Culinary neglect may be rarely discussed, but this type of neglect can be extremely dangerous to nursing home residents. Charlene Harrington, a registered nurse, and professor at the University of California San Francisco stated that “There’s huge under-reporting of food issues.”
Despite this underreporting, they are quite frequent. As nonprofit investigative journalists at FairWarning discovered. Unlike the more obvious signs of physical neglect, culinary neglect is not pursued nearly as often. In the last 21 years, there have been over 230 foodborne outbreaks of disease in a nursing home in America. These outbreaks, not accounting for unreported contaminations, have resulted in the following injuries:
- A minimum of 54 deaths
- Over 532 hospitalizations
- At least 7,648 illnesses
Unlike traditional neglect or abuse that can only affect a few residents at a time, culinary neglect affects every resident who eats food prepared by the nursing home. On December 6, 2018, the Federal Department of Health and Human Services found that 29 residents and 32 staff members at the Pine View Care Center in Black River Falls Wisconsin contracted norovirus as a result of culinary neglect.
While culinary neglect has been recorded as the third most frequently cited violation in 2018, there have been very few meaningful consequences. In fact, despite the fact that 33% of the U.S.’ 15,700 nursing homes were cited for culinary neglect, including failing to adequately store, prepare, or serve food, only 25 citations were cited as a high-level violation.
Since culinary neglect is not as strictly penalized as physical or sexual abuse of residents, some corporations have accumulated an abysmal standard of food care. Genesis HealthCare, the largest for-profit nursing home corporation in the country, had more than 43% of their nursing homes cited for food safety lapses in 2018. That adds up to approximately 172 of their 400 facilities across 27 states.
Of course, there are also some states with poor track records. An infographic provided by FairWarning showed the 15 worst nursing homes in the nation. According to the data, Michigan leads the nation in culinary neglect citations with an astonishing count of 117 while Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina tie for 15th each sporting 29 culinary neglect citations.
How each state moves forward is to be determined by their government, but it is highly advisable that more attention should be paid in nursing homes to the quality of food. If possible, state regulators should seriously consider increasing the penalties for signs of culinary neglect in order to encourage compliance.
For more information about the dangers and potential recovery options after suffering neglect, visit the National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys’ Neglect Page.