Natural Disaster Prompts Nursing Home Investigation

Natural Disaster Prompts Nursing Home Investigation

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government is considering stronger requirements to protect nursing home patients from natural disasters.  Amongst the many tragic stories that immerged from this natural disaster, some told of residents abandoned in nursing homes by their caretakers with no feasible means to flee.These sad stories prompted a Louisiana inquiry into the nursing home deaths in Katrina’s aftermath.  The federal government has now joined the investigation to determine how to better protect these vulnerable citizens in the future. 

One focus of this state and federal investigation is the death of 34 nursing home residents at St. Rita’s Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish.  Louisiana authorities have already charged the owners of this nursing home with 34 counts of negligent homicide after ignoring evacuation requests.  Nursing home officials are saying that, by and large, nursing care facilities affected by this tragedy fulfilled their obligations to their patients, often heroically.

In the case of these 34 nursing home resident deaths, officials will determine whether or not St. Rita’s staff fulfilled their duties under Medicaid regulations.  If they failed to comply with nursing home law, possible penalties include preventing the home’s owners from billing Medicare or Medicaid.This punishment is exile in the nursing home industry.

The Inspector General, Daniel R. Levinson, wrote a letter to Iowan senator, Charles Grassley, stating that “This office is tremendously concerned about the possible abuse and neglect of hospital patients and nursing home residents.”  The inspector’s letter prompted Grassley to request a Justice Department investigation of these potential atrocities.

The federal Health and Human Services Department, responsible for Medicare and Medicaid funding for nursing home residents, states that broad actions will be considered to prevent nursing home deaths in the future.  “It is worth looking at the current requirements and asking ourselves, in light of the experience with Hurricane Katrina, with an entire healthcare system going down: Are there better protections that could be put in place for that kind of phenomenon,” questions the Department’s director, Thomas Hamilton.

Federal nursing home regulations currently require homes to have an evacuation plan which is tailored to the region’s conditions.  Staff must be trained to implement the evacuation plan and must routinely practice such an evacuation.  Due to cost concerns, many nursing homes fail to comply with this requirement.  The government is also looking at mutual support plans between nursing homes and ways to ensure that evacuation plans are created and functional in the event of an emergency.

This devastating natural disaster has exposed many weaknesses in the emergency preparedness of our nation.  For decades, however, alarming weaknesses in our nation’s nursing home standards have been exposed.  The federal government has implemented numerous laws to create a set of nursing home standards which facilitates each and every patient’s quality of care and quality of life.  In the wake of this tragedy, one can only hope that the changes it produces will better protect some of the more vulnerable citizens of our nation. 

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