INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Attorney General’s Office confirms it received more abuse and neglect complaints from long-term care facilities in 2020 compared to years past.
Long-term care facilities and nursing homes implemented strict procedures and restricted visitation early in the pandemic to try to stop the spread of COVID-19 among the vulnerable populations living there.
Because so many people were separated from their loved ones, many questioned whether there was enough transparency and accountability. Several Hoosiers called CBS4 for help.
Roger Poynter said his mother, Mary Louise, was in a nursing home until August 2020.
“She started falling, losing her balance and getting injured at home, so she couldn’t be at home by herself,” he explained. “She was in there for about three and a half years.”
Poynter said while there were concerns prior to the pandemic, he was able to speak with his mother, in person, every day until the facility halted visitation. That had allowed him to monitor her condition and make sure she was happy. After March, though, Poynter was forced to see her through a window several times a week.
“She hated it even worse,” he said, crying. “She told me several times that she literally felt like she was in a prison not being able to see anyone, not being able to get out having to be confined to your room and not having anyone to help you do things.”
Poynter said his mother took a turn for the worse in August. She slipped into a coma and died a few days later.
“I just prayed to God that He would take her,” Poynter said, explaining how unhappy his mother was. “And He did.”
CBS4 obtained data from the Indiana Attorney General’s Office that showed there was an increase in abuse and neglect complaints in July 2019 and a surge in filings in 2020. Matthew Whitmire, who works in the AGO’s consumer complaint division, said most of the complaints had to do with COVID-19 and a lack of personal protective equipment.
Whitmire confirmed that at the end of 2020, his office had received 17% more complaints than years prior. Most were filed in March and April.
“We’re also seeing complaints about the regular types of injuries that we see in nursing homes, unfortunately, regarding falls or lack of eating,” he explained. “It doesn’t really surprise me. A lot of people are very concerned about loved ones, that they’re not seeing their loved ones. When they do see them, they see things that concern them, so they want to reach out to someone to seek help, to seek input on what they can do at that point.”
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office has about 20 investigators that review the complaints. First, they determine whether the complaint is criminal in nature. If it is, an investigator will go into the facility immediately. If the complaint is not criminal in nature, the AGO will contact the Indiana State Department of Health for assistance.
Poynter questions whether that is enough.
“I know this pandemic is serious, but they have to come up with something better,” he pleaded. “It not only takes a toll on the people that are in there, but the people and everyone else that are outside as well.”
CBS4 reached out to the Indiana Health Care Association as well. Zach Cattell, president of the IHCA, said his agency has also received quite a few phone calls over the past year.
“Our message to loved ones is to continue to communicate with the leadership of the facilities,” he advised. “Make sure they are aware of your desires to continue communication with your family member in a nursing facility.”
Cattell said the amount of inspections statewide has increased but for now, the Indiana State Department of Health and Federal Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services are focusing on infection control.
He pointed to a different set of data from CMS, which indicate Indiana has had a similar amount of abuse and neglect complaints as other states in the Midwest. Still, according to that agency, Indiana has had the third-highest amount of complaints filed regionally for the past several years.
In February, officials announced they would allow compassion visits for some facilities. Then they said visitors could go inside nursing homes again.
“Really, it’s terrible. It’s horrible,” Poynter said. “It’s an empty feeling.”