(CBS) Families turn to nursing homes to give the elderly the care and attention they need, but a congressional report out Monday says 1,600 U.S. nursing homes - nearly one-third - have been cited for abuse, reports CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker.
Some 5,283 nursing homes were cited for abuse violations, according to a review of state inspection records requested by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. These homes were cited for nearly 9,000 abuse violations from January 1999 to January 2001.
"We found examples of residents being punched, choked or kicked by staff members or other residents," Waxman said.
For more of CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales' investigation into the country's nursing homes:
A Culture Of Corruption
Tracking Abuse In Nursing Homes
The Hidden Danger: Neglect
Fighting Elder Abuse
Keeping An Eye On The Caregivers
It's a shocking reality for thousands of older Americans, a trend
first reported last year with the story of Helen Love. She was attacked by a certified nurse's assistant at a Sacramento facility, who was angered she'd soiled herself.
"He choked me and went and broke my neck and broke my wrist," said Love.
Helen Love died two days after her interview. Her assailant got a year in county jail and a CBS News
investigation found that three other employees at the same Sacramento facility had been convicted for abuse, which should have barred them from nursing home work.
The nursing home industry agrees on the need for stiffer background checks, but disagrees abuse is widespread.
"The congressman himself said the great majority of long-term care in our nation is excellent. There are people every day that are working very hard to provide that care," said Charles H. Roadman II, president of the American Health Care Association (AHCA), a nursing home trade group that represents 12,000 nonprofit and for-profit centers and homes for the elderly and disabled.
Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Government Reform Committee, which oversees spending and other operations, said Congress should re-estalish an abolished federal law that boosts nursing home spending. The Boren amendment would guarantee that the nation's nearly 17,000 homes do a better job of screening, training and counseling their staff. Roughly 1.5 million seniors live in nursing homes.
Waxman is also introducing a plan that would require criminal background checks on nursing home staff and impose tougher standards on homes with violations.
The AHCA supports a federal criminal background check system for potential employees.
"Recruiting, training and keeping frontline nursing staff are among the most important things we can do to ensure our patients continue to receive quality skilled nursing care," said Roadman.
But center operators said abuse is not the norm in nursing homes and many staff members deserve praise.
"Our patients are like family, and incidents like those described here today are extremely rare," said Sharon Sellers, vice president of operations at Washington Home, a nearly 200-bed center in the District of Columbia.
Bruce Rosenthal, spokesman for the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, said Congress should focus on the troubled centers, rather than create cumbersome standards for all.
"We strongly believe nursing homes that exhibit consistently poor performance should either clean up their act or be put out of business," said Rosenthal, whose group represents 5,600 not-for-profit homes and centers.
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A congressional report has found that 5,283 - over 30 percent - of the nursing homes in the U.S. were cited for an abuse violation that had to cause harm between January 1999 and January 2001. Over 2,500 of the violations were serious enough to cause actual harm or to place residents in immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury.
Click here to read the entire report.
The reported abuses were physical, sexual and verbal. All abuse is on the rise, the report said. More than twice as many nursing homes were cited for abuse in 2000 than in 1996. In 1996, 5.9 percent of all nursing homes were cited for an abuse violation during their annual inspections; in 2000, 16 percent of nursing homes were cited.
"It would have been intolerable if we had found a hundred cases of abuse; it is unconscionable that we have foud thousands upon thousands," Waxman said.
The report found that in 1,601 nursing homes - about 1 in 10 - abuse citations were made in serious incidents that either put residents at great risk of harm, injured them or killed them.
For instance, a resident was killed when another resident with a history of abusive behavior picked her up and slammed her into a wall. In another case, a resident's nose was broken by an attendant who hit her. An attendant raped another resident in her room.
It was not clear how many people were abused. In some cases, the report said, an abuse citation referred to a single victim; in others a single case affected several residents.
Investigators said many violations are neither detected nor reported, leading officials to believe the problem is underestimated.
The report also found:
more than 40 percent, or 3,800 abuse violations, were only reported after formal complaints from residents, their families or community advocates.
1,327 homes were cited for more than one abuse violation in the two-year period; 305 homes were cited for three or more abuse violations, and 192 nursing homes were cited for five or more abuse violations.