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Most deaths at nursing homes are not investigated

Published on December 24th, 2008

The State Journal-Register of Illinois had an interesting article about how most nursing home deaths are not investigated. This comes as a surprise to many families and violates the state and Federal regulations stating that incidents should be investigated to determine cause. The nursing homes generally do not want deaths investigated because the investigation would show that neglect was a contributing cause of the resident’s death.

Many county coroners believe Illinois should pass a law requiring nursing homes to notify coroners whenever one of their residents dies so the circumstances can be investigated for potential abuse or neglect. But even after a yearlong pilot study involving 10 Illinois counties, it doesn’t appear that such a mandate is any closer to reality.

Public Health, which doesn’t know how many Illinoisans die in nursing homes each year, this summer completed a yearlong pilot project in 10 Illinois counties — including Morgan — to determine whether such a policy should become the standard.  State officials and the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association don’t plan to lobby for legislation to require that nursing home deaths be reported and investigated.

Only the states of Arkansas and Missouri require all nursing-home deaths to be reported to local coroners for potential investigation. The Arkansas law piqued the interest of the Illinois Department of Public Health. Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said state officials will leave the option of proposing legislation to the coroners association.

Lake County Coroner Dr. Richard Keller said they would like to see a law passed, regardless of financial concerns and statistics.   Uncovering suspicious deaths in nursing homes is part of a coroner’s job, regardless of whether it’s specifically outlined in a new law, he said.

Brigit Dyer-Reynolds, a Springfield-based long-term-care ombudsman who advocates on behalf of nursing home residents, said people in nursing homes would benefit from a death-reporting law.

Even in the state’s largest counties, including Cook, coroners and medical examiners often look into nursing home deaths only after they receive complaints from family members or if criminal activity is suspected.  McHenry County Coroner Marlene Lantz said she asks all nursing homes in her county to report deaths to her, but some facilities refuse. She said a state law that both requires nursing homes to report all deaths and also includes funding for investigations would be a big help.

 

Joe Pioletti
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