Massachusetts Nursing Home Abuse: Keep Watchful

Nursing home abuse and neglect is, tragically, still a “dirty little secret” for most of society. While public consciousness has been raised in the past two decades due to the efforts of plaintiffs’ tort lawyers and brave families, I don’t think enough people, or enough media, truly appreciate just how pervasive this problem really is. Massachusetts nursing home abuse and neglect (and nursing home abuse that occurs everywhere) is caused by the willingness of far too many nursing home companies, to allow the safety and well-being of their paying residents to suffer, in the name of maximizing their profits.

Making matters worse, corporations that own nursing homes in Massachusetts still cannot be held criminally responsible for the acts of their employees. Note: I am talking here about a corporation being held responsible for criminal acts, not specific individuals. While a specifically named nursing home employee who is accused of committing a criminal act against a nursing home resident, such as an assault and battery, can be criminally convicted, the corporation still, as of this time, cannot be.

In my view as a Norfolk County Massachusetts nursing home abuse lawyer, that itself ought to be a crime. The Massachusetts Attorney General tried to change that law in a novel criminal indictment a few years ago. Sadly, that noble effort did not succeed. The indictment charged a parent corporation that owned a nursing home with involuntary manslaughter and criminal neglect, based on its collective knowledge of the conduct of several of the corporation’s employees. What made the case novel was that the indictment did not single out any one employee of the corporation for criminal acts — instead, the corporation itself was indicted. This legal approach to indicting a corporation for the criminal acts of its unnamed employees, had never before succeeded. The case was Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Life Care Centers of America. This case represented the first attempt by the state of Massachusetts to criminally indict a corporation for manslaughter and neglect in the death of a nursing home resident.

The case held the promise of prosecuting and convicting a corporation for such offenses, and sadly it was struck down last year by the Supreme Judicial Court. This decision destroyed the promise of producing drastically positive changes and improvements in the care and protection of Massachusetts nursing home residents. Trust me, had the Attormey General’s office prevailed, the decision would have caused these businesses to take immediate steps to make certain that Massachusetts nursing home abuse and neglect no longer occurred under their ownership. Plaintiffs’ lawyers bar associations such as The American Association for Justice (formerly the American Trial Lawyers Association/ATLA,) and its Massachusetts affiliate, the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys (MATA,) are working hard to change these laws. For now, plaintiffs tort lawyers like me will continue to hold nursing home owners civilly liable for any harm caused by their employees, to these most vulnerable of people: Old, weak, senile, abandoned, and defenseless victims – the forgotten of society.

Remember: As with the ability to legally recover for many other types of injuries, “tort reform” would severely limit, or entirely prevent, the ability to hold a corporation civilly liable for their negligence, and require them to pay appropriate damages. Insurance companies, and their business customers, want to take away your right to a jury trial – your day in court. If you want to learn more about tort reform, go the the Search field on the right side of this page, and type in “tort reform.” You’ll be taken to a number of posts I’ve written on the subject.

In the meantime, if you need to place a loved one in a nursing home, exercise great caution in the facility you choose. Do NOT just ask for references from the nursing home itself – find out the names of present or past family members of residents of the facility, and quietly speak to them about their experiences with the facility. Check out internet postings. Review any complaints filed with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs or the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Below are some additional governmental resources you can refer to, to report nursing home abuse or neglect.

* State Long Term Care Ombudsman & Adult Protective Services Massachusetts Exec Office of Elder Affairs 1 Ashburton Place, 5th Floor Boston, MA 02108-1518
Phone: (617) 727-7750 Fax: (617) 727-9368 website: www.mass.gov

* Director of Licensure and Certifications Massachusetts Department of Public Health Division Health Care Quality 10 West Street, 5th Floor Boston, MA 02111
Phone: (617) 573-1600 website: www.mass.gov

* Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General 200 Portland Street, 4th Floor Boston, MA 02114-1700
Phone: (617) 727-2200 Fax: (617) 727-2008 www.mass.gov

* Board of Registration In Nursing Home Administrators 239 Causeway Street Boston, MA 02114
Phone:1-800-414-0168
Fax: (617) 973-0980 website: www.mass.gov

* Commissioner,
Massachusetts Division of Medical Assistance 600 Washington Street Boston, MA 02111
Phone: (617) 573-1770 www.mass.gov

* Quality Improvement Organization:
President/Chief Executive Officer Mass PRO 245 Wyman Street Waltham, MA 02451-1231
Phone: (781) 890-0011 website: www.masspro.org

* Protection and Advocacy:
Executive Director Disability Law Center, Inc.
11 Beacon Street, Suite 925 Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 723-8455 website: www.dlc-ma.org

* Citizen Advocacy Group:
MA Advocates for Nursing Home Reform P.O. Box 560224 Medford, MA 02156
Phone: 1- (800) 988-4450 website: www.manhr.org

At any time, if you suspect that either a loved one, or someone you know, has been the victim of Massachusetts nursing home abuse or neglect, contact our office for a free consultation. We will be happy to provide you with the direction you need to protect the person you are concerned about. It’s what we do. And we do it very well.

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