Last year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a series of reports on what it called an epidemic of mistreatment and unhealthy conditions at personal home care facilities throughout the state, stemming largely from a lack of oversight by state and local authorities. According to the newspaper, a boom in growth of these facilities combined with a lack of inspectors and ineffective regulation have resulted in increasing abuse of Georgia’s elderly, mentally ill, and disabled citizens.
Throughout the state, approximately 2,000 facilities have been licensed as personal care homes, which provide residents with substantial assistance in their daily activities. About half of these are in metro Atlanta and are capable of housing over 12,000 residents. Personal care homes are typically located in houses in residential neighborhoods, rather than in large commercial facilities. Beyond administering prescription medications, however, they do not provide comprehensive medical care, as a nursing home might.
A number of state agencies are tasked with oversight of these facilities, and in the past there seems to have been poor communication between them. Even without counting the many unlicensed facilities that have been operating in the area, the licensed homes alone have proven too much for the state to oversee, with 100 homes per inspector. An aging population, combined with a push by the federal government to have the mentally ill and disabled taken out of mental hospitals and into normal communities, has increased the need for these personal care homes. The lack of a central, well-funded oversight mechanism, combined with a boom in demand for these homes has created an environment where many unscrupulous individuals have been able to make large profits by taking advantage of the most vulnerable.
An investigation by the AJC has shown appalling conditions in personal care homes throughout the state, and state records show that negligence and abuses in them may have caused the deaths of some seniors. Facilities in Decatur and Cumming racked up 166 and 134 violations, respectively, over a five-year period. Neither had been shut down despite filthy living conditions including a cockroach-infested kitchen in one and eight residents without needed medication in the other. Two resident of the Cumming facility were suffering from urinary tract infections due to sitting in soiled diapers for too long.
In a Jonesboro home, a 56-year-old dementia sufferer wound up in the hospital only three weeks after moving in. He was covered in bruises and suffering from kidney failure and respiratory arrest due to the neglect he had suffered from. Similarly, in a Crabapple facility a resident died after the home did not provide diabetes and heart medication for several days. Other personal care home operators have been convicted of various crimes for essentially stealing the government checks of elderly and mentally ill residents, some of whom were homeless people picked up off the street, then housed in unsanitary and cruel conditions.
Last summer, a new law went into effect in Georgia that increases the penalties for operating unlicensed personal care homes and a new working group of social work agencies and law enforcement was formed to deal with the growing problem of abuses in the homes. One of the major problems the working group will likely have to address is the common problem of residents and their families who have been abused or neglected, but who dare not complain for fear of being evicted with no other place to go. If the state’s most vulnerable citizens cannot safely report homes for substandard care, the efforts of the working group and the state government generally will be significantly hindered.
Our Georgia trial lawyers have seen many cases of nursing home abuse and neglect over the years, and just as nursing homes have been successfully sued for their acts, so too should personal care homes that take advantage of their residents. When staff of these homes have neglected, defrauded, or physically abused their residents, it is often a result of complete indifference on the part of owners, who have not followed state-required procedures or have been careless in hiring employees. If you or a loved one has been harmed by a nursing home or personal care home, our experienced trial lawyers may be able to help you get the compensation you deserve.