The plight of elderly Americans has been a top concern of the Center for a Just Society since our inception in 2005, and as senior citizens comprise an ever increasing percentage of our nation's population, the need is greater than ever to draw attention to a little discussed, little known epidemic in American health care. According to a new study released this month by the American Association for Justice (AAJ), eldercare abuse in America has escalated from a shameful problem to a full-blown humanitarian crisis. As the report illustrates, our nation's looming demographic boom will pose more than a financial challenge for our society – it will pose a moral challenge that is just as important: What kind of care and treatment does our society consider appropriate for its most vulnerable members?
As an attorney I have spent decades representing elderly men and women who have endured unspeakable abuse and neglect in nursing homes. Often, these conditions were so reprehensible and so degrading that – were they unearthed at daycare centers or even federal penitentiaries – members of Congress and the media would be crusading for reform. The AAJ's report is rife with illustrations: A nursing home resident whose leg was amputated after becoming infested with maggots; an Alzheimer's patient who died trapped in a freezer; a Florida nursing home resident who suffered from multiple falls, severe weight loss, multiple pressure sores, infections, dehydration, and eventually death by starvation; patients at a home in Illinois who were given antipsychotic drug injections "assembly-line style" as a means of "chemical restraint;" and an elderly nursing home resident who was sexually assaulted in the middle of the night at the hands of an orderly who was an ex-con.
If something major doesn't change, and change soon, this is the kind of fate that awaits multitudes of Americans expected to join the ranks of the institutionalized elderly in the coming decades.