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Medical malpractice: Where is justice when crimes are unreported?

There comes a time when many families in New Jersey are tasked with the difficult decision regarding the most appropriate placement of family members who require medical assistance. Many must ultimately decide that they are no longer able to meet their loved one's needs and place them in a nursing home facility. These families believe that these facilities will strive to protect the safety and well-being of their residents; failing that, they believe that the facility will take appropriate action if harm -- including medical malpractice in the form of abuse -- should occur.

Unfortunately, a recent review of records seems to show that, in many cases, nursing homes are not properly reporting incidents of abuse or other crimes as required by law. Federal law requires that incidents involving serious injury are reported to appropriate law enforcement officials within two hours. Otherwise, the facility has up to 24 hours.

The review matched nursing home records to emergency room records for 96 cases in 33 states. Shockingly, reports indicate that approximately 25 percent of cases involving physical or sexual abuse were not reported to police; the large majority of these unreported cases reportedly involved sexual abuse or rape. In the cases that were reported, officials were unable to determine if the notification occurred in the timeframe required by law. In one incident involving the alleged sexual assault of a patient by another resident, nursing home staff notified the victim's family the next day; the family then notified police.

While some people lay the blame on Medicare and demand that it take immediate action, representatives claim they will delay a response until a full investigation is completed. There are approximately 1.4 million people in the United States in nursing home facilities, some of whom are unable to self-advocate. If nursing home facilities fail to properly report incidents of medical malpractice, including abuse, families in New Jersey may be forced to seek justice in a civil court.

Source: ABC News, "Gov't probe: Abuse in nursing homes unreported despite law", Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Aug. 28, 2017

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