Review Finds 24 Deaths at Wisconsin Nursing Homes

December 10, 2014

At least 24 assisted-living residents in Wisconsin’s 15 largest counties died and dozens more were injured following mistakes or mistreatment by caregivers in 2012 and 2013, according to a Gannett Wisconsin Media Investigative Team review.

The report found at least 94 other residents were hospitalized or received emergency room care for broken bones, bed sores and other injuries or illnesses due to mistakes or mistreatment within the same period. Advocates say the findings show the assisted living industry isn’t prepared to handle an influx of older and sicker residents.

Catherine Hawes, the director of Texas A&M’s program on aging and long-term care policy, told Press-Gazette Media that a “ticking time bomb” has been created at stressed facilities due to a shift in the industry and low standards of care.

“It’s the potential for disaster. It’s a miracle when disaster doesn’t happen,” said Hawes, who co-authored a national study on assisted living care for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

But those in charge of assisted living facilities say accidental deaths and injuries are uncommon and that the incidents don’t reflect the quality of care provided by the industry as a whole.

A report conducted by the state Department of Health Services determined 9 percent of the 3,484 facilities were penalized last year.

“Taking an infinitesimal number of events and presumably holding these up as representative of the provider community is not only a disservice … but needlessly causes fear and anxiety,” Wisconsin Center of Assisted Living Executive Director Brian Purtell said.

Wisconsin officials plan to look into the media group’s findings, but say it’s unclear whether they illustrate a statewide or industry-wide problem.

“Is it safe? Yes, I can say it’s safe,” but you (the media group) have identified some issues that will be followed up on and are being followed up on,” said Otis Woods, administrator for the state division of quality assurance.

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