Uncovering Elder Abuse and Neglect in Virginia Nursing Homes

Today, I was reviewing a survey by the Virginia Department of Health of a local nursing home.

What’s a survey? It’s basically a long report where the investigator, a surveyor, comes into the nursing home to see whether the facility and its staff are actually following the law and properly treating residents.

These investigations typically happen once per year, sometimes more, depending on the seriousness of the allegations and whether any consumer complaints have been made during the past 12 months.

And yes, you can contact the state to file a complaint if you suspect a nursing home has mistreated a loved one. The surveyor will follow-up on your complaint for you (and we often can help you file a complaint).

Anyways, the survey of this particular Virginia nursing home found some very upsetting things were going on:

  • Nurses were documenting in the patients chart that they had performed certain care, when they hadn’t;
  • Nurses were cleaning pressure ulcers (think bed sore) then putting the old dirty bandage back on OR documenting they cleaned the wound and didn’t;
  • Nurses were failing to notify the doctors when they were out of medications;
  • Nurses were failing to notify the doctor when patients had lost significant weight;
  • Nurses were failing to notify doctors when patients got sick.

Now, I don’t think for one minute that staff intended to harm their patients. But why does elder abuse and neglect occur in Virginia nursing homes?

First, I think they were overworked and didn’t have enough time in the day to actually provide the patient care they were required to do – so they instead couldn’t provide the care, and wrote down that they did. These weren’t simply allegations of abuse and neglect – these were the findings of the state licensing authority.

This is trouble for a number of reasons:

  • Are you okay with your loved one not receiving the care Medicare is paying for?
  • Are you okay with nurses having to lie about the care they provide?
  • Do you think it is okay for doctors to write orders that don’t get carried out?

Me neither. But most residents and their families do not know what is going on.

If you want to know what is going on in your loved one’s nursing home, ask the nursing home  for a copy of the last inspection from the Virginia Department of Health (they keep copies, I promise!); or, you can file your own Freedom of Information Act Request to learn more.

To request Virginia nursing home inspection information, contact the following agency by letter (and include the dates of inspection and name and location of the nursing home): Attn: Virginia Pierce, Center for Quality Healthcare, 9960 Maryland Drive, Richmond,VA 23233-1456.

Knowledge is power. The more you know, the better care your loved on can receive.

Lauren Ellerman
Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at lellerman@frithlawfirm.com.