Hospice facilities are meant to provide ease and comfort in the final period of life, once the possibility for wellness is gone. They provide emotional and spiritual support for patients, along with palliative care. Unfortunately, the federal government recently reported care deficiencies at 87% of all hospices — and 20% were cited with deficiencies serious enough to endanger a patient.
The Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General recently issued two reports, which represent the federal government’s first attempt to gauge the safety and legal compliance of hospices in the U.S.
Unfortunately, one of the things the reports concluded was that it is too difficult for patients and families to tell which hospices have been cited for care and safety problems. Moreover, the agency that runs many hospices in the U.S., the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), has few options to intervene with hospices fail their patients.
CMS operates a website called Hospice Compare, but the site doesn’t provide information about previous citations that would allow consumers to compare hospices adequately. That said, in response to the two reports, it has agreed to begin adding consumer feedback to the site.
And, CMS lacks the authority to assess fines against noncompliant hospices, although it can drop them from Medicare if the problems are serious enough.
Examples of problems at hospice facilities
In its report, NPR highlighted two cases of neglect or wrongful conduct at hospices. In one, a patient had untreated bed sores on each heel. They rapidly worsened until the patient developed gangrene and had to have a leg amputated.
Bed sores, also known as pressure ulcers, are entirely preventable and are a common sign of patient neglect.
In another case, an 85-year-old man was admitted to a residential care facility to recuperate from a bout with pneumonia that had hospitalized him. The man had chronic lung disease but had been living independently. Then, without consulting the family, the care facility began providing hospice services — including subscriptions for morphine and Ativan.
“His whole physicality and mental capacity was completely altered,” his daughter told NPR. Her father died a couple of days later.
Anytime a healthcare facility cares for a vulnerable person, there is a chance for neglect or abuse to occur. CMS needs to provide consumers with the information they need to find out whether a facility they are considering has been cited for serious care issues.
If your loved one has been harmed in a hospice, nursing home or another care facility, contact an attorney experienced in neglect and abuse cases.