Washington, D.C.- A story, appearing in USA Today last week, which focused on rampant theft of nursing home trusts funds has caught the attention of federal lawmakers who are pushing for a review of federal regulations with the aim of better protecting residents from fraud and theft.
The USA Today story found that thousands of nursing home residents had their trust funds raided by unscrupulous employees who used the funds for their personal expenses. The newspaper profiled several individuals responsible for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from trust funds.
After reading that report, Sen. Bill Nelson (D.-FL) asked the Senate Committee on Aging to determine if there is enough oversight to protect nursing home residents from this type of theft. Sen. Nelson asked the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services to look into whether additional oversight can prevent this widespread financial exploitation of nursing home residents.
Nursing home residents can request that the facility in which they are living handled their finances. The trust funds are operated much like and back account with regular statements and accrued interest. This is especially beneficial for patients who suffer from dementia and other cognitive disorders and are unable to handle their finances.
USA Today found close to 1,500 cases where patient trust funds were plundered for millions of dollars, typically by a facility’s administrative staff or their accounts were mishandled.
Sen. Nelson asked the Department of Health and Human Services to see whether further regulations or oversight can prevent this type of financial abuse. He also asked the inspector general to make recommendations for “corrective actions on any shortcomings.”
Federal regulations do not require that these trust funds be audited regularly, though some states do. A broad requirement for regular audits could in all likelihood reduce theft. Additionally, while staff members who directly deal with nursing home residents typically have to pass criminal background checks, those who work in administrative offices do not face the same scrutiny.
“It’s difficult not to conclude that there are insufficient safeguards in this nursing home trust fund system,” Nelson said.
The American Health Care Association, the largest organization representing nursing homes, told USA Today they did not hear of many cases trust fund theft, but said there should be more oversight.
“We support continued efforts to strengthen the regulations and oversight that can prevent bad actors from exploiting the frail and elderly,” the association said.
All patient trust funds are insured so when a resident has their money stolen they can recover those funds, but they still suffer from emotional harm. How can they continue to trust a facility when they have been robbed?
Financial exploitation is just one of the abuses some nursing home residents or the elderly face. This exploitation is not exclusive to nursing homes and some seniors find that their family members or other trusted individuals take advantage of them for their money and sometime rob them of their life savings.