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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

Tech dominates highest paying pandemic internships list

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

In the past year as the pandemic raged on, some of the world's most valuable companies continued to grow and compensate their workers well above national medians – interns included.

Driving the news: Workplace review platform Glassdoor published its 2021 report today on the 25 highest paying U.S. internships.

Biden on Afghanistan: "It is time to end America’s longest war"

Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images

President Biden will say in a speech Wednesday that it's "time to end America’s longest war," as he sets out plans to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, according to prepared remarks.

Driving the news: "I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth," Biden will say. "It is time for American troops to come home."

Bernie Madoff dies in prison at 82

Photo: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Bernie Madoff, a former investor sentenced to 150 years in prison for perpetrating the largest Ponzi scheme in U.S. history, died Wednesday at age 82, AP reports.

The big picture: Madoff pleaded guilty in 2009 to a multibillion-dollar scheme that investigators said began in the 1970s and defrauded as many as 37,000 people in 136 countries — including high-profile victims like Steven Spielberg, former New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon and actor Kevin Bacon, according to CNBC.