State lawmakers are considering House Bill 262, which would require long-term care facilities, including assisted living facilities, to notify the county coroner’s office when there are deaths, the Augusta Chronicle reported. If passed, the legislation would allow coroners to conduct death investigations that would exonerate providers against potential abuse claims, or identify neglect or abuse cases, proponents argued.
“Many nursing home residents die of natural causes. (But) sadly, in our state and across the country, we have seen terrible cases of what looks like abuse or neglect of nursing home residents,” said Melanie McNeil, Georgia’s long-term care ombudsman.
Often times the nursing home doctor protects the nursing home by incorrectly designating a cause of death on the death certificate that is inconsistent with the neglect and abuse suffered by the resident. A new proposal in Georgia would take away a nursing home’s ability to sign death certificates, and protect the integrity of the process. Even if a coroner just spot checks, having an independent professional evaluate a body to confirm cause of death could have a huge impact and serve as a deterrent to abuse and neglect.
“Nursing homes often conduct their own in-house investigations of potentially criminal allegations, and law enforcement is never notified,” William Loomer, of the Crimes Against the Vulnerable and Elderly task force, told the news organization.
“The success of this bill would not only ensure that an impartial investigation of every nursing home death is conducted by the coroner, but I believe it would increase public confidence in the nursing home’s practices in the long run,” he added.
Last April, the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services reported there are an average of 7,100 nursing home patients who suffer a serious adverse health event each year. More than 100,000 more patients suffer less serious adverse events. More than half of those life-threatening and endangering events could have been prevented.
William Loomer, who leads the local Crimes Against the Vulnerable and Elderly task force, said his team is seeing an increase in nursing home reports of possible neglect and abuse.