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Richard Drew / AP

The inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services issued an alert Monday warning of widespread sexual and physical abuse of seniors in nursing homes — and many instances aren't being reported to police or other agencies.

The preliminary results of a larger audit, which will be issued in the next year, found 134 Medicare enrollees who lived in nursing homes from 2015 through 2016 had gone to an emergency room for injuries tied to potential abuse or neglect.

Why it matters: The HHS inspector general does not issue alerts or release preliminary audit results often. But the watchdog agency wanted to push the information out early to prevent similar abuses from happening. "We're horrified by some of the things that we're reading," Curtis Roy, an assistant regional inspector general who directed the audit, told Axios. "There's never an excuse to let anyone suffer from this kind of abuse."

Context: The agency decided to investigate how Medicare beneficiaries were being treated at skilled nursing facilities after reading several CNN reports detailing abuse, watching several YouTube videos that caught offenses, and observing similar situations occur in group homes. The preliminary results, which included two graphic examples, showed many seniors are being raped or abused by both other nursing home residents or staff.

Next steps: The final audit will make formal recommendations. In the meantime, the inspector general's office wants the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to take these steps to improve its procedures:

  • Start matching Medicare claims for emergency room services with claims for nursing home services "to identify instances of potential abuse or neglect."
  • Use its power, granted by the Affordable Care Act, to impose fines or terminate Medicare licenses of nursing homes that allow the behavior to occur or fester. That law has been on the books since 2011, but HHS has not given the OK for Medicare to enforce it yet.

Go deeper

Updated 23 mins ago - World

Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 years in prison

An anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar.Photo: Hkun Lat/Getty Images

A Myanmar court sentenced the country's ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Monday to four years in prison on charges of "inciting public unrest" and breaking COVID-19 protocols, per the New York Times.

Why it matters: It's the first of several verdicts that could result in the 76-year-old Nobel laureate being imprisoned for the rest of her life.

2 hours ago - World

Pope Francis denounces European governments' migrant response

Pope Francis adresses refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis criticized European countries' response to migrants and asylum seekers during his visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday.

Why it matters: The pope said "migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," but little had changed in the global response to displaced peoples since his first visit to Lesbos five years ago, per a transcript of his remarks. "Human lives, real people, are at stake. ... let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"

Chris Cuomo accuser: On-air "hypocrisy" spurred report

Journalist Chris Cuomo. Photo: Gilbert Carrasquillo/GC Images

A woman who accused fired CNN journalist Chris Cuomo of sexual misconduct said Sunday she decided to come forward after learning of his comments about women who made similar accusations about his brother. He denies her allegations.

Why it matters: Her attorney Debra Katz said in a statement that she heard "the hypocrisy" of his on-air words about his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and was "disgusted by his efforts to try to discredit these women," so "retained counsel to report his serious sexual misconduct against her to CNN."