Old, frail fall through the cracks in Wash. system

In a series of articles, Seattle Times reporter Michael J. Berens looks at Washington’s adult family homes – legally sanctioned facilities in which the state licenses “homeowners to provide spare bedrooms and care for the old or frail who might otherwise have to live in nursing homes.”

These private residences — called adult family homes — were marketed as opportunities for seniors to live in cozy settings and familiar neighborhoods, close to family and friends, with more freedom and superior care.

The owners were given freedom, as well. To encourage this new industry, the state imposed few regulations — no requirements for a minimum level of employees or even, for many years, liability insurance.

Through interviews with more than 250 people, documents obtained through public-records requests and analysis of computer databases and disciplinary actions, Berens found that “thousands of vulnerable adults have been exploited by profiteers or harmed by amateur caregivers” in the state’s 2,843 adult homes.

The Times uncovered accounts of elderly victims who were imprisoned in their rooms, roped into their beds at night, strapped to chairs during the day so they wouldn’t wander off, drugged into submission or left without proper medical treatment for weeks.

In part two of the project, Berens reports on one home that was cited for numerous serious violations but remained in business. Part three will be published on Tuesday.

More information about how the series was reported and a list of other people involved in the project is included in the “About the series” sidebar.

The Times posted a searchable database of the state’s adult family homes.

Covering the Health of Local Nursing HomesSlim guide:

Covering the Health of Local Nursing Homes

Check out AHCJ’s latest volume in its ongoing Slim Guide series. This reporting guide gives a head start to journalists who want to pursue stories about one of the most vulnerable populations – nursing home residents. It offers advice about Web sites, datasets, research and other resources. After reading this book, journalists can have more confidence in deciphering nursing home inspection reports, interviewing advocacy groups on all sides of an issue, locating key data, and more. The book includes story examples and ideas.

AHCJ publishes these reporting guides, with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, to help journalists understand and accurately report on specific subjects.

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