Brain Injured in Nursing Homes Without the Care Giffords Had

Larry Boswell sat slumped in a wheelchair. His sweatpants were soiled, his T-shirt soaked in saliva. Flies buzzed around his head

He was able to walk when he arrived at Illinois’ Cobden Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in 2008, government records show, something he can’t manage now. Speech therapy for the 57- year-old ended shortly after he was admitted, according to a lawyer trying to persuade Medicaid to transfer him.

While much of what Boswell says is incomprehensible, he managed a clear “no” when asked if he wanted to stay where he was. Cobden officials didn’t respond to telephone calls.

Boswell is one of nearly 244,000 brain-injured people consigned to nursing homes, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from U.S. Medicare and Medicaid statistics. He’s also on the front line in a national battle to get people like him out of facilities that aren’t equipped to care for them.

“People used to be put away in state hospitals and state developmental centers,” said Steven Schwartz, a lawyer who filed a class-action lawsuit to force Massachusetts to provide alternatives to nursing homes for the brain-injured, and won a settlement that’s still being implemented. “Now people with brain injuries are warehoused and put away in nursing homes.”

Over 4 million brain-injured Americans — including victims of car accidents, assaults, strokes and falls — suffer from long-term disabilities that require specialized therapies. They are sometimes neglected in institutions designed for geriatric care, not for the treatment they need. In some cases, they’re in facilities with low scores from a U.S. agency that grades nursing homes on quality, cleanliness and other measures.

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