More than 1 in 4 cases of possible sexual and physical abuse against nursing home patients apparently went unreported to police, says a government audit that faults Medicare for failing to enforce a federal law requiring immediate notification.
The Health and Human Services inspector general's office was issuing an "early alert" Monday on its findings from a large sampling of cases in 33 states. Investigators say Medicare needs to take corrective action right away.
"We hope that we can stop this from happening to anybody else," said Curtis Roy, an audit manager with the inspector general's office.
Using investigative data analysis techniques, auditors from the inspector general's office identified 134 cases in which hospital emergency room records indicated possible sexual or physical abuse, or neglect, of nursing home residents. The incidents spanned a two-year period from 2015 to 2016.
Illinois had the largest number of incidents overall, with 17. It was followed by Michigan (13), Texas (9) and California (8).
In 38 of the total cases (28 percent), investigators could find no evidence in hospital records that the incident had been reported to local law enforcement, despite a federal law requiring prompt reporting by nursing homes, as well as similar state and local requirements.
The federal statute has been on the books more than five years, but investigators found that Medicare has not enforced its requirement to report incidents to police and other agencies, or risk fines of up to $300,000.