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Hospice Elder Abuse in California

Hospice is an essential service that provides end-of-life care for individuals and families in California and throughout the US. Many families simply cannot handle this process by themselves, nor should they have to. Unfortunately, there are times when those receiving Hospice care are abused by their caretakers. This type of abuse is abhorrent, and it should never occur. Here, we want to discuss what Hospice care is as well as the causes of Hospice elder abuse and neglect.

What is Hospice Care?

Hospice care is also called palliative end-of-life care, and this is a term used to describe the care and help that a person receives when they are determined to be terminal and in their last days of life. Hospice services can provide comfort and solace to a patient and their family members by supplying knowledgeable expertise and compassionate healthcare. Hospice care can be conducted out of a nursing home or assisted living facility, and it can also be done in a person’s home.

Causes of Hospice Elder Abuse & Neglect

As the population of California continues to increase, Hospice care is becoming more and more important. However, a recent Los Angeles Times investigation and story uncovered hundreds of instances where California patients were harmed or neglected through the mistreatment of Hospice caregivers.

In their story, the Los Angeles Times documented many stories of Hospice neglect. Some of the causes of Hospice elder abuse and neglect included nurses and home health aides missing appointments or even falling asleep on the job while the patients were in pain.

Hospice Oversight in California

The Times investigation found that even after regulators identified Hospice failures, providers were rarely penalized. The reality is that Hospice services are not nearly as rigorously regulated as other healthcare industries. Nursing homes and hospitals are subjected to a range of civil enforcement actions and potential fines if they violate rules and regulations. However, Hospice regulations do not have penalties or civil actions. Usually, violations result in only a promise from the negligent Hospice provider that they will do better in the future.

Hospices only have to be inspected once every three years according to Medicare regulations. For some perspective about how inadequate this is, Medicare requires nursing homes to be inspected annually. According to Charlene Harrington, a UC San Francisco nursing professor emeritus, “Really, the enforcement is still pathetic.” Harrington previously worked with the California Department of Public Health, an agency that regulates hospices within the state.

Harrington went on to say that there is no way to catch every violation with only one visit every three years. Additionally, she stated that with no penalties and with the Hospice service providers knowing that they will not be checked back on for three more years, there is no deterrent from continuing abusive or neglectful behavior.

How Can I Protect My Loved One Against Hospice Fraud and Neglect?

There are various ways that family members can help protect their loved ones from Hospice fraud and neglect. First, when a person is at the end stages of their life, it is strongly recommended that their family members become involved with their continued care. Simple involvement may often be enough to ensure that Hospice caretakers do their jobs appropriately. Additionally, the following steps should be taken:

  • Ensuring that the Hospice is properly accredited
  • Checking the longevity of the Hospice provider in question
  • Looking at the Medicare tool that compares Hospice providers based on inspections, staffing, and quality of resident care