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Study Shows Nursing Homes Shuffle Around Patients to get Extra Medicare Reimbursements

More than 1.6 million people reside in nursing homes across the United States. When family members and loved ones are placed in the care of a nursing facility, expectations are that patients will receive the best possible care.

All the same, a recent study conducted by the National Institute on Aging found that nearly one-quarter of people admitted to a nursing facility after hospitalization wind up back in the hospital within a month. Our Chicago nursing home negligence attorneys know all too well that outright abuse in nursing homes is all too common; sometimes the abuse comes in the form of improper care when patients are shuffled between healthcare facilities.

Although many state and federal regulations, such as the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act, have been established to protect the elderly in these settings, gross violations occur every single day, tragically compromising the health, well-being and dignity of some of our society’s most vulnerable – and valuable – members.

A recent report published by MSNBC detailed that a new study found that almost one-fifth of Medicare nursing home patients with advanced Alzheimer’s or other dementias were sent to hospitals or other nursing homes for questionable reasons in their final months, often enduring tube feeding and intensive care that prolonged their demise.

Devastatingly, the article continues, this type of abuse is triggered by greed: researchers suspect that nursing homes are transferring patients back and forth from hospitals because Medicare will pay the nursing facility about three times the normal rate, if the facility takes a patient back after a brief hospitalization.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that 19 percent of the nearly 475,000 elderly patients studied were transferred to and from a hospital for questionable reasons. Though the study couldn’t state conclusively that money was the motivation behind the moves, the large variation that researchers saw from state to state suggests money may be playing a significant role.

The patients were hospitalized for conditions that would normally be treated in a nursing home, and the transfers were burdensome to the victims; some were moved in the last three days of life, some were moved multiple times in the last three months of life, or moved so they landed in a new nursing home afterward, said MSNBC. In a frail condition, often coupled with the confusion from dementia, the transfers are extremely stressful on the patients, and may even hasten their deaths.

“These are people who are unable to recognize their relatives, they’re bed-bound and they’re now usually having problems with swallowing. This is a population where the burdens of hospitalization often outweigh the possible benefits,” said Dr. Joan Teno, a palliative care physician and health policy professor at Brown University, who co-authored the study. “These patients actually do better when they stay in a nursing home,” where caregivers and surroundings are familiar.

Furthermore, the study showed that patients who had a dubious transfer were more likely to have a feeding tube inserted, to spend time in intensive care in the last month of life, to have a severe bedsore, or to be enrolled in hospice late (three days or less before they died). When nursing facilities negligently transpose patients to the detriment of those patients, an Illinois nursing home negligence lawsuit may arise.

A Chicago personal injury attorney will be able to advise that when someone is determined to be legally responsible for injuring someone else, they are liable for the injury, and may be made to pay damages for harm caused. Nursing homes have a duty of care to their patients, and when they violate that duty and their patients are injured, the doctors, nurses, and facilities responsible may be held responsible.

If you or a loved one have been the victim of nursing home negligence, contact an attorney to be advised of your rights under the law.

Additionally, as per MSNBC‘s report, a number of tips have been offered by experts to help prevent having a loved one needlessly transferred during his or her most vulnerable time:

• Involve patients in planning their care while they’re still able to do so, and make sure wishes like “do not resuscitate” or “do not call 911” are spelled out in legal documents.
• Develop good relationships with nursing home staff and attending physicians so they understand the family’s goals of care.
• Consider hospice care when seniors with advanced dementia are admitted.
• Revisit and review the plan whenever there is a change in a loved one’s status. Someone may not be end-stage when they enter a nursing home but that can change.
• Finally, Seek advice. The Alzheimer’s Association has a 24-hour toll-free number, with counselors to help families.