Pennsylvania Nursing Homes Must Report Deaths to Coroners

Pennsylvania Nursing Homes Must Report Deaths to Coroners

A Pennsylvania nurse calling in a nursing home death report

A 2016 PennLive investigation found that 46 Pennsylvania nursing home residents died from poor care and neglect between 2013 and 2015. Last November, PennLive published a follow-up investigation showing evidence that some of Pennsylvania’s most troubled nursing homes haven’t improved their standards of care for the elderly, despite an attorney general’s lawsuit and pledges of tougher oversight by Pennsylvania’s governor.

In Pennsylvania, the current law says only deaths that a nursing home facility deems as outside of natural causes (homicide, suicide or accidents) are required to be reported to county coroners.

After the initial PennLive investigation shed light on these numbers, Scott Grim, Lehigh County coroner and past-president of the International Association of Coroners, said he intends to promote a law change that would require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to report all deaths to coroners, even those due to natural causes. Grim, along with medical examiners, think that his proposal would ensure that deaths in Pennsylvania due to elderly neglect or abuse can’t and won’t slip through the cracks.

Under the new law, nursing homes and assisted living facilities would be required to call their local coroner regardless of the cause of death. Once contacted, a coroner would then ask the nursing home a series of questions about the deceased person such as how they died, their medical history and whether they experienced any trauma before their death. If anything seemed unusual, Grim said, a coroner could then choose to examine the body, review medical records, and conduct a full investigation.

Arkansas and Missouri are the only other states that have laws requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities to report all deaths to their local coroners. Illinois has a similar requirement that applies to all counties except Cook County, according to the Illinois Coroners and Medical Examiners Association. Pennsylvania nursing home industry’s expressed reservations about the adoption of a similar requirement.