OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Attorney General Drew Edmondson says Oklahoma district attorneys and judges need a ``heightened awareness'' of suspected abuse and neglect of nursing home residents.
Edmondson also says state prosecutors should be more aggressive in prosecuting those cases. Criminal charges filed in nursing home abuse cases often don't cover all the crimes, Edmondson said in an interview published in Saturday's editions of The Daily Oklahoman.
Edmondson said ``consciousness raising'' is particularly needed for law enforcement officials so that Oklahoma's system of 400 long-term care facilities ``never returns'' to the days when nursing home deficiencies were downplayed and family complaints ignored.
Nursing home advocate Wes Bledsoe has proposed a new four-part ``death review'' system for Oklahoma. Bledsoe, president of ``A Perfect Cause,'' said all nursing home deaths should be investigated.
Current law requires that unattended deaths or deaths not from natural causes be reported to the Oklahoma medical examiner's office. Under the Bledsoe plan, a medical examiner's representative would determine if the nursing home death was suspicious and possibly related to abuse or neglect.
If questions are raised about deficient care, an autopsy would be performed on the deceased resident and, concurrently, all residents of that nursing home would be given physical examinations and have their medical charts scrutinized.
The fourth element of Bledsoe's proposal calls for increased probes by law enforcement agencies of ``certain nursing home owners for patterns of willful neglect resulting in death.''
Nursing home workers could be prosecuted for first- or second-degree manslaughter, according to Bledsoe.
Edmondson said the death review system ``is worthy of legislative consideration and hearings.''
But the Nursing Home Association of Oklahoma has serious concerns about the need for a brand-new approach to evaluating nursing home deaths.
``We support death review boards _ if family members and other eldercare providers are held accountable, too,'' said association President Kelly Hardin of Enid.
Instances of so-called ``granny dumping'' plague nursing homes when senior citizens are left alone in a nursing home and never visited by relatives or friends, Hardin said.
``I believe people can die of a broken heart because I've seen it. Loneliness and abandonment should be considered just as preventable as other causes of death,'' he said.
Each year, more than 7,000 residents die in state nursing homes.
Ray Blakeney, spokesman for the state medical examiner's office in Oklahoma City, said any plan requiring a review of every nursing home death would create an overwhelming caseload for his agency's staff, and would require more staff.