If you have a loved one living in a nursing home, safety is probably one of your primary concerns. Not all seniors live in nursing homes, but many do. Approximately 1.4 to 1.5 million people live in nursing homes in the United States. Residents of nursing homes should be unmolested and free from danger, but unfortunately, that is not always true. Many residents find themselves subjected to abuse in some form.
If you believe that an elderly loved one has suffered nursing home neglect, contact an experienced, compassionate personal injury lawyer at the Dolman Law Group right away.
What Is Nursing Home Abuse?
Nursing home abuse first became a widespread concern in the 1970s when there was little or no regulation or oversight. Attention to the problem has increased over the years. An article from the New England Journal of Medicine found the prevalence of elder abuse, including physical, psychological, verbal, sexual, financial abuse, and neglect, to be approximately 10 percent.
The most rapidly growing segment of the population is people aged 85 and older. Therefore, the number of people at risk for nursing home abuse may increase over time. Elderly people who live in residential settings that offer long-term support services are particularly vulnerable because they tend to suffer from limited physical and cognitive functioning and chronic disease, so they are heavily dependent on others for care.
According to the Administration on Aging, elder abuse occurs when a caregiver or other person harm a vulnerable adult. The perpetrator may place the victim at risk intentionally or by an act or negligence. This definition includes residents of nursing homes who suffer abuse or harm while in the care of a facility. The perpetrator may be a caregiver, staff member, or fellow resident.
Nursing home residents can be harmed in many ways, leaving them physically injured, emotionally scarred, and financially ruined. The statistics on abuse incidents are shocking, but experts agree that the statistics reflect just a fraction of the problem because many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported each year.
In addition to physical abuse, abuse and neglect can take many other forms. Neglect is generally the failure to provide needed goods and services to a resident. For example, failure to assist with eating and drinking, walking, participating in activities, or toileting and hygiene may be neglect. Financial abuse or misappropriation may mean using intimidation, threats, or coercion to obtain funds. It may also mean the deliberate misuse of a resident’s property or money without consent.
Why Does Elder Abuse Frequently Go Unreported?
Perhaps the most heartbreaking element of nursing home abuse is nobody reports most of the violations. A report from the Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General estimates that one-in-five Medicare claims for emergency room treatment provided in one year were the result of potential abuse or neglect, including victims residing in skilled nursing facilities.
Victims may fail to make a report because they have no practical means of doing so, or out of fear of retribution from their abusers. In some cases, victims may not even be cognizant of the situation due to age or health conditions. Thus, it is often up to family members and visitors to discover the problem and take action.
Many nursing home residents are physically and/or emotionally frail. Their ability to see, hear, or think may be diminished. They are less able to protect themselves, fight back, or stand up to bullying. Therefore, an unscrupulous person may take advantage of their weakened state. Signs of elder abuse or neglect can be difficult to recognize or may be mistaken for symptoms of mental deterioration. This is also an easy way for an abusive caregiver to explain away the symptoms. In some cases, staff are overworked or lack proper training, so they miss the signs of abuse.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elderly residents may not report the abuse because they fear retaliation, or they don’t want to get the abuser in trouble. Even when nursing home residents speak up, facility management often dismisses their claim. Management may accuse the resident of having mental problems or labeled him or her as a troublemaker. Concerned family members may also fear that filing a complaint will put the resident at further risk. Staff members may fail to report incidents of abuse and neglect because they are afraid they may lose their job, have their work hours reduced, or suffer other consequences. This atmosphere of fear and distrust contributes to a high turn-over rate among nursing home staff.
Many federal and state laws, such as the Elder Justice Act of 2009, have been enacted to address the problem of elder abuse. The act also extended the reporting requirements. Unfortunately, despite the availability of Adult Protective Services and mandatory reporting laws, an appalling number of cases of abuse, exploitation, and neglect still go unreported.
Legal Claims in Nursing Home Abuse Cases
Nursing home abuse law deals with the civil, criminal, and regulatory standards for the unlawful treatment of elderly people by the staff and administrators of a care facility, as well as failure to protect residents from harm at the hands of other residents. States and municipalities often have additional rules governing nursing homes. When a nursing home does not meet these standards, it may face a variety of sanctions, such as suspension or revocation of their license, withdrawal of government funding, or other financial consequences.
In general, nursing homes are held to a high standard of care. The federal Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987 states that all nursing homes receiving funds from Medicare or Medicaid must provide safe facilities for their residents. In addition, federal regulations also require that all nursing home residents, regardless of whether they receive Medicaid, have a “right to be free from …”
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) released the first major revision of federal nursing facility regulations since the regulations were issued approximately 25 years before. The revision included protections from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. These protections include physical and mental abuse, such as restraints that are not required to treat medical symptoms, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.
The Affordable Care Act also added a requirement for reporting suspected crimes to law enforcement authorities. The facility may not retaliate against a reporter.
Elderly nursing home residents, or someone acting on their behalf, may file claims against nursing homes. For example, claims may allege physical, sexual, or verbal abuse, false imprisonment, financial abuse, and financial exploitation. Victims can also file a lawsuit for neglect. A nursing home is required to provide reasonable care to its residents. If the nursing home fails to provide reasonable care or fails to adhere to a specific industry standard and that failure causes injury to the nursing home resident, the victim may have a cause of action for neglect.
Another powerful form of legal recourse is a negligence lawsuit. A nursing home facility can be liable for acts of negligence, neglect, or abuse on the premises which harm a resident. The person filing the lawsuit must prove that the nursing home owed a duty of care to the resident; that the nursing home breached the duty of care; and that the resident was harmed as a result. A negligence lawsuit may arise from issues such as:
- Failing to keep the premises safe. The facility and staff should be aware of foreseeable dangers such as slip and fall risks. In some situations, the staff or management caused the hazard. In other cases, they knew or should have known about the danger and did nothing about it.
- Negligent supervision. Falls are a common danger among the elderly. The facility must provide appropriate supervision of residents who may fall or injure themselves.
- Failing to maintain clean and sanitary conditions. The facility must ensure proper and regular cleaning policies to keep the premises sanitary, both in resident’s rooms and common areas.
- Failure to provide adequate medical care or treatment. Substandard medical care that causes harm to a resident may result in a case for medical malpractice. This may include anything from medication errors or failing to turn a resident to prevent bedsores, to failure to treat injuries or illnesses.
- Negligent hiring. Staffing the nursing home with competent and compassionate people is critical to resident safety. If the facility hires or fails to properly train and supervise an employee who abuses a resident in any form, the victim may have a cause of action.
Warning Signs of Abuse
If you are the relative or close friend of someone in a nursing home, the best way to protect your loved one is to pay attention and know the signs of abuse. This includes verbal, sexual, physical, or mental abuse, as well as abuse enabled through the use of technology, for example, taking and sharing inappropriate photos of residents.
Physical abuse. Physical abuse means hurting a resident. This may involve a deliberate injury, unreasonable confinement, or other forms of punishment. Actions such as kicking or hitting a nursing home resident are obvious, visible abuse. But physical abuse can involve also involve the use of unauthorized medication, restraints, or rough handling.
Signs of physical abuse include:
- Unexplained bruises or welts
- Burns or lacerations
- Lethargy or changes in consciousness
- Restraint marks on the wrists and ankles
- Broken eyeglasses
Emotional abuse. Emotional abuse can take many forms, such as yelling, threatening, or belittling residents. Also, it may involve humiliating, intimidating, or socially isolating the individual.
Signs of emotional abuse include:
- Fear of particular staff members
- Withdrawal from staff and other residents
- Depression and anxiety
- Changes in cleanliness and grooming habits
Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse involves any kind of sexual contact without a person’s consent. Some victims are not able to give consent due to conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. There are many signs of sexual abuse. They may be either behavioral or physical.
Signs of sexual abuse include:
- Sustaining a pelvic injury
- Developing a sexually transmitted disease or STD
- Bruising or bleeding of the genitals or inner thigh
- Symptoms of agitation
- Social or emotional withdrawal from others
Financial abuse. Financial exploitation, like other forms of abuse, can have lasting effects on an elderly resident. The individual may suffer from loss of trust, loss of financial security, feelings of shame, guilt, worthlessness, or depression. The financial abuse of nursing home residents is common, and few residents report it. The rate of financial exploitation is extremely high in all senior populations. Reports indicate that one in 20 older adults have encountered financial mistreatment recently. Only one in 44 cases are ever reported.
Signs of financial abuse include:
- Missing credit or debit cards
- Missing checks
- Other missing property
- Insufficient funds in accounts
How Can Our Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys Help You?
Nursing home abuse has been a persistent, systemic problem for decades. At a Senate Finance Committee hearing, lawmakers addressed concerns including neglect, sexual abuse, medication mismanagement, preventable infections, and even death.
As the population ages, more elderly people will live in nursing homes. They may be vulnerable due to illnesses, physical mobility problems, or mental incapacity. If you suspect nursing home abuse, start documenting the abuse in detail. Careful documentation will support any future legal action. Of course, if the abuse is severe or life-threatening, take whatever steps are necessary to protect your loved one.
Report the abuse, but reporting may not prove enough. Your loved one needs protection and may be entitled to compensation for the harm done.
The laws concerning nursing home abuse are complex. However, a nursing home abuse attorney who knows the laws and the resources can explain your legal options and guide you through the legal process. For more information or to schedule a free case evaluation, call Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH) or contact us online today.
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