violations involving residents being harmed or placed at high risk of harm. The details of these and hundreds of other new violations are available through an updated version of the AJC’s senior care ratings site. I highly recommend scouring these (not just browsing) before making any decisions as to whether you want to place your loved one into one of these facilities, and if so, which one. I would also look at the number of government web sites which compile statistics on these facilities. If you do this, you will see a pattern and, while you may not be able to settle on the very best one, you will certainly be able to discern a pattern of sloppiness and negligence on the part of the worst ones.

Some of the reports date to spring 2018, though state regulators only made them public in recent months. The AJC unveiled its website last fall as part of its investigation of the state’s senior care industry. This was met with a lot of publicity and well deserved credit to the AJC for helping expose the sloppy care and abuse that is rampant in this industry.

The investigation, “Unprotected,” already had exposed hundreds of cases of abuse and neglect at the state’s assisted living communities and large personal care homes. It also found systemic problems with the senior care industry and state oversight.
In response to the findings, the Georgia General Assembly was  debating whether to impose new requirements on these senior care facilities. A bill that would increase fines and require more staffing and training was overwhelmingly approved last month by the Georgia House.

House Bill 987 is expected to be taken up by the Senate in the coming days. Gov. Brian Kemp has said he supports the effort to improve standards for the state’s senior care providers, and many within the industry also support the bill. Yet, ironically, instead of  stiffening the requirements, the Governor Kemp exempted them from some liability related to the COVID-19 crisis. The order designates hospitals, nursing homes and “auxiliary emergency management workers” and provides them immunity from personal injury lawsuits during the crisis should a patient be injured or die under their care. Kemp says the order provides necessary protections to health care workers in the state. “As health care facilities battle COVID-19 in communities across Georgia, they face incredible challenges.  Along with hospitals, the order also includes surgical and diagnostic centers, mobile clinics and rehabilitation centers, as well as nursing homes and assisted living communities and it doesn’t limit legal immunity to issues related to COVID-19, which is absolutely absurd and a clear handout to the nursing home industry, which based on the AJC’s great expose, is NOT a worthy recipient. Kemp’s order is so broad that it would cover all types of possible malpractice,  which is clearly excessive, especially for an industry like nursing homes, which had a troubling track record prior to the pandemic.

With the additional 2018 reports and inspection findings for most of 2019, the AJC website now has five years of inspections for many facilities. The website includes a severity rating for each violation since, as can be expected, some violations are much more serious and cause much more harm than others. Additionally, the website red-flags homes with troubled inspection histories involving repeated citations for the same violation, widespread violations or incidents in which residents were harmed or placed at high risk. This should serve as a good start for those vetting potential nursing home where they wish to place their mothers, fathers, grandmothers or grandfathers. Importantly, about 90 of the approximately 400 facilities across the state are now red-flagged. According to Melanie McNeil, Georgia’s long-term care ombudsman, the AJC’s website helps consumers make sense of state inspection reports that are written from a regulator’s perspective. That’s especially important for people shopping for a facility. “Very often, people searching for long-term care have to do it quickly,” she said.

The ratings site includes all of Georgia’s assisted living communities, as well as personal care homes that have 25 or more beds. The website also includes police reports for dozens of homes, and public health reports for homes whose dining facilities failed inspections. The updated ratings and the AJC’s series is available online at: ajc.com/unprotected.

The AJC’s ratings site is designed to give consumers detailed information they need when they find themselves in a crisis.
“One of the things good journalism does is empower citizens,” said AJC Editor Kevin Riley. “We’re continuing to update our database of these facilities so that citizens who need information can get it. That way, they can make decisions that keep their loved ones safe.” Assisted living facilities and large personal care homes are not skilled nursing facilities. They are not allowed to provide around-the-clock medical care. They are residential homes that provide assistance with meals, dressing, housekeeping, showers and other types of oversight. They can also provide assistance with medications. More help is allowed in assisted living communities than in personal care homes. Many of these homes also offer memory care for residents with dementia.

Robert J. Fleming is a partner in the law firm of Katz Wright Fleming & Dodson, LLC in Atlanta, Georgia and Decatur, Georgia. He is a personal injury attorney who has been handling nursing home abuse, medical 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 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.

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