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How To Look Up Records Of Complaints, Investigations In A Missouri Nursing Home

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File photo, Horia Varlan
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(Photo credit: Horia Varlen, via Flickr)

Dementia, by definition according to the National Institutes of Health, is the loss of thinking, remembering, and reasoning to the point that it interferes with a person’s daily activities.  Some types of dementia include Alzheimer’s Disease, Lewy Body Dementia, and vascular dementia.  

All this week, at 7:45 AM and 4:44 PM, our Sense of Community series, Dementia in the Ozarks, is diving into this topic from a local perspective.

Today, we begin by asking:   Who—and what—are preventing neglect and abuse in Missouri’s memory wards in nursing homes? Are the watchdog’s teeth sharp enough, and how can ordinary citizens look up the track record of a particular nursing home?  Let’s dive in.  

‘A population that is often targeted’

“They are a very vulnerable population and they are a population that is often targeted for various types of abuse: physical, sexual, emotional,” said Dr. Ruth Walker, a professor of psychology at Missouri State University who specializes in aging.

She said there are several factors contributing to abuse in Missouri’s nursing homes.

“We just don't have the money. We don't have the training. We don't have the ability to fix those things without money,” she said.

Last year, news broke that about half of nearly 92,000 calls to Missouri’s hotline to report abuse of the elderly went unanswered, according to state records.  From January to April of 2019, only about 39 percent of calls to the Missouri Elder Abuse Hotline were answered, according to records obtained by The Columbia Missourian and the NPR station in Columbia, KBIA.

That prompted Missouri’s Attorney General to investigate, which led to a new online reporting portal.

Walker said abuse remains—and a big part of the problem comes down to state and federal funding.

“And so how can we fix a problem if we can't even respond when someone is calling in? And we have a lot of really amazing people working for adult protective services, doing as much as they possibly can. It's not the problem with the people who are working there. It's that we need more of them,” Walker said.

High turnover rates among staff and a shortage of specially-trained staff also factor into the abuse, she said.

And when it comes to sexual abuse, there’s a misperception that sexual abuse is tied to attraction—whereas it’s actually based on power and control, Walker said. The abuser seeks power over his or her victim, and elderly residents with cognitive impairment are an extremely vulnerable target.

How to look up complaints, investigations in Missouri

Here’s how Missourians can look up the track record of complaints—including specific details of alleged abuse and the notes from state investigations—at long-term care facilities:

  1. Go to the website:  https://healthapps.dhss.mo.gov/showmeltc/default.aspx.  
  2. Search for the facility by county, city, or Zip code, and select “Show Me Results!” 
  3. Click on “Select” next to the facility you want to learn more about.
  4. Click on “POC,” or “Plan of Correction” to see the specific investigation results and what the facility pledged to do to correct any shortcomings.

Licensed long-term care facilities are required to publicly post their most recent inspection results in a location readily accessible to residents and the public.
You can ask any nursing home for their Statements of Deficiencies and Plans of Corrections – including those that haven’t yet been posted to DHSS’s website.

If you can’t get those records from the nursing home, you can contact DHSS’s Custodian of Records at 573-522-1516 or Karen.Otto@health.mo.gov.

On the federal level, the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has a website that allows people to compare nursing homes based on various criteria:  https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/search.html?

How complaints and inspections are carried out

If the alleged victim lives in a long-term care facility, then state statute outlines how the state will investigate a complaint.

Additionally, the state inspects long-term care facilities twice a fiscal year.

If a facility is not up to standards, it is issued a Statement of Deficiency (SOD), and required to submit a Plan of Correction (POC) outlining how the problem will be addressed.

If the facility fails to follow that plan, it may face financial penalties imposed by the state and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to the DHSS website.

Ombudsman program

Missouri has a network of volunteers and 15 regional ombudsmen who go into nursing homes unannounced to talk with residents and hear their concerns. In Springfield, that ombdudsman is coordinated through the Council of Churches of the Ozarks. The number to call for more information in Springfield is 417-862-3598.

The coronavirus pandemic has served as a reminder how dementia presents unique challenges to investigating—whether that’s investigating abuse or contact tracing a virus.  That’s in part because people with dementia sometimes can’t remember specific details of a scenario.

And when it comes to reporting abuse, Dr. Ruth Walker says people with dementia often aren’t taken seriously—even when they do remember accurately.