Federal regulators have given staff and managers at the Hancock Geriatric Center at the Eastern State Hospital in Williamsburg, Virginia (VA), until the end of September to correct a rash of problems that officials believe led to at least one patient’s suicide and numerous serious slips and falls. If immediate action is not taken, the two-year-old residential psychiatric hospital may lose its funding from the federal Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.

Hancock has already conditionally lost its CMS certification, and the facility must dramatically improve its staffing, patient monitoring and employee oversight if it hopes to once again be eligible to receive payments from federal health insurance programs. Problems identified at Hancock, and reported in the September 14, 2010, Virginian-Pilot, include the following:

  • A one out of five rating on care quality, largely for failing to “protect patients from injury and abuse.”
  • More than 80 “critical incidences” in which a patient’s life was put in danger; many of the incidents were slips and falls.
  • At least one patient suffering irreversible brain damage after a fall suffered because staff did not offer enough mobility support.
  • Repeated physical abuse of patients observed by staff but unpunished by managers.
  • Understaffing nursing stations and duty shifts.

The CMS inspectors’ reports paint a truly nightmarish picture of conditions at Hancock. Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel, MD, agrees that have been problems at the hospital opened in 2008 to care for seniors with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other mental illnesses. Hazel also assured state lawmakers that conditions were improving and problems were being solved.

I hope for every Hancock patient’s sake, and the sake of their families, that Hazel is right. Neglect and abuse of nursing home patients creates more than health problems. It makes many patients’ last days their worst. It makes family members question their ability to protect and provide proper care for loved ones when they are at their most vulnerable. It too often leads to early, preventable death.

Every patient deserve the best care possible. This is true in doctors’ offices, clinics, hospitals and nursing homes. Let’s all hope it is soon true at the Hancock Geriatric Treatment Center.