Cornell University study on aggression in nursing homes

A recent Cornell University study reports aggression is commonplace in nursing homes–between residents themselves and between residents and employees of the nursing home.  Verbal and physical abuse is more common than the industry acknowledges. In an online report with McKnight’s Long Term Care News, the study documents many observations made at a city-based nursing home which found at least 35 different types of abuse, with screaming being the most popular. Physical violence included pushing, punching, and fighting.

The report also referenced another two-week study wherein researchers found that 2.4 percent of nursing home residents have been victims of physical aggression; 7.3 percent claimed they were verbally abused. A third report discussed an investigation in which 12 nurse observers found 30 incidents of aggression between residents in one eight-hour shift. Victims were most commonly male and often had “wandering cognitive processing problems.”

A report released earlier this year by the Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed a widespread “understatement of deficiencies,” that included malnutrition, severe bedsores, overuse of prescription medications, and nursing home resident abuse in the nation’s nursing home inspection reports. The report stated that nursing home inspectors routinely ignore or minimize problems that pose serious, immediate patient threats.

Facilities are generally only inspected once a year by overworked and underpaid state employees. Federal officials sometimes attempt to validate state inspector work by joining them on visits or conducting follow-ups. It was in a follow-up that the GAO discovered the state missed at least one serious deficiency in 15 percent of all inspections. Worse, in nine states, inspectors missed serious problems in over 25 percent from 2002 to 2007.

There are 16,400 nursing homes with over 1.5 million residents nationwide; approximately one-fifth of the homes were cited for serious deficiencies last year. “Poor quality of care—worsening pressure sores or untreated weight loss—in a small, but unacceptably high number of nursing homes, continues to harm residents or place them in immediate jeopardy, that is, at risk of death or serious injury,” the report said. Taxpayers spend about $72.5 billion annually to subsidize nursing home care and facilities must meet federal standards to participate in Medicaid and Medicare, which covers over two-thirds of its residents, at a cost of over $75 billion annually.

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse tends to be underreported because individual homes do not take elder abuse seriously and residents fear embarrassment, injury, even incapacitation for speaking up.