All residents of nursing homes have some complaints. Many complaints are the ones everyone has – the soup’s too cold, why don’t you have this publication, or my closets could be bigger. Some complaints are unique to seniors who may be more sensitive to weather, loneliness, and problems due to ill health. Other complaints require immediate action, such as complaints of physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse. Finally, complaints regarding dangerous conditions, like loose railings or steps, must be corrected immediately.
Nursing homes should anticipate all these complaints, and they should take proactive steps to prevent some complaints from ever being made. Long-term care facilities should take responsive steps to all complaints – prioritizing the ones that cause immediate harm and addressing the complaints that affect the entire nursing home community. When nursing homes fail to address resident complaints, senior citizens can suffer unnecessary injury and harm.
Government oversight of nursing home complaints
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (US HHS), a formal complaint process helps protect the safety of nursing home residents. Agencies such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) rely on “each State’s survey agency to respond to health and safety concerns raised by residents, their families, and nursing home staff.”
The agencies for the states are required to investigate the most serious complaints within specific time frames. While many states do comply on a timely basis, some states fall short. The Office of Inspector General for the US HHS reviews the complaint process and CMS oversight of the complaint process. Complaints, at the state and federal agency level, are broken down into different categories.
- Complaints that place a resident in immediate jeopardy. This includes complaints that pose a risk of death, serious injury, impairment, and harm. Generally, state survey agencies must begin an on-site investigation within two business days of notification of a formal complaint or report.
- High-priority complaints with no immediate jeopardy. These complaints involve assertions that the nursing home failed to comply with federal requirements, which may “have caused harm that negatively impacts the individual’s mental, physical, and/or psychosocial status and are of such consequence to the person’s well-being that a rapid response by the State survey agency is indicated.” These types of complaints require an on-site investigation within 10 business days.
Nursing home complaints in Illinois
According to the US HSS, the Illinois nursing home level of complaints, by year, were as follows:
- Complaints per 1,000 residents
- 2016: 70.7
- 2017: 73.6
- 2018: 8
- Immediate jeopardy complaints
- 2016: 252
- 2017: 166
- 2018: 93
- Immediate jeopardy complaints not investigated within two days
- 2016: 3
- 2017: 4
- 2018: 2
- High priority complaints
- 2016: 2,567
- 2017: 4,141
- 2018: 4,522
- High priority complaints not investigated within 10 days
- 2016: 36
- 2017: 676
- 2018: 1189
These results show a disturbing trend for high priority complaints. There are more high priority complaints in subsequent years and fewer timely investigations for those years.
Common nursing home complaints
According to the Florida Independent (where many seniors live), some of the more common complaints regarding nursing homes include:
- Understaffing. Many seniors complain that their homes don’t have enough staff – and that the staff that is hired aren’t trained properly. Understaffing and poor training increase the odds of nursing home neglect. For example, many in-house calls go answered or aren’t answered on a timely basis. Understaffing can also lead to medication errors (wrong medicine, wrong dose, or wrong time of day) and many other comfort and health concerns.
- Loneliness. Many seniors complain about a lack of interaction – with visitors and among the staff and other residents.
- Lack of sleep. It’s difficult for many seniors to sleep. Common complaints include being woken up during the night to take vital signs and nursing home staff that talk loudly during the night. Other residents who keep the TV on too loud can make sleep difficult too, especially if that resident is their roommate.
Other common complaints include:
- The food and dining experience is below quality. The nursing home food doesn’t have any taste and the dining room experience isn’t pleasant. Nursing homes should try to ensure that residents are seated at tables with people they can talk to.
- Complaints of abuse – of any type. Signs of abuse include bruises, depression, and anxiety.
- Signs include malnutrition, weight loss, and bedsores.
- Poor hygiene. Residents should bathe and should be able to attend to their grooming and hygiene on a regular basis.
- Being discharged prematurely. Residents have a right to know why they’re being discharged.
- A range of other qualify of life and quality of care issues.
Registering a complaint with a local ombudsman
An ombudsman is a long-term care advocate for nursing home residents and residents of other senior communities such as assisted living communities. Their job is to respond to complaints. The ombudsman is part of the Federal Administration on Aging (AoA) program. Nationwide, they handle more than 100,000 complaints each year.
Seniors who complain to an ombudsman should understand that complaints are confidential – unless you tell the ombudsman otherwise. Family members can also file a complaint with their local ombudsman. The nursing home should post the contact information for your ombudsman. You can also visit the Illinois Department on Aging online and find your ombudsman here.
Speak with a Chicago nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer
If a parent, sibling, or loved is suffering, skilled nursing home lawyers understand the rights of senior citizens. Seniors in Medicare-funded facilities have specific federal rights to privacy, to communicate, and to many other rights. Residents also have state rights and rights based on their contract with the nursing home. Our lawyers explain when you should notify the nursing home, when you should contact an ombudsman, and when it may be necessary to file a legal complaint.
When nursing homes commit abuse or neglect, the seniors are entitled to compensation for their physical pain, emotional suffering, the harm they’ve endured, any medical expenses for treatment, and other applicable damages. It’s often likely that if you or a loved one is suffering, then other residents of the nursing home are also suffering. Holding the nursing home accountable through insurance settlements and court cases is often the only way the senior can be compensated and others in the nursing home can be protected.
Our experienced and respected Chicago nursing home lawyers guide seniors and families through the litigation process. Seniors have the right to expect that they will enjoy their later years and be treated with respect and care. To discuss your nursing home case, call Gainsberg Law P.C. at 312.600.9585 or use our contact form to schedule an appointment.
Neal S. Gainsberg has spent the last 20 years fighting to protect the rights of the injured in Chicago and throughout Illinois. From consumer rights and bankruptcy to catastrophic injuries and wrongful death, Mr. Gainsberg stands up to large corporations, insurance companies, creditors and hospital administrators to ensure that his clients’ futures are safe and secure. Learn More