Lawmakers expressed outrage at widespread reports of abuse and neglect in the nation’s nursing homes at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, noting that resident mistreatment has been a problem for decades despite regulatory reforms and attempts at improved government oversight.
“Seniors in nursing homes are among the people most vulnerable to the life-threatening consequences of abuse and neglect,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the senior Democrat on the committee. “Across this country, that vulnerability is being exploited in unimaginably cruel ways.”
That exploitation was detailed in statements from regulators, relatives of victims and other experts, and has included reports of medication mismanagement, neglect resulting in bedsores and other preventable infections, starvation, dehydration, sexual abuse and even death.
The hearing included testimony from two women whose mothers were victims of nursing home abuse: Patricia Olthoff-Blank, whose mother died as a result of alleged neglect at the Iowa facility where she lived for 15 years, and Maya Fischer, who recounted learning that her mother, a Medicare patient living with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, had been raped by a nurse at her Minneapolis nursing home.
“I still feel the guilt,” Fischer said, “of not being able to take care of her myself and having to entrust her care to others, only to have her subjected to this unthinkable assault.”
Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the 2017 Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act aimed at strengthening the federal government’s ability to curb elder abuse in a variety of settings, noted that the mistreatment of older adults in nursing homes remains a “systemic” problem. “Hardly a week goes by,” he noted, “without seeing something about nursing home abuse or neglect in the national news.”