Newspaper Reports Shine Harsh Light on Nursing Home Crime in Minnesota

Hundreds of assaults, rapes and robberies take place at senior care centers in Minnesota, and state regulators lack the expertise and staff to investigate them, according to a series by the Star Tribune.

The Minnesota Department of Health received 25,226 allegations of neglect, physical abuse, unexplained serious injuries, and thefts within state-licensed homes for the elderly, 97% of which were never investigated, the Star Tribune found.

The allegations include 2,025 claims of physical or emotional abuse by staff, 4,100 reports of altercations between residents and 300 reported drug thefts.

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In one case, when a resident was sexually assaulted by a male caregiver, supervisors at the assisted-living complex Heritage House waited almost two hours to call police, according to the newspaper. The resident’s family did not find out about the assault until almost a year after her death.

In the past five years, Minnesota has only revoked the licenses of two nursing homes. The state currently licenses almost 1,800 residential senior care facilities and spends more than $1 billion annually in Medicaid funds for senior care.

Minnesota’s Health Department uses a triage system to sort complaints and deal with the most serious ones first. But federal auditors from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have cited the state for incorrectly labeling complaints as “non-urgent” and said the agency fails to notify victims about their findings.

CMS revealed almost two dozen allegations of serious harm and criminal abuse that the Health Department received and never investigated, audits obtained by Star Tribune showed.

The federal auditors also found that Minnesota’s Health Department failed to meet mandatory federal deadlines for responding to complaints of abuse and neglect for 10 of the past 12 years. In some cases the department takes up to two months to respond to allegations of severe maltreatment.

Representatives of the senior care industry have called on the state to be more transparent in its investigations, as well as for more consistency on handling claims of abuse. Though nursing homes have to submit written action plans to fix violations, home care and assisted living providers do not.

“If you keep throwing money at an agency that has systemic issues, then you’re not getting at the root cause of why there are so many delays and problems that are not getting fixed,” Patti Cullen, president and chief executive of Care Providers of Minnesota, an association that represents the senior care industry, told Star Tribune.

Written by Maggie Flynn

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