Suspicious Senior Deaths Often Go Uninvestigated

Shoddy practices, lack of standards create 'hidden scandal': ProPublica
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2011 2:51 PM CST
A ProPublica investigation suggests that the deaths of seniors aren't getting the attention they should.   (Shutterstock)

(Newser) – Too many suspicious deaths of senior citizens go uninvestigated because the nation's coroner and medical examiner's offices don't have the money, time, or inclination to look into them, reports ProPublica. It found about 40 cases in which alleged neglect, abuse, or possibly murder went undetected until whistleblowers brought attention to them, sometimes after burial. One health policy researcher describes it as a "hidden national scandal."

One stat behind the problem: The percentage of autopsies on US seniors dropped from 37 to 17 between 1972 and 2007. Coroners will frequently write off a senior's death to natural causes because the treating physician declared it to be so, but those doctors routinely miss the real cause of death, particularly in nursing home patients. "Sometimes, if I don't want to sleep at night, I think about all the cases that we miss," says a Colorado coroner. "I'm afraid we're not looking very hard." Read the full piece here, which includes a look at how Arkansas is leading the way in change. (Read more elder abuse stories.)

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