16 Investigates: Elder abuse in Michiana nursing homes, assisted living facilities

Published: Apr. 27, 2023 at 6:26 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), elder abuse is a big problem in the United States.

It is defined as an intentional act or a failure to act that causes harm.

This then begs the question: Are abuse and neglect happening in nursing homes and licensed assisted living facilities across Michiana?

And if so, what is being done to combat the issue?

Karla Fales is the President and CEO of REAL Services in South Bend. The organization helps to meet the needs of older adults in St. Joseph County. Fales said she believes staffing has an impact on resident outcomes.

“And I would say the staffing is one of the predominant things that drives the abuse and neglect because of the fact that they do not have enough. They may not have adequate training and just the heavy load that they are carrying,” Fales said.

Lynn Clough, the director of the State’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, agrees.

“They are considering putting a minimum staffing standard in place for nursing homes,” Clough said.

Under Federal Nursing Home Regulations, residents have the right to be free from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

According to the Family and Social Services Administration’s adult protective services division:

  • Abuse includes touching another person in a rude manner.
  • Neglect is defined as failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care.
  • Exploitation includes unauthorized uses of personal services or property.

“Neglect may or may not be intentional,” Clough added. She also said a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) who is poorly trained may not know how to provide proper care.

Clough then gave some examples of neglect, including:

  • Incorrect body positioning.
  • Lack of toileting or changing of disposable briefs, which causes incontinence and can result in residents sitting in urine or feces.
  • A lack of assistance with eating and drinking, which can lead to malnutrition and dehydration.
  • Ignoring call lights or cries for help.

“I dealt with the bad nursing homes. I am sure there’s plenty of good nursing homes out there,” Mark Shroyer said.

Shroyer said his dad, Glenn Shroyer, moved into a local nursing home in 2022 and claimed Glenn experienced several issues during his stay.

“Went into his room, he had feces, and he had urine on him... My dad would ask to go to the bathroom. They wouldn’t come. I had, many times, said, ‘Hey, my dad needs to go to the restroom.’ ‘We will be there in a little while’... Patients just wandering. I mean you saw it every day,” Shroyer recalled.

Fales said abuse and neglect cases are not always so cut and dry. She said the examples Shroyer mentioned could be considered neglect, if it is continual and if residents are exposed to unsafe conditions.

Shroyer said he never filed a formal complaint with any government agency because he did not think about it at the time but notified staff members.

A month went by, and after having surgery in Chicago, Glenn was transferred to another nearby nursing home.

“Somebody will be there. They’ll help him. They’ll do his rehab. And it didn’t turn out that way at all. There was nobody there for him, so that hurts,” Shroyer said.

Shroyer said his dad experienced similar issues as before.

For example, he said Glenn’s “clothes and teeth were missing.” He was “left in his feces.” And “his catheter bag would leak, and he would be lying in urine.”

Shroyer said he notified staff members.

“If you’re taking on the responsibility of having one of our elderly come into your place of business, and you are promising to take care of them, then you should be able to take care of them. If you don’t have the staff to do it, then we need to find another way,” he told 16 News Now.

Shroyer said this time, he did file a formal complaint with the department’s Long-Term Care Division.

16 News Now asked for a copy of the complaint, but Shroyer says he completed it online.

When Shroyer received a copy of the health department’s findings, he said it mentioned nothing about his dad.

While the health department declined an on-camera or Zoom interview, and declined to comment on specific cases, they said they received a total of 3,822 complaints in 2022, which included 941 allegations of abuse or neglect.

Complaints are confidential under state and federal law. After investigating, a survey report is written, and then, if needed, facilities are required to submit a plan of correction.

The department says it then follows up to make sure the correction has been implemented. It also does annual inspections and writes report cards based on survey findings.

Facility report card scores were not updated for a period of time due to changes in the survey process during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but have since resumed.

While the health department is looking to see if regulations are being upheld, the Ombudsman program takes a different approach.

“State ombudsmen have a different perspective and we work for the residents. Our job is to help resolve resident issues or complaints...And I think a good way to put this is that surveyors want to know if the call-light system is working. Family and ombudsmen want to know if somebody is going to be there to answer the call light when the resident pushes it,” Clough said.

The program helps “advocate for residents of long-term care facilities, which includes nursing facilities and licensed assisted living facilities.”

“You know, people who live in a nursing home are entitled to the same level of dignity that we are living in our own homes. And so, they help ensure that they can advocate for them on that,” Fales said.

REAL Services hires ombudsmen.

“And so, they are employed by REAL Services. We have two of them, but they actually report in terms of their authority and their discretion directly to the state ombudsman, which every state has one,” says Fales.

Shroyer said he never knew about the program until our interview.

Glenn eventually passed away on October 22, 2022.

Though difficult, Glenn’s memory carries on. Shroyer said Glenn was a family man, a pet lover, and a guy with an amazing spirit.

“Even at his sickest time, someone would walk in, and he would try to make a joke to make them smile...It makes me sad because he didn’t have to suffer like that. He really didn’t,” Shroyer recalled.

“We’re hoping to bring forward through the legislature, and through others, to say there needs to be standards within the industry. That better equips the nursing home facilities to do what they are supposed to be doing,” Fales said.

Tune in Friday at 6 p.m. as 16 News Now continues investigating potential abuse and neglect happening in nursing homes and licensed assisted living facilities across Michiana.