A disturbing report based on an investigation last year found that around 22,000 people with serious mental illnesses are in California nursing homes that aren’t equipped to treat or care for them.
According to the report by APM Research Lab, the LAist and The California Newsroom, over half of the residents at nearly 100 of the facilities studied throughout the state suffered from mental illnesses like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. In some, as many as 80% were seriously mentally ill.
To be clear, these are not facilities designed and staffed to care for mentally ill residents. These are nursing homes, defined as “skilled nursing facilities” under federal law that defines them as “not primarily for the care and treatment of mental diseases.” Further, none of the facilities studied have state-certified “special treatment programs” for patients with psychiatric disorders.
Why has this happened?
A number of systematic failures at the state and local levels, not to mention societal failures, have allowed this to occur. Many of these residents stay for months or longer. One reason for the lengthy stays may be that they’re typically younger than other nursing home residents. This also makes them an even greater challenge for staff members who aren’t trained to manage and care for them.
The vast majority of these residents (some 90%) end up in nursing homes because they’re transferred from hospitals. Many have no family or don’t know who or where their family members are.
State agencies like the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and the Department of Health Care Services claim the numbers are smaller than the report found. However, CDPH admits it doesn’t track them.
Why should those with loved ones in nursing homes be concerned?
Besides potentially violating federal Medicaid law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), nursing homes that have residents with serious psychiatric disorders can be dangerous places for their other residents. Nurses and other staff who must spend additional time and resources dealing with these residents can easily neglect other residents.
Further, while many people suffering from mental illness are more of a danger to themselves than others, some can still cause harm to other residents. That’s particularly true for the most vulnerable, like those who are elderly and/or very ill.
If a loved one has suffered neglect or harm at a nursing home (whatever the cause), it’s crucial to first act to ensure their safety and then to seek legal guidance to help get justice and compensation.