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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published March 23 2009

North Dakota nursing homes see shift

More residents younger than 65, but violence among them rare

BISMARCK – An increasing number of North Dakota nursing home residents are younger than 65, records show. But officials said violent assaults among young and middle-age people in the state’s nursing homes are rare.

North Dakota’s nursing home population dropped from 6,092 in 2002 to 5,722 in 2008, records show. At the same time, the population of nursing home residents ages 22 through 64 with serious mental illnesses increased from 213 to 299.

Numbers obtained nationally by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act show nearly 125,000 young and middle-age adults with serious mental illness lived in U.S. nursing homes last year, a 41 percent increase from 2002. The increases were the largest in Utah, Nevada, Missouri, Alabama and Texas.

Joan Ehrhardt, the long-term care ombudsman at the North Dakota Human Services Department, said the spike the number of younger mentally ill people in nursing homes likely is the result of increased federal Medicaid services and more frequent diagnoses of mental illness.

She also said younger mentally ill nursing home residents are typically there for other medical reasons, such as diabetes or the result of motor vehicle accidents.

Linda Wright, North Dakota’s Aging Services Division director, who has been with the agency 18 years, recalled only one case of a younger mentally ill person involved in an assault at a nursing home.

“The man in his 40s had a traumatic brain injury and was groping women at the facility,” Wright said. “He was moved to a facility in Minnesota that was more able to care for him.”

Wright said the state handles about 1,000 complaints annually from nursing home residents or their families about care.

“It’s rarely about physical attacks, but more about issues like residents’ right to privacy or about people not getting proper nutrition, which usually is because they don’t like the food,” Wright said.

In fiscal 2008, Wright’s agency fielded 1,091 complaints. Only five involved physical assaults. None involved a resident younger than 65, she said.

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