Forget Me Not: Nursing home neglect holds hefty price tag

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— The biggest reason I care so deeply about the elderly is because of what happened to my late grandmother during her almost six-month stay at two nursing homes — one in Santa Fe, N.M., and one in the Denver metro area.

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Noelle Leavitt Riley

Her care was so bad that she constantly was transported to the hospital.

Well, this week I heard an amazing story on National Public Radio about a new study conducted by the federal government that outlines adverse events that take place in skilled nursing facilities.

So I looked up the study. It was published last month and outlines billions of dollars spent on hospital treatments from trauma caused by skilled nursing facilities — $2.8 billion, to be exact.

It was a congressionally mandated study, and the findings are jaw-dropping. For instance, roughly 22 percent of Medicare beneficiaries were exposed to dangerous events while staying at skilled nursing facilities, with an additional 11 percent experiencing actual harm during their stays, according to the study.

Because of the harmful situations, patients had to be transported to hospitals to receive better care.

“Physician reviewers determined that 59 percent of these adverse events and temporary harm events were clearly or likely preventable,” the study states.

I bet. I know that my grandmother’s situation certainly was preventable — and unfortunately, she suffered greatly from such harmful and neglectful conditions at the skilled nursing facilities that took care of her.

“Because many of the events that we identified were preventable, our study confirms the need and opportunity for (skilled nursing facilities) to significantly reduce the incidence of resident harm events,” the study states.

It’s important to note that the study came out this February, and the data collected in the research was from 2008 to 2012.

Here are some of the facts from the study:

■ Adverse events that occurred in post-acute skilled nursing facilities stays of less than 36 days ending in August 2011 resulted in an estimated 20,3939 resident transfers to hospitals with an estimated $208 million price tag in Medicare expenditures for the hospitalizations.

■ Of the roughly $208 million spent on hospitalizations, $136 million were spent on preventable events.

■ The $208 million spent on care in regards to adverse events equates to

2 percent of the $10.2 billion spent on Medicare inpatient hospital stays in August 2011.

That’s one month’s worth of hospitalizations in 2011. Wow. Imagine what that figure looks like on an annual basis.

It’s unacceptable, and it breaks my heart. Why must patients at skilled nursing facilities — many of whom are elderly — experience such harm? That’s a ton of money thrown away because of neglect.

It’s hard to stand on a soapbox screaming about elder neglect, but when figures like these are exposed, it makes it much easier.

All I can say at this point is: Pay attention to what’s happening with your loved ones who stay in nursing homes. You never know what might happen. Some homes are better than others, and unfortunately, my late grandma was mistreated at the places she stayed.

Noelle Leavitt Riley is the managing editor of the Craig Daily Press and the Saturday Morning Press. She and her husband Shawn Riley run the Forget Me Not foundation where they take donated flowers to nursing home residents, letting them know they’re not forgotten by society. Contact her at 970-875-1790 or nriley@CraigDailyPress.com.

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