Nursing Home Abuse Bill Sits in Congress, as Elder Abuse Reaches Epidemic Proportions

A <"">nursing home abuse bill, the Elder Justice Act, has been under consideration in Congress for the past five years but has received scant attention and has yet to be passed. Although nursing home and elder abuse are serious and growing problems in this country, the nursing home abuse bill has never even been voted on. While no one in Congress opposes the nursing home abuse legislation, few are trying to push it through the legislative process.

Congressional critics say that the Elder Justice Act has not been passed for a number of reasons that have little to nothing to do with the bill itself. For one thing, Congress has been distracted by the war in Iraq and partisan bickering. But for the most part, they say the Elder Justice Act has been allowed to collect dust because the issue of nursing home abuse has not garnered the kind of media attention it deserves. This past summer, while much of the media was focused on the problems of Paris Hilton and Brittany Spears, Congress held hearings on nursing home abuse. Those hearings were not covered by one major TV news network.

But the issue of nursing home abuse should be getting more attention, just based on the shear numbers of elderly affected by this crime. Though it concedes that the true number is probably much higher, The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates at least one in 20 nursing home patients has been the victim of abuse. According to the National Center’s study, 57% of nurses’ aides working in long-term care facilities admitted to having witnessed, and even participating in, acts of abuse. The report sites systemic problems within the nursing home industry, like inadequate pay for workers and chronic understaffing, as contributing to the epidemic of abuse. There are nearly 1.4 million Americans living in nursing homes right now, and that number is expected to more than double in the next decade. As it does, advocates for the elderly and disabled fear that incidences of abuse will continue to climb as well.

The Elder Justice Act, while not a cure for nursing home abuse, would bolster efforts to combat this crime. The Elder Justice Act would set up separate elderly justice offices in the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, provide $400 million for state adult protective services over four years and create a federal coordinating committee among agencies to monitor and direct the government’s efforts. The bill would also establish forensic centers around the country to probe elderly abuse cases and give local prosecutors more support in bringing cases. And it would penalize nursing homes if they did not report crimes swiftly.

Last year, the Elder Justice Act was finally passed by the Senate Finance Committee, but it was never voted on by the full Senate. Now byzantine Senate rules mean that the nursing home abuse bill will have to go through several more committees before it is up for a vote. And some Senate watchers fear that, with a public more focused on the escapades of Brittany than the problems of the elderly, the Elder Justice Act will never be voted on.

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