Theft from nursing home residents by nursing home employees is a very real concern. These thefts tend to occur in two ways: 1. the diversion of narcotic medications; and 2) the theft of money or personal belongings.
Nurses and certified nurse assistants are no more immune to substance abuse problems than the rest of us. The difference is, that when nurses are employed at nursing homes, they have the opportunity to steal residents’ medications. Some nurses with substance abuse problems will actually gravitate to work in nursing homes for this reason.
Although there are strict measures in place to document each narcotic pill dispensed from the nursing home’s pharmacy, what ultimately happens with the pills is not as easy to control. Nursing homes are required to maintain a “controlled substance log,” through which the dispensing of every single narcotic pill is documented with the signature of the receiving nurse.
From there, a nurse makes rounds with a medication cart and dispenses medications to each resident to whom the nurse is assigned. It is easy to simply not provide a certain pill to a resident or to provide an over the counter replacement.
Some residents, especially those suffering from dementia, do not know that their medications have been diverted. When they are handed several pills, they have no way to determine what was, or was not, provided. Even if they are aware of the diversion, it is difficult for them to effectively communicate the problem to someone willing to listen. A nurse’s motivation to divert narcotics include personal use or sale.
The result for the nursing home resident is unnecessary pain and a decreased quality of life. Also, narcotic medication withdrawals can be life threatening and are easily misdiagnosed given that the resident’s chart will reflect that the medications were provided.
Theft of residents’ funds and personal property also occurs. It can take a number of different forms. For instance, a staff member might steal a resident’s personal property or obtain information in order to withdraw money from the resident’s bank account.
Recently, a 30-year-old nursing assistant from Philadelphia was arrested when she returned from a vacation to Miami, Florida. Police claim the nursing assistant and another suspect stole a blank check from a deceased patient and wrote it out for more than $2,400, funding their vacation.
The nursing assistant is also alleged to have made four transactions using a credit card of another recently deceased resident of the nursing home.
Financial abuse can cause real misery for an elderly person and can be as distressing as physical abuse or neglect. Every year as many as 500,000 elderly people are victims of financial scams, and this abuse costs the elderly population up to $3 billion annually, according to NursingHomeAbuseGuide.org.
The opportunity for nursing home abuse and neglect continues to increase across the country as the elderly population continues to rise, especially with the aging of the “Baby Boomer” generation. According to statistics from to the National Center on Elder Abuse, more than a third of the country’s nursing homes have violated elder abuse laws.
That’s a staggering and alarming figure. Florida, with its large senior citizen population, is particularly vulnerable to elder abuse, yet Florida’s laws fall short of protecting nursing home residents.
For example, Florida Statutes require that nursing homes have professional liability insurance in the event of neglect that causes injury or death; however, the statute stops there: no minimum amount of coverage per claim is required. The result is that nursing homes purchase ridiculously minimal amounts of coverage, sometimes as little as $25,000.00 to be shared by however many injury or death claims that are made against the nursing home in the year. Often, the insurance is purchased from a company owned by the nursing home’s parent company. The result is that there is, in effect, no insurance at all.
Written by David Macaulay