Recent surveys reveal that between 4% and 6% of seniors inside or outside long-term care facilities are victims of financial abuse, physical abuse or neglect. The numbers climb each year. It is up to all of us to reverse these trends. On this week’s episode, nursing home abuse attorneys Rob Schenk and Will Smith discuss four ways to report abuse and neglect in Georgia’s nursing homes.
Schenk: Hello out there. Welcome back to the Nursing Home Abuse Podcast. My name is Rob Schenk.
Smith: And I’m Will Smith.
Schenk: And we are your hosts for this episode. This episode, we’re going to – this is what I would call, if we were to categorize each episode of the podcast, this episode would fall under the category of resource. This episode, I hope, will function as a resource for you in terms of where to report nursing home neglect and abuse to.
Smith: And that you need to report it and there’s a chain of command that you need to run through.
Schenk: Sure. And in this episode, we’ve highlighted four. I would argue, I would recommend that these are the principal four that you would want to go through, but if you see something, say something. This is the process by which you are saying something to someone.
But reporting Georgia nursing home abuse, the first place I would go is the actual nursing home itself. So we’ve discussed in previous episodes that nursing homes that accept Medicare and Medicaid funding are regulated by the federal government, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They promulgate, they set forth regulations that nursing homes have to follow.
Georgia, the state of Georgia, and the agency in charge of regulating healthcare facilities, which is the Department of Community Health, also has regulations that govern nursing homes, and in those federal guidelines, in the state guidelines, there is a requirement for nursing homes to have a grievance process that they go through whenever they receive a complaint. It is mandated by federal and state law that if you’ve got a problem, if you’ve got an issue with the nursing home, you can lodge a formal complaint and go through a formal grievance process with the nursing home itself.
Now I recommend this when the issue is not necessarily something in which the health of your loved one is in immediate jeopardy. This would be something in which you see maybe the linen isn’t being cleaned as often as it needs to be, if maybe the food is cold when you walk in there or maybe the call button, they’re late on the call button by a few minutes or whatever, but instances in which the safety of your loved one is not in immediate jeopardy. Obviously if your loved one is in immediate jeopardy, take care of them. We’ll talk more about other places to go in that instance, but regardless of what it is, small – sorry, life-threatening or non-life-threatening, you want to file a grievance. The regulations in Georgia require you be able to go in, make a formal complaint. You should be getting a formal response to it. So that is the first step in terms of where to report Georgia nursing home abuse or neglect.
The second thing to do, the second place to go to with any complaint for abuse or neglect is the Georgia Department of Community Health Healthcare Facility Regulation Department. So the Georgia Department of Community Health is basically the state agency that oversees nursing homes, and then a little, a subunit, a little sub-department of that is the healthcare facility regulation division. And those are the ones you would actually file a complaint with about a nursing home. Will, can you pull up on the Internet the Department of Community Health so we can flash up the phone number?
Schenk: It’s surprising but we should have that number memorized by heart. But if you go to the Georgia Department of Community Health website, you can actually file a complaint online.
Smith: Yeah, I would go online. Otherwise the number is 1-800-878-6442. But I would strongly suggest you go online and fill it out.
Schenk: And the URL for the Department of Community Health is what?
Smith: Is dch.georgia.gov/hfr-file-complaint. Honestly, the best way to go to this is just lookup “Nursing Home Complaint Georgia.”
Schenk: And Gene, can you flash up on the screen the link?
Schenk: And the page? So basically what we’re trying to say at the end of the day is that you have two ways to complain to the Department of Community Health, or two principal ways. The first is that you call the number, which again, is 1-800-878-6442, again that’s 1-800-878-6442, or you can go online and input – they have a little form you can fill out – and you do that at their website, and again, we’ll flash that URL and we’ll have that in the show notes.
And there’s a third way – who knows if this is even still valid anymore, but you can fax your complaint. You can write it down on a piece of paper and fax it to them, and the fax number is 404-657-8935, again 404-657-8935. You can fax it to them. But man, like…
Smith: At the end of the day, it’s going to be a frustrating process because Georgia is notoriously behind on addressing complaints filed with its Department of Community Health.
Schenk: So and I failed to mention this with number one, the grievance process, but that the mechanism of – I don’t know what I’m trying to say – the way it gets resolved is that the nursing home responds to the grievance, yea or nay to the grievance and you work it out that way. With regard to the Department of Community Health, what happens is that you will be responded to. It might take hours, it might take days, it might take weeks, but you will get a response. And what will happen is depending on the severity of the incident, they will send a surveyor out from the Department of Community Health, will go there and set foot on the grounds of the facility, or they’ll make phone calls and do the investigation that way, but one way or another, they’re going to do an investigation, and they draft up kind of like a report, a survey in which they investigate what happened. And they’ll either substantiate or they’ll find evidence to substantiate your complaint or they will not find that the complaint is substantiated.
And just as a sidebar, if you’re interested in trying to find a nursing home for your loved one, you can actually review those surveys, those complaint surveys at the Nursing Home Compare website that CMS has and you can see all the times that people complained and they investigated it and whether or not the claims were substantiated or not, which is a really great tool, the Nursing Home Compare website.
But at any rate, that’s what happens. And then CMS will say or the Georgia Department of Community Health will say, “We believe you and we cited them for violating whatever state or federal regulation,” or they’re going to say, “We went and we didn’t find anything.” But the Department of Community Health, that is going to be a pretty good bet, and if the abuse is severe, I feel like in my experience, if the abuse is severe, then they get out pretty quickly.
So the third way or the third avenue that you can report abuse or neglect in Georgia is the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. We’re huge fans of the ombudsman program here in Georgia. We featured them on our show in several occasions, long-term care ombudsmen, but the long-term care ombudsmen, they are individuals that advocate on behalf of the nursing home residents. And that’s advocating for anything on the end of the spectrum as abuse, at the other end of the spectrum of temperature of the resident’s room, the type of food they get, activities at the place, like everything on the spectrum of the rights of that resident, those ombudsmen will fight on their behalf.
Smith: Yeah. And those are going to be the go-to entities anyways, the ombudsmen. They’re the ones who are the most proactive and reactive and involved, but just like anything else, you have to manage your own expectations because they are routinely understaffed and there’s 300-something nursing homes in Georgia and 3,000 residents, and you only have so much staff and they’re not well funded, so that’s a problem.
Schenk: So what happens then is that the ombudsman will get involved and they can actually go to the nursing home. They can do their own investigation. And oftentimes what they’ll do is they’ll try to facilitate a solution, a resolution, and that can be in the form of sitting down with both parties, so like you would be there on behalf of your loved one, maybe the administrator or an RN or the director of nursing will sit in, and everybody airs out their grievances and the ombudsman helps facilitate whatever interventions need to take place, whatever resolution or whatever solution to the problem there needs to be, the ombudsman helps move that forward. So that’s how that’s resolved.
The fourth place to report nursing home abuse, and this should be reserved principally for egregious abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, is going to be your local law enforcement. So I mean it goes without saying that if somebody is beating your grandmother, your grandfather, whatever the case may be, get the police involved. File a complaint. File a report with the police. Get the police involved. If the immediate safety of your loved one is a concern, then you want to get law enforcement involved, and if need be, handcuffs get slapped on somebody.
Smith: You’ve got to think about what allegations you’re making. I had somebody call earlier saying that they intentionally gave her mother too much fentanyl, which killed her. That’s a criminal statute, so you need to involve, you need to do what you would do if somebody broke into your car and make a police report.
Schenk: Here’s the issue with that and I want to prepare you for this because a lot of people don’t realize or understand this until it happens to them, but pretty much, you’ve got to think about it this way. The police are investigating burglaries, robberies, murders, rapes, beatings, assaults, so if what you’re calling the police for is, “My mother is not being repositioned too often enough,” or “The call button, they’re not responding to the call button and therefore my mom fell out of bed,” the police are more than likely going to say this is what’s called a civil matter, meaning your only option is not to have the police come – it’s to file a lawsuit. But that’s what you hear all the time is, “Well I called the police about my mother being provided the wrong medication. I think they did it intentionally to chemically restrain her. The cops came and they said they couldn’t get involved because this is a civil matter.”
There’s no bright line rule. Depending on the day the cop is having, depending on if the cop has a grandmother, I don’t know, it’s possible that a police officer might file a report based on improper medication. Who knows? But I’m just saying that unless this is dealing with the resident being physically abused, financial exploitation or sexual abuse, I would be prepared for the police to tell you that they cannot get involved in that situation for the reasons that I just expressed. They have a finite level of resources and it just so happens that neglect oftentimes is something the civil justice system, meaning lawsuits, is the way that you’re going to be able to recover, not somebody going to jail for that. Generally only in egregious circumstances is somebody going to go to jail for nursing home abuse, in my experience. A case in point would be…
Smith: Or to be specific, no one’s going to go to jail for nursing home neglect. If it’s abuse, it’s actually intentional and would involve assault and battery.
Schenk: Right. So for example, and this is a grey area in terms of neglect and abuse, but a couple years ago when a nursing home resident was calling out for help and the CNAs were just laughing, and over the course of an hour, the individual passed away while the CNAs were laughing at him. That was egregious enough to warrant criminal findings against those CNAs and they actually went to jail I think it was for manslaughter. I don’t remember.
Smith: I’m not sure.
Schenk: That’s going to be an instance where police are going to get involved.
Smith: It may have been criminal neglect.
Schenk: Sure, something like that. I can’t remember.
Smith: It wasn’t that they caused they death. It’s that the willful neglect they committed or the affliction…
Schenk: In that moment, yeah. But like I said, if you walk in and there are mysterious bruises and stuff, yes, you can call the police, but be prepared that they’re not going to get involved. So a lot of times, you want to go through, like we said, number one off the top of the bat is the grievance process. File a complaint with them so that way, if there is a lawsuit and they ask you, “Well did you do anything?” “Yeah, first thing I did is file a complaint with the nursing home. Then I went to the Department of Community Health.” So I always suggest the grievance process, but you’re likely to get the most amount of justice either through the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program or the Department of Community Health. Those are your two avenues.
The fifth way, which is we’re going to throw that extra thing is call a lawyer to evaluate the case. So if you think there’s abuse or neglect, then I would recommend along with calling the Department of Community Health or the ombudsman program and filing a grievance is that maybe follow up with an attorney. The statute of limitations, I guess it’ll depend on what state you’re in. In Georgia, it’s generally two years for personal injury, so you can’t sit on your hands forever. But those are pretty much the places you report nursing home abuse to in Georgia.
What is it? May? Oh, I wanted to say that May is Older Americans Month.
Smith: Well you know what? There’s one more.
Schenk: One more. Six.
Smith: One more place you can go.
Schenk: Number six.
Smith: And that is if you’re having an issue with anything HIPAA related, you can always complain to the federal government as well.
Schenk: What’s HIPAA?
Smith: HIPAA is the – what is it? The Health Information…
Smith: Portability Act?
Smith: It’s your medical records. So if you’re having a medical records issue with the nursing home…
Schenk: Protects your privacy under…
Smith: Yeah, and your right to access as well.
Smith: But yeah, so this is…
Schenk: That’s a bonus.
Smith: A bonus one you didn’t know you were getting.
Smith: So you got six for the price of five.
Schenk: Okay. Well and I was saying, May is Older Americans Month, so hats off to the older Americans. Go up to a random older person, make sure they are in fact old, and give them a hug. And tell them that Will Smith said, “This hug is for you.”
Schenk: And I believe with that, we’re going to conclude this episode. New episodes of the Nursing Home Abuse Podcast come out every other week, two times a month on the Monday morning. You can catch us outside – you can catch us online at our website, NursingHomeAbusePodcast.com, or our YouTube channel or anywhere you get your podcasts from. We hope you found this episode helpful as a research.
Smith: And informative.
Schenk: And informative. And we’ll see you next time.
Smith: See you next time.