Kansas is one of 10 judicial districts nationwide selected to form units to crack down on nursing homes providing “grossly substandard” care, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.
The Elder Justice Task Forces will unite prosecutors, law enforcement and agencies serving the elderly in a coordinated effort to go after nursing homes that fail to meet federal health and safety standards.
Barry Grissom, the U.S. Attorney for Kansas, said he already has one investigation underway and he expects it to yield an indictment soon.
“I can’t comment on the investigation,” Grissom said in a telephone interview. “But the purpose of letting that information be known is that this isn't something that's new to us, that we have been in the past and continue to be involved in prosecutions of this nature.”
Grissom said the Kansas task force, which will include federal agencies as well as the Kansas Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, will coordinate “so that we're not going in a hundred different ways but we've got a coordinated game plan that we're systematically going after folks that we believe are violating the rights of elder persons.”
He said Kansas competed with other federal judicial districts – there are 93 nationwide – to be selected based on the state’s experience prosecuting elder abuse cases.
“The work that we've done with our investigators, both federal as well as state investigators and our prosecutors – the experience that they've had and successes that they've had – we seemed to fit exactly what they're looking for.”
The National Center on Elder Abuse says there are no hard numbers on how many people suffer from elder abuse and neglect, but it cites recent major studies reporting 7.6 percent to 10 percent of study participants experienced abuse in the prior year. Those figures don’t include financial abuse. The center cites another study estimating that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse is reported to authorities.
The task forces are part of a larger Justice Department initiative aimed at coordinating law enforcement and policies focused on elder justice.
Besides Kansas, other task forces are being created in California, Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania,, Tennessee and Washington.
Grissom urged people who believe family members or neighbors have been abused or neglected in nursing homes to call authorities.
“That will help us start a more intensive investigation as to what the circumstances are surrounding the complaints that someone might have,” he said. “It may be nothing, but by the same token you might be saving an older person from a world of pain and hurt.”
Dan Margolies, editor of the Heartland Health Monitor team, is based at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.