According to the Florida Health Care Association, one in five Florida residents is aged 65 or older. By 2030, the FHCA estimates this number to be one out of every four. Currently, about 71,000 residents live in long term care facilities. Over the next several years, this number will continue to grow.
Placing a loved one in a long term care facility is a difficult decision; one that many families agonize over. When a family finally decides to place a loved one in a long term care facility or nursing home, they do so with the hope that their family member will receive the highest level of care. Sadly, that is not always the case. Recent reports show that there were nearly 200,000 cases of reported neglect, abuse, or exploitation across the United States in one year alone. If you suspect your loved one is the victim of abuse or neglect, you have rights that a nursing home abuse lawyer at the Dolman Law Group can help you address.
The personal injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group can help you find a safe place for your loved one and hold the abusers accountable. Seek legal counsel right away. Contact Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman at (727) 451-6900 for a free consultation.
Abuse and Neglect in Florida’s Nursing Homes
Elderly adults are one of the most vulnerable populations in Clearwater. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately one in ten adults age 60 and over have been the victim of abuse. This is an alarming statistic. If your loved one has suffered from someone’s abuse or negligence it can be difficult to understand. Knowing what qualifies as abuse may help you recognize when something is wrong. Common forms of elderly abuse include:
When most people hear the word abuse, they associate the term with physical abuse. This is likely because the signs of this type of abuse are easily visible. Physical abuse can lead to bruising, lacerations, and unusual marks. In more serious cases, physical abuse can cause broken bones, hemorrhaging, or even death.
But while signs may be visible, perpetrators often know how to hide the signs of abuse. Often, it’s not until someone notices unusual trips to the hospital or a change in behavior that the abuse comes to light. Physical abuse may include:
Emotional abuse is not as easy to detect as physical abuse. In fact, the abusers, and often the victims, can be very good at hiding the signs of emotional abuse. Understanding what qualifies as emotional abuse is the key to understanding the abuse and recognizing it. While emotional abuse comes in many forms, it usually involves emotional manipulation of the victim. This can be achieved by berating, humiliation, or name-calling. Other examples include:
- Withholding affection
- Unnecessary or inappropriate punishment
- Intentional humiliation
Sexual abuse is the least common type of abuse for older adults. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, sexual abuse is more likely to occur in an institutional setting like a nursing home than in any other place. Sexual abuse happens any time there is intentional, unwanted contact from another person. Abuse can happen both when a person outwardly denies advances or when they are unable to do so. In a long term care setting, a member of the staff should never engage in sexual activity with a resident.
When we think about abuse, we don’t often consider financial abuse. However, financial abuse accounts for approximately 12 percent of all abuse and neglect cases. Financial abuse happens when a person with access to an elderly adult’s finances improperly controls those finances. This may include:
- Theft of money or valuables
- Bribery or exploitation
Nursing homes are responsible for providing a minimum level of care. When they fail to meet these standards, they may be guilty of neglect. Signs of neglect are not always obvious. This is because neglect involves the withholding of care or services, rather than intentional infliction of abuse. The neglect may happen because of a lack of staffing, poor training, punishment or abuse. The effects of neglect are just as serious as abuse and any suspected abuse should be reported right away. Neglect may include:
- Missed or improper medication
- Missed meals
- Poor security
- Improper safety procedures
- Poor sanitation
Common Signs of Abuse or Neglect
We don’t expect our loved one to be the victim of abuse or neglect, so we may not think to look for signs of abuse or neglect. However, understanding how prevalent elder abuse is can help you be vigilant in noticing anything unusual. Some of the things to look out for include:
Unusual marks or bruises. If your loved one has unexplained bruises or marks on their body, it may be a sign of abuse. Marks can be a sign of physical abuse and should not be ignored.
Excessive or unexplained doctor visits. If you have noticed an unusual spike in the number of times your loved one goes to the doctor or are unable to get a good reason for their doctor visits, this may be cause for concern. Watch for reports of falls, broken bones, or head injuries. Unexplained weight loss could signal neglect.
An increase in infections. Infections can be a sign that there is something wrong. They could signal an untreated bedsore, poor medical management, or even sexual assault.
Withdrawal or change in mood. Abuse affects people in different ways. For many people, they are embarrassed or ashamed to report the abuse. When abuse happens, they may withdraw, become depressed, or show signs of anger. If you notice a sudden change in your loved one with no reasonable explanation, you should look into the matter further.
Residents at Risk
Sadly, those who are most at risk are those who are unable to report the abuse or do anything to stop it. This may include elderly adults with dementia or physical limitations that prevent them from being able to stop the abuse. Additionally, abusers may prey on residents who are isolated or lack a support system. If you can, try to visit your loved one regularly and connect with the care providers at the facility. Monitor any changes in their physical appearance, mood, or financial situation.
What to Do if You Suspect Abuse
Never ignore signs of abuse. If you suspect something is wrong, there’s a good chance you’re right. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s always a good idea to follow your instinct. The steps you should take include:
- Move your loved one: If you suspect abuse or neglect, the first thing you want to do is remove them from the situation. Your loved one’s safety is the number one priority. This may mean that you need to take your family member home or move them to another care facility.
- Report the abuse: It’s not enough to just move your loved one. If you suspect abuse, contact Adult Protective Services. You do not need proof to file a report. The state will investigate your claim and take necessary action. By reporting the abuse you hold the care facility accountable and may help keep other residents safe.
- Contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney: Florida has laws in place to protect its residents. The Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights outlines the rights each facility must afford to every resident. When a nursing home violates these rights they may face state, criminal, and civil consequences. An experienced personal injury attorney at the Dolman Law Group can help you file a claim to help you recover damages related to your loved one’s abuse.
Abuse Has Serious Consequences
Florida takes allegations of abuse seriously. The state recently made changes to help alert potential residents of serious care violations. If your family has experienced abuse or neglect, you may be eligible for financial compensation. These funds can help you find an appropriate care facility and help cover the cost of any treatment necessary as a result of the abuse.
The amount of compensation will vary case by case, but may include:
Medical bills: Abuse and neglect can lead to serious medical issues. In any case of abuse, your loved one may benefit from psychological counseling. The costs associated with the treatment of your loved one’s injuries are generally included in a nursing home abuse case. These costs may include medical transportation, doctor visits, surgeries, medication, and assistive devices.
Actual economic damages: In the case of financial abuse, there may be an actual financial loss that can be accounted for. A personal injury case can help you recover this loss.
Pain and suffering: Abuse can leave both physical and emotional scars. After abuse, your loved one may suffer from chronic physical pain or have trouble coping with the abuse. Pain and suffering covers both physical and emotional distress including anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Loss of enjoyment: When abuse changes your ability to participate in activities you enjoy it can affect you in a variety of ways. Personal enjoyment activities have a great impact on a person’s physical and emotional health. When abuse or neglect limit’s your loved one’s ability to do things they enjoy, they may be eligible for compensation.
Wrongful death: Older adults are not able to respond to treatment as well as younger adults. When the abuse is so severe that it results in the death of your family member, you and your family can file a wrongful death claim.
Punitive damages: The court does not always award punitive damages, but in the case of egregious abuse or neglect, they may find it appropriate. Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant for their behavior to prevent them from doing it again. While it is not meant as an “award” to the plaintiff, it does go to the pleading party.
Understanding Florida’s Statute of Limitations
In each state, the law outlines how much time victims have to file a claim to recover damages in a personal injury case. The statute of limitations outlines this time period. In Florida, victims and their family members have a strict time limit from the time the abuse is discovered (or should have reasonably been discovered) to file a personal injury claim. Beyond this point, you cannot pursue any damages.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. This includes when your loved one is unable to report the abuse, when the care facility intentionally hides the abuse, or when the injury did not appear until long after the abuse. Building a case against a nursing home and its staff can be a complicated process. That’s why it’s important to talk to a qualified attorney right away.
Clearwater Nursing Home Negligence Frequently Asked Questions FAQs
When your family member needs constant medical attention and daily personal care, a nursing home may be your best option. It makes sense to hire professionals to perform the caregiving tasks that you do not have the training for or the time to dedicate to providing the care yourself. Of course, you would not consciously place your loved one in a questionable environment. Unfortunately, when a nursing home has problems with negligent care, medical errors, or elder abuse, their history is not always easy to expose.
With COVID-19 shining more of a spotlight on long-term care facilities, it has become easier to recognize that there have been problems all along. While not every nursing home has performance issues, far too many of them do. That is why we have created a Clearwater nursing home negligence FAQ. We believe that families must understand the issues.
How many elderly residents live in Clearwater?
Based on a recent year’s Census Bureau estimates, 116,946 people live in Clearwater, Florida. 21.95 percent of the population is age 65 or older.
How many nursing homes are located in Clearwater?
There are 13 nursing homes in the city with a total of 1,471 licensed beds for elderly and disabled adults. Some elderly individuals remain at home. Others prefer an independent environment with access to medical assistance, so they reside in assisted living communities.
How much do Clearwater in-home care services cost?
The annual Genworth Cost of Care survey tracks senior care costs. A recent year’s report documented the following costs-per-year for Florida residents who rely on care services to remain in their homes:
- Homemaker ($48,048) – Provides household services only, such as cooking, cleaning, and errands.
- Home Health Aid ($50,336) – Provides personal care (bathing, dressing, etc.), may clean and check vital statistics, but provides no medical care.
How much does it cost to live in a Clearwater nursing home?
Families often choose residential facilities when their loved ones need constant care. The prices below represent the annual cost based on Genworth’s survey findings:
- Assisted Living Facility ($42,000) – Provides a residence in a home-like setting with minimal restrictions, and limited available personal and medical care.
- Nursing Home, Semi-private room ($102,565) – Private Room, $112,639: Provides medical care and medication, meals, recreation, 24/7 nursing care access, rehabilitation services, etc.
Who monitors Clearwater nursing home performance?
In Florida, nursing homes must comply with state and local statutes. State and federal agencies monitor nursing homes for compliance.
- Department of Elderly Affairs: The DOEA serves seniors and monitors long-term care facilities through the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Comprehensive Assessment and Review for Long-Term Care Services (CARES), and other programs.
- Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration: The AHCA regulates all nursing homes and monitors their operations for compliance with state statutes and standards. The AHCA Florida Health website also maintains a nursing Watch List. It provides information on nursing homes that are in bankruptcy or conditional status. If a nursing home does not pass an inspection or fails to correct an adverse situation, it may still operate under a conditional license. Florida nursing homes have the right to remain operational while they appeal an adverse finding. The state will take immediate action if they find issues that jeopardize residents’ health and safety. Currently, two Clearwater nursing homes are on the watch list.
- Nursing homes must also comply with federal regulations included within Title 42, Chapter IV, Subchapter G, Part 488, “Survey, Certification, and Enforcement Procedures.”
What causes negligent behaviors in Clearwater nursing homes?
The state monitors and licenses nursing homes. They conduct regular inspections to verify compliance with state and federal laws. Nursing home employees still have opportunities to harm residents.
These primary causes contribute to and allow negligent acts to continue:
- Negligent management or administration
- Inadequate training
- Negligent hiring practices
- Inadequate patient monitoring
- Not enough workers based on the number of residents
- Improper and inadequate safety measures
- Poor patient nutrition and hydration controls
What types of injuries do Clearwater nursing home employees cause?
Negligent nursing home care is often responsible for a resident’s new or worsening medical conditions. Whether bad acts are intentional or negligent, they often rise to the level of neglect or abuse.
The National Center on Elder Abuse and other agencies use consistent categories when describing types of elder abuse and the kinds of injuries they cause.
- Physical: Cuts, bruises, fractures, internal injuries, overmedication, preventable accidents, and other injuries.
- Sexual: Non-consensual sexual contact, either when the person does not give permission or is incapable of giving permission.
- Emotional or psychological: Causing anguish or emotional distress through threats, humiliation, verbal assaults, and other methods.
- Neglect: Uncleanliness, unsanitary conditions, lack of medical treatment, which may result in bedsores, dehydration, malnourishment, illness, overmedication, or inadequate medical treatment.
- Financial or material exploitation: Accessing an elderly person’s money, bank accounts, or possessions without permission.
How do Clearwater nursing homes cause bedsores?
Bedsores, also known as pressure ulcers or decubitus ulcers, often occur when a person is bedridden, in a wheelchair, or physically restrained. They form due to pressure against the skin over elbows, ankles, hips, and other naturally protruding bones. Studies have shown that a caregiver or nursing home attendant can minimize bedsore formation. Prevention requires caregivers to regularly reposition the resident’s body to relieve pressure, shear, or friction.
Bedsores become open wounds when left untreated. They can cause significant pain and disfigurement. They also restrict movement and can eventually cause overall physical deterioration.
Why are Clearwater nursing homes responsible for dehydration and malnourishment?
When a nursing home resident becomes dehydrated or malnourished, it is evidence of neglect or abuse. Dehydration and malnourishment often lead to overall physical deterioration. The Nutrition & Healthy Aging article, “Hydration health literacy in the elderly,“ explains how dehydration increases morbidity in elderly patients. It also causes confusion, seizures, cognitive impairment, and other conditions. A Mayo Clinic Senior Health article discusses how malnourishment weakens the immune systems and muscles and, often causes falls.
Nursing home staff provide care 24 hours a day. They are responsible for making sure residents consume adequate nourishment and liquids. Elderly residents often become malnourished when they do not enjoy nursing home meals, or when they lose their sense of taste. Often cognitive or physical conditions prevent them from eating, drinking, or appreciating the need for food and water. Nursing home staff must recognize these issues and take steps to intervene before dehydration and malnourishment cause insurmountable medical issues.
How bad is the COVID-19 problem in Clearwater nursing homes?
As of July 1, 2020, AHCA’s Emergency Status System reported that out of 142,880 Florida long term care residents 1,979 tested positive for COVID-19. Statistics show that in Pinellas County, 966 long term care facility residents have tested positive. The “long-term care facility” designation includes assisted living communities and nursing homes.
The pandemic has caused a crisis in congregate living facilities that primarily house residents over age 65. Due to chronic underlying conditions and weakened immune systems, people in that age range are more vulnerable to the virus. If they become infected, they often manifest extreme symptoms. Given their close living arrangements, social distancing can be difficult. These close conditions allow the virus to efficiently spread among residents and employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the AHCA provide continuing guidance for nursing home efforts to control the virus.’
Why is it so difficult for family members to recognize Clearwater nursing home negligence?
For several reasons, family members may never notice there is a problem unless their loved one is removed to a hospital for treatment. Unless the family member has visible injuries, it can be difficult to detect a problem during a routine visit. If a nursing home employee is mistreating a patient, they rarely allow family members to witness their bad behavior.
Why do Clearwater nursing home residents not inform their families when they are victims of negligent treatment?
When the U. S. Justice Department investigated nursing home abuse, they determined that residents with cognitive, physical, and behavioral difficulties are particularly vulnerable to abuse. They sometimes have problems hearing or perceiving an adverse incident or explaining what happened. When a resident suffers from Alzheimer’s or other memory issues, they might not remember that a harmful event occurred.
Why would a Clearwater nursing home administrator fail to inform me if the staff harmed my loved one?
Nursing homes should advise family members when an employee commits a negligent act.
Sadly, if a staff member or administrator recognizes a problem, they sometimes choose not to reveal it to the family:
- If employee behavior or a care issue leads to a complaint, it could cause a licensure issue.
- When a nursing home is understaffed, they likely accept that negligent care issues will occur.
- If they do not have the staff to handle the workload, it directly implicates the administration.
- If some employees are not trained well enough to recognize when a patient is dehydrated, malnourished, or having other difficulties.
- If they have proper training, they might not be monitoring residents as diligently as they should.
Do Clearwater nursing home employees undergo background checks?
Florida AHCA conducts background screenings for nursing home employees, administrators, and personal care contractors.
How do I file a complaint against a Clearwater nursing home?
If you are experiencing a problem with a nursing home, you may complete a complaint form by clicking the link below. You may also call the AHCA Consumer Complaint line, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
- Health Care Facility Complaint Form
- Call Center: 888-419-3456
- Florida Relay Service (TDD line for hearing impaired): 800-955-8771
How do I file a claim for damages against a Clearwater nursing home?
Under Florida Statutes, Chapter 400 contains laws that assign nursing home responsibilities. The statutes also explain your rights and duties if you choose to make a negligence claim or a claim under §400.022, Residents’ Rights. In presenting your claim, both you and the nursing home must comply with the notice, waiting periods, and legal requirements. The process allows a nursing home to cooperate and resolve any claims before you file a lawsuit.
Florida Statutes, Chapter, 824, “Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation of Elderly Persons and Disabled Adults” provides for criminal prosecution for intentional acts against elderly citizens.
Is a Clearwater nursing home automatically responsible for damages that occur on their premises?
Nursing homes control your loved one 24/7. They have opportunities to discover and resolve medical issues, neglect, and other employee misconduct. Even though they are responsible for your loved one, you must present evidence to prove their negligence. As with traditional negligence cases, your evidence must show that the nursing home had a duty to your loved one, and that they breached that duty. You must also show that the breach of duty is responsible for the damages your loved one sustained.
If your loved one sustained an injury because of medical malpractice, you must meet a different standard of proof. You must show that the healthcare professional’s acts or omissions failed to meet a prevailing professional standard of care.
Do I need an attorney to help me file a claim against a Clearwater nursing home?
While it is not required to retain an attorney, it can be helpful to consult with a nursing home negligence attorney as soon as you discover an act of nursing home negligence. Nursing home cases have inherently complicated legal issues. In cases like these, attorneys act immediately to protect their clients’ legal rights.
If you choose to file a claim, you must document the evidence to prove your case. As nursing homes often control the evidence of their negligent acts, obtaining the proof you need can often be challenging. You must comply with state guidelines for presenting your loved one’s case. You must either settle the case or file a formal legal action before the statute of limitations expires.
Nursing home negligence attorneys understand the legal issues, and they help their clients work through the complications. Attorneys dedicate their energy and effort to producing the best results.
When you consult our Clearwater nursing home negligence attorneys, you do not have to commit to confronting the nursing home or filing a lawsuit. Our Clearwater nursing home negligence lawyers simply listen to your story and lay out your options. If you choose to make a claim or file a suit, the Clearwater nursing home negligence attorneys at the Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman could explain the necessary steps to accomplish your goal.
Contact Dolman Law Group’s Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys Now
Finding out that your loved one is the victim of abuse or neglect at the hands of someone you should trust can devastate you. After the abuse, it can be difficult to understand the proper steps to take to protect your loved one.
At the Dolman Law Group, we understand this is a difficult time for you and your family. Your loved one’s safety and your peace of mind is our number one priority. Our experienced legal team will help guide you through the process and can help you find alternative care for your family member. We treat each client with care and compassion and will fight aggressively to make sure your voice is heard.
Abuse is never okay. When you suspect abuse or are worried about your loved one’s quality of care, take action.
To learn more about your rights and schedule a free consultation, contact Dolman Law and Sibley Law Group. With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Dolman Law Group. Call us today to schedule a free case evaluation.
Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765