In 1997, over one million seniors, ages 65 and over, lived in nursing homes. It is predicted that by 2030, over three million people will be utilizing nursing home care. The federal government estimates that 43 percent of all Americans may require some form of nursing home assistance.

Nursing home abuse and neglect have continually been recognized as epidemic in our society. In order to reduce victimization of the more vulnerable members of our communities, state officials must have effective procedures, sufficient manpower and adequately trained investigators, or the problem will never go away.

Each state has a recognized watchdog agency established for the special mission of ensuring that all nursing home residents receive quality care and live in physically and mentally safe environments. For Texans, that agency is the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (DADS), telephone 512-438-3011.

Earlier this year, DADS announced its intention to more proactively investigate the 1,500 nursing homes throughout the state of Texas. This announcement came on the eve of a San Antonio Express-News exposé regarding nursing home resident maltreatment. The Express news’ article cited DADS for failure to comply with state regulations and statutes on death reporting and failure to conduct timely investigations of abuse and neglect complaints.

While the agency has a track record of completing investigations and shutting down inadequate facilities, DADS’ ability to quickly respond to the thousands of nursing home complaints filed annually is difficult. According to DADS, many of the 316 investigators who inspect and investigate Texas’ nursing homes are medical professionals in high demand. Nearly 25 percent of DADS’ investigators left the agency’s during last fiscal year to pursue other opportunities. In an attempt to try to combat this staffing issue, DADS announced plans to hire to 35 more investigators and create special teams to improve response times. Understandably, staffing may be only one change that needs to take place to improve the agency’s ability to protect seniors.

In 2009, DADS investigated 16,200 complaints. Only 20 percent were found to be substantiated. While delays in initiating investigations could have contributed to these results, lack of documentation ultimately hurt these cases.

In order for DADS to successfully fulfill its mission, community and professional support are necessary. Caregivers, family members and friends should learn to recognize the signs of abuse. When abuse is suspected, complaints should be filed. Also, mandatory reporters should be educated and understand their statutory obligations to report and properly document incidents of suspected abuse.

If you suspect that a loved one is a victim of elder abuse or nursing home neglect, contact an experienced personal injury attorney to find out what can be done to protect your loved one’s rights.