It was the 20th fall that finally killed a neglected resident of Beaumont Rehabilitation & Skilled Nursing Center in Westboro, Massachusetts. After the tragedy occurred in 2015, state Attorney General Maura Healey launched a years-long investigation into the “systemic failures” of nursing homes. The investigation has now drawn to a close.
In a press conference last week, Healey announced she had reached settlements with 7 Massachusetts nursing homes to resolve allegations that led to the injuries of frail residents. Five lost their lives as a result.
“Every nursing home resident deserves to live in a safe environment, with dignity and access to high-quality care,” Healey said. “These settlements hold facilities accountable and will help restore the trust families need when making critical decisions about the care of their loved ones.”
So which homes should families be aware of?
Nursing Homes Penalized for ‘Systemic Failures’ That Led to Injury and Death
According to CBS Boston, Healey’s office collected about $500,000 in penalties after reaching settlements with:
- The Rehabilitation & Nursing Center at Everett: $40,000 fine
- Oxford Rehabilitation & Healthcare Center, Haverhill: $180,000 fine
- Jewish Nursing Home, Longmeadow: $85,000 fine
- Wakefield Center, Wakefield: $30,000 fine
- Beaumont Rehabilitation & Skilled Nursing Center, Westboro: $37,000 fine
- Braemoor Health Center, Brockton
- Woodbriar Health Center, Wilmington
As part of the settlements, 5 nursing homes were enrolled in strict compliance programs requiring them to improve staff training and policies. If they fail to report their progress to Healey’s office annually for the next 3 years as stipulated, the facilities face additional fines.
Healey’s office also took actions against Synergy Health Centers, a New Jersey-based company that owned the Woodbriar and Braemoor Health Centers before the latter closed. As well as paying between $100,000 and $200,000 in fines, the company is banned from operating in Massachusetts for 7 years.
Despite the vast range of penalties, all 8 entities were proven equally guilty – in stark contrast to what residents’ families could presume possible – of failing to act when needed most.
What’s Happening to Residents?
Healey’s investigation unearthed cases of mistreatment over the last few years that can only be described as baffling. In one case, nursing staff failed to resuscitate a resident who became non-responsive during feeding. One resident died trapped in faulty bed rails. Another died when they did not receive medication that would have prevented a fatal blood clot.
A further 2 cases involved residents bleeding to death when staff ignored serious injuries.
At Woodbriar, an 83-year-old was dropped by an aide on Christmas Day and broke both her legs. Her family wasn’t alerted for another day, by which time her internal bleeding was too severe. She died hours later.
Then there was the Beaumont case, where a woman who fell at least 19 times without intervention from staff before dying from the 20th fall. At Healey’s press conference, the resident’s daughter described the last time she found her mother bleeding from her head. It wasn’t until she pleaded with nurses for help that someone applied a Band-Aid. But this was too little, too late.
Healey’s investigation concluded that the problem was insufficient staffing. Whether poorly trained or absent altogether, the 7 nursing homes’ staff not only failed to report injuries to state regulators in a timely manner but also took their time reporting deaths.
Sadly, this follows a pattern typical across the nation’s 14,000 nursing homes, as federal data revealed last year. Horrific cases of nursing home abuse can almost always be traced back to staffing problems. Are we any closer to solving them?
Nursing Homes Face Elder Abuse Lawsuits
Several of the 7 nursing homes face elder abuse lawsuits from the families of victims. The Beaumont family already sued and settled with the nursing home for an undisclosed amount. As for Healey’s settlements, half the money collected will be put toward improving the safety and quality of nursing homes across the state.
One resolution not in the cards, however, is criminal prosecution. After “weighing the evidence,” Healey’s office decided civil enforcement would be the most likely outcome to improve safety and quality.
“Our resolutions cannot change what happened or ease the suffering of families, but we can help ensure these failures don’t happen again,” Healey said at a press conference. “While our settlements focus on seven facilities, we are also sending a clear message about the standards of care we expect of all facilities in our state.”
Could fines and clear messages suffice as true deterrents, when for many years profit-driven nursing homes have viewed such inconveniences as just a cost of doing business?
A spokesperson for a nursing home trade association, for his part, noted at the press conference that the safety and well-being of residents remain top concerns for nursing homes and that the settlements serve as a “forceful reminder” of their responsibilities to vulnerable elders. He did not address any specific case.