Over 680 nursing homes exist in Florida, offering more than 83,500 beds for residents who need them. While more than one million people across the country live in these facilities, many people have little knowledge about nursing home abuse and negligence. A 2008 study determined that one in 10 seniors may have been abused by a caretaker.
Nursing home abuse comes in a variety of forms. Residents of these homes may face emotional, sexual, physical, and financial abuse on top of neglect. Neglect is common too, and yet it often goes unreported by residents and their loved ones.
If you or a loved one is facing nursing home abuse, you have legal options. Before consulting with a Sarasota nursing home abuse attorney, learn more about the roles that neglect and abuse play in Sarasota and Florida as a whole.
The Role of Nursing Homes in Florida
While 83,000 beds are available in Florida nursing homes, these beds are at about 85 percent capacity at any given time. With a significant portion of Americans reaching retirement as the Baby Boomers age, more seniors are seeking out nursing homes for their golden years. In other cases, family members make the difficult decision to move a loved one into a nursing home. Family members do this with the expectation that the nursing home will provide physical, medical, and emotional care.
Unfortunately, at least three nursing homes in Sarasota have received only one star on a five-star rating system when it comes to abuse and use of restraints on residents. Other nursing homes ranked poorly for seeing a decline in resident health and in hydration and nutrition. Quality of care also offers a wide range of ratings demonstrating that the quality of life and care for residents is not always up to par. Other statistics suggest that about 5 percent of Florida nursing home facilities have serious deficiencies.
The Florida Administrative Code, as of 2002, requires nursing homes to staff the appropriate number of employees. The regulations also make new rules for the training necessary to handle patients who require memory care. These regulations ensure that patients living in these homes receive adequate care from qualified professionals—if the homes and personnel follow them.
Sarasota seniors receive protections through legislation like Title XLVI, which protects against exploitation of seniors and individuals with disabilities. Specific criminal penalties exist for criminal acts the state pursues, but individuals affected by nursing home abuse may pursue civil lawsuits. Even if the criminal justice system fails to pursue charges related to nursing home abuse, you can successfully pursue a case in civil court to receive compensation for damages.
In 2013, Florida ranked 11th in nursing home care, ultimately receiving a “B.” Florida has a watch list of nursing homes locals should be wary of. Several Sarasota nursing homes made the list for violations and accusations of abuse. You might check out this list of nursing homes to ensure your loved one’s home is not on it.
Real Cases of Nursing Home Abuse in Florida
Nursing homes throughout Florida and even Sarasota have been accused of abuse and neglect in recent years. Following the news about these cases can be scary, but also enlightening.
One Sarasota nursing home failed to notify a woman that her mother’s health was deteriorating rapidly. This meant that the woman was unable to secure adequate care for her mother through a program with high-quality services. Upon further investigation, other nursing home residents had died unexpectedly in the past. As a result, the nursing home was required to pay thousands of dollars in fines.
In a Boynton Beach case, two members of nursing home staff duct taped a woman with dementia to a chair. These staff members faced criminal charges related to elderly abuse and false imprisonment. Unfortunately, the victim was not able to provide information about what had happened to her. Another resident of the home saw the situation unfold but also did not report the incident. This may also be a case of understaffing, because the nursing home attendants did this so they could tend to other patients.
In 2012, a 96-year-old woman was forced to take a shower, during which one of the Sarasota nursing home staff members sprayed her in the face with water. She became unconscious during the shower and passed away shortly after. While authorities initially found no foul play involved in her death, questions arose about the quality of care and professionalism provided in the nursing home.
Of course, not all cases of elder abuse are as extreme as these. Sometimes abuse and neglect are more subtle, but this does not mean they do not have long-lasting effects for your loved one. Open communication is one key to looking for these subtle instances of abuse.
The Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Many cases of nursing home abuse and neglect are unreported, and this is why we know so little about how it impacts Sarasota residents. Often, not reporting abuse or neglect goes hand-in-hand with not knowing the signs of abuse or neglect. Many people are also under the impression that abuse must always have a physical component. In truth, many of the symptoms of abuse are not visible.
These are warning signs you should be looking for in your loved one:
- Physical abuse – The signs of physical abuse are often the easiest to spot because the abuse may leave physical injuries. Look for bruises, cuts, scrapes, and scratches. If your loved one has broken bones, abuse may be the cause as well. You should report your love one flinching when staff members or loved ones try to touch them. Reported injuries are cause for concern, especially if your loved one is not very active. Unfortunately, seniors are an easy target for physically abusive people because they are often unable to defend themselves.
- Sexual abuse – Sexual abuse takes on many forms. Signs of sexual abuse include bleeding genitals, torn clothing, and blood found on undergarments. If your loved one contracts an STD in the nursing home, you may also pursue the possibility that sexual abuse is to blame. Behavioral changes can also indicate abuse.
- Emotional abuse – Emotional abuse can be difficult to identify. Nursing home staff members or fellow residents may use emotional abuse to maintain control over residents. You may have to analyze your loved one’s personality, looking for signs he or she is withdrawn, depressed, isolated, or scared. Look for severe changes in personality that arise. For instance, your loved one may go from being a stubborn, ambitious person to a socially isolated, quiet person seemingly overnight.
- Financial abuse – While nursing homes do not take control over your loved one’s finances, your loved one may still maintain their own accounts. If you notice significant changes in your loved one’s financial situation, somebody might be taking advantage of him or her. Large withdrawals from bank accounts or failure to pay bills are major signs. You should also be wary if he or she is signing new legal documents.
- Neglect – Neglect stems from understaffed nursing homes, lack of training, and lack of care. A nursing home has a responsibility to care for your loved one, and not providing this care is a form of neglect. Failing to provide for your loved one’s needs through bathing, feeding, and providing medical-related care is unacceptable. Unfortunately, neglect is all too common in Florida nursing homes because patients receive very little professional nursing care throughout the day. The signs of neglect may include pressure ulcers, bed sores, declining health, medication errors, pest dangers, choking, and malnutrition.
Keep in mind that even one instance of the above could be enough to constitute abuse, but ensure to keep records of any other situations as they arise. Additionally, seniors are among the least likely groups to report abuse to the proper authorities. You may have to act as the sounding board for your loved one.
The Risk Factors for Nursing Home Abuse
Several risk factors may act as precursors for nursing home abuse. While you may not be able to eliminate the risk of nursing home abuse completely from your loved one’s life, you may be able to make some changes as a preventative measure.
Low social support is one of the biggest risk factors for individuals who face any of the described types of elder abuse. People who have a lot of social support are less likely to experience abuse, especially because they are more likely to report instances when they happen.
Dementia is another high-risk situation for abuse. This is the result of impaired memory, confusion, communication skills, and changing judgments.
Women in nursing homes are more likely to be abused than men. Unscrupulous individuals may be more likely to believe women are easier targets than men.
Living with many other people is also a risk factor. Not all abuse is performed by staff members. Nursing homes residents may assault or abuse their fellow residents, and the nursing home may be negligent in stepping in to stop or prevent these actions.
How to Handle Sarasota Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse is serious and can have a long-term physical and emotional impact on your loved one. You have a right and a responsibility to seek out help for your loved one, ending the ongoing abuse and helping him or her receive compensation for damages associated with the abuse. Protecting your loved one from ongoing abuse is crucial.
The first thing you should do if you suspect nursing home abuse is to consult with an attorney. Your nursing home abuse attorney helps you address the abuse, remove your loved one from an abusive situation by reporting wrongdoing to authorities, and filing legal claims as necessary.
Nursing home staff members are responsible for the safety of your loved one, and breaching this standard of care means they should be held accountable.
Hiring a Sarasota Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
Removing your loved one from a nursing home situation involving abuse is your first priority. Once you are able to get your loved one out of a harmful or abusive situation, you can pursue a civil court case against the staff member or nursing home involved.
Nursing home abuse lawyers have seen cases like yours before, and they are ready to help you move forward with a plan of action. They can perform a thorough investigation of the case and gather all the essential evidence to bring to court.
The damages associated with nursing home abuse are costly. For instance, physical abuse can lead to increased medical bills. These court cases also allow you to recoup costs associated with pain and suffering for your loved one.
During the first meeting with your Sarasota nursing home abuse lawyer, bring all the evidence of abuse you have. These can be photographs, videos, paperwork, statements, and other notes you have taken. These could even be statements made by other staff members, authorities, and residents of the home. Ensure you also have the nursing home’s address and other contact information. Additionally, try to determine the name or names of individuals responsible for abusing your loved one.
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