In an effort to identify instances of nursing home abuse and neglect, the Illinois Department of Public Health has implemented a death reporting program in ten counties in Illinois. The pilot program requires nursing homes to immediately report nursing home deaths to the county coroner. Once reported, it is up to the county coroner to investigate the facts surrounding the death and determine if the death was related to nursing home abuse or neglect.
From July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008, 8 suspicious deaths were attributed to mistreatment in nursing homes out of a reported 3,669 total nursing home deaths. The pilot program empowered coroners to investigate deaths by phone, fax, or in person each and assess if abuse or neglect might have contributed to a resident’s death. The pilot program ran in the Illinois counties of Champaign, Effingham, Kane, Kankakee, Lake, LaSalle, Lee, McLean, McHenry and Morgan.
Of the eight deaths that were attributed to improper nursing care, several fines were imposed against the facilities by state and federal authorities. In Champaign County, the coroner’s tip-off resulted in federal officials imposing a fine against the Champaign County Nursing Home of $13,600 for the death of a 94-year-old woman who died from a pulmonary embolism shortly after fracturing her leg during a transfer out of bed. Also in Champaign County, the coroner’s tip-off lead to a $52,500 state fine was imposed against Pleasant Meadows Christian Village Nursing Home for improper treatment of a resident’s bedsore that had advanced to sepsis and ultimate death.
Richard Dees, Chief of Public Health’s Bureau of Long-term Care, says it appears the project failed to show that a state law requiring nursing home death reporting and investigations would have a ‘conclusive’ benefit. Pointing to the relatively small number of suspicious deaths reported by local coroners.
Arkansas and Missouri are currently the only states that require nursing homes to report all nursing home deaths to local coroners. In Illinois, it is left to the coroner’s discretion as to investigate the death. Most coroners and medical examiners only investigate nursing home deaths if the family requests they do so or if criminal activity is suspected. Sadly, the failure of the state to implement any laws mandating the report of nursing home deaths will result in countless cases of improper nursing home care–especially cases of nursing home neglect– that will forever go undetected.
Read more about this pilot program for Illinois Nursing Homes here.