Budget cuts mean that some deaths of older Americans are not investigated

We ran across an article on NPR.org — Autopsy Cutbacks Reveal ‘Gray Homicides‘ — by Sandra Bartlett that was particularly disturbing. Bartlett writes that because many medical examiner and coroner offices are not properly staffed and have suffered budget cuts they are no longer performing autopsies on people over the age of 60.

Bartlett says that health care providers and law enforcement tend to assume that people over the age of 60 die of natural causes unless there are dramatic signs of trauma or abuse. She says that investigators are concerned that there is an epidemic of “gray homicides” — murder of our elderly that goes unreported and undetected.

Bartlett’s fine article described a couple of suspicious deaths that occurred at nursing homes. When one 80-year-old patient died, he was buried without an autopsy. Later, his widow got an anonymous phone call from someone at his nursing home that informed her that her husband’s death was as a result of “horrific abuse” at the hands of a nursing home employee. The patient’s body was exhumed and the autopsy showed that he had multiple fractures including to the sternum, larynx, ribs and toes.

The Robin Allen of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office said that there are many deaths of elderly people under “suspicious circumstances.” Allen said that just proving murder or neglect can be more challenging in senior citizens because of underlying health problems but that doesn’t mean their deaths should not be investigated.

Nursing home abuse and neglect can take many forms including physical and emotional abuse, malnutrition and chemical restraint. In Washington State, a vulnerable adult is defined as a person who is 60 years of age or older had livings in a nursing home or long-term facility or does not have the mental, physical or functional ability to care of themselves. State law designates Mandatory Reporters as professionals who are required by law to report if they believe a vulnerable adult is a victim of abuse, abandonment, neglect or financial exploitation. Failure to do so may result in criminal charges.

If one of your loved ones has been seriously injured or died as a result of nursing home staff negligence or abuse, contact The Farber Law Group, a law firm that specializes in nursing home abuse and neglect.

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Contact The Farber Law Group at 1-800-244-9087 or attorney@hgfarber.com to schedule a free and confidential case evaluation. We have offices in Seattle and Bellevue to assist you.