Elder abuse of Medicare beneficiaries at nursing homes isbeing underreported to law enforcement, and the Centers forMedicare & Medicaid Services “has inadequate procedures” toensure facilities are complying with the law, according to anearly alert issued Monday by the Health andHuman Services Inspector General’s office.

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The preliminary results of the Inspector General’s ongoingreview identified 134 Medicare beneficiaries whose injuries mayhave been the result of potential abuse or neglect occurring during2015 and 2016. In addition, “a significant percentage” — 28 percent— of these incidents may not have been reported to lawenforcement.

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The Inspector General found no evidence in the hospital recordsthat the 38 incidents were reported to local law enforcement,despite mandatory state reporting laws requiring the hospitals’medical staff to do so. Moreover, prior audit reports show thatgroup homes did not report up to 15 percent of critical incidentsto the appropriate state agencies.

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“Our preliminary results combined with these prior reportresults raise significant concerns that incidents of potentialabuse or neglect at skilled nursing facilities have goneunreported,” wrote Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson, in hisalert addressed to CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

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The alert cites specific cases, including one in which a maleresident of a nursing facility allegedlysexually assaulted a female Medicare beneficiary, leaving“two silver-dollar-sized bruises” on her breast, according toemergency room records. The facility’s employees did notimmediately report the incident to law enforcement, but told herfamily the next day, who contacted police, according to the reportsubmitted by the states survey agency overseeing thefacility.

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“The emergency room record notes that the skilled nursingfacility staff assisted Ms. Doe with bathing, going to thebathroom, and changing her clothing after the incident,” Levinsonwrites. “These actions could have destroyed any evidence that mayhave been detected using the rape kit.”

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A facility staff person later contacted local law enforcement inan attempt to keep the police from investigating the incident,according to the survey agency’s report. The staffer told thepolice that the facility was “required to report it, but that wewere doing our own internal investigation and did not need them tomake a site visit.” Furthermore, “no one was interested in pressingcharges and that we were handling.” However, the police continuedan investigation despite this contact, according to the agency’sreport.

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The Inspector General’s alert suggests that CMS take a number ofimmediate actions to ensure abuse in nursing facilities isreported, including implementing procedures to compare Medicareclaims for emergency room treatment with claims for facilityservices to identify incidents, and then periodically provide thedetails of this analysis to state survey agencies for furtherreview.

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The CMS should also continue to work to obtain authority fromHSS to impose civil monetary penalties on such facilities,according to the alert.

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Curtis Roy, an assistant regional inspector general in theDepartment of Health and Human Services, told NPR’s Morning Editionthat “we've got to do a better job of getting [abuse] out of ourhealth care system.”

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The Inspector General is now trying to determine whether thenursing homes where abuses took place were ever fined or punishedin any way, and will detail its results in its full report,expected in about a year, Roy tells NPR.

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“We hope that we can stop this from happening to anybody else,”Roy told the Associated Press, noting that quality is anongoing concern for the roughly1.4 million people who live in U.S.nursing homes.

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