Nursing Home Abuse


A nursing home lawyer represents (families on behalf of the) elderly people who have been the victims of nursing home neglect and abuse. Nursing home abuse is a growing problem yet many victims do not report the violations because they are scared or ashamed. Abuse can be verbal, psychological, physical, sexual, or financial and material and can take place in or outside the residential care facility.

Types of abuse

Unfortunately, many older people are subjected to various forms of abuses at a stage in their lives when they would need the most love and care. Physical abuse is the infliction of pain or injury, including molestation and restraining. Sexual abuse is the infliction of non-consensual intimate contact of any kind. Emotional or psychological abuse is the infliction of mental anguish such as humiliation, intimidation or threatening. Material exploitation is the use of the resources of an elderly without his or her consent. Nursing home neglect is the failure to provide the services necessary to avoid any kind of harm (self-neglect is when the elderly person threatens his or her health or safety). Abandonment is the desertion of the elderly either in the nursing home facility or in a public location.

Signs of abuse and neglect

Some of the obvious signs of abuse are bruising and bleeds, open wounds, sores, and cuts, burns, a sudden change in weight, poor hygiene, infection and loss of hair. Some less obvious signs are unresponsiveness, strange behavior, physical and emotional withdrawal, the disappearance of personal items, unusual financial transactions, or staff delaying or refusing access to visit your loved ones. Signs of neglect include falls (resulting in broken bones), strangulation and suffocation associated with bed rails, bedsores (the result of laying in bed too long), dehydration, and malnutrition.

Causes of nursing home abuse

Although there is no excuse for abusing the elderly, there are many reasons why such abuse may occur: inadequate and poorly trained staff, inadequate medical and nursing care, poor facilities, stressful working conditions, budget cuts, heavy patient loads, excessive overtime, low wages requiring caregivers to work more than one job, limited background checks, and limited resources to conduct investigations for quality control.

Possible injuries

When nursing home staff fail to care for the elderly, there may be several forms of injuries: broken bones, head injuries, bedsores, cuts and abrasions, burns, fractures and bruises, injuries from poor hygiene and malnourishment, and wrongful death. These injuries are the result of failure to provide adequate care that includes food and water, personal hygiene, safe living conditions, proper medical care, as well as careful supervision.

Nursing home abuse statistics

There are over 1.6 million people living in licensed nursing homes in the US with another million living in other assisted facilities. Some alarming numbers: about 40% or more residents of nursing homes suffer some form of abuse, about half of the residents reported rough treatment, and only about 20% or so of all abuses get ever reported (please note that a large percentage of residents suffer from Alzheimer disease or similar mental impairment). At least one-third of the nursing homes have been cited for violations and about 10% had citations for actual physical abuse. While currently there are no national statistics, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) estimated in 2004 that there was a double-digit increase in abuse and neglect since the last survey in 2000. Please note that nursing home abuse is not the only source of elder abuse; about two-thirds of all elder abuses come from family members who are financially dependent on the victim!

What shall I do?

Before sending your loved one to a nursing home, it is a good idea to do your research. Meet with the administration of the facility, the medical director, the nursing director; visit all areas of the facility at different times: weekdays, weekends, mealtime, bedtime, etc; check out common areas, activity areas, toilets, dining areas as well as hallways; talk to different residents as well as their family members and with the authorities regarding complaints as well as reviews. Ask your doctor to visit the facility and provide medical advice as to its adequacy, and ask your nursing home lawyer to review the contract before anyone signs it.

What mistakes shall I avoid?

Do not decide from marketing brochures, guided tours, furnishing of the lobby, or conversations with administrators. Do not consider a nursing home that restricts your access. Other legal don’ts are: do not sign a contract as a guarantor, do not agree to deposit the resident’s income directly into an account of the nursing home, do not agree to a requirement of private-pay status if a resident is eligible for Medicaid, do not allow a clause restricting visiting hours, and do not agree to include a provision requiring medical procedures, have a living will, or have a health care power of attorney.

How to prevent nursing home abuse?

The best prevention is to visit as often as possible and be present at irregular times of the day. Encourage your loved ones to have contact with other people (socially withdrawn people are more likely to be victims of abuse). Always ask your loved ones how they are being treated, examine them physically and learn to recognize symptoms of neglect and abuse. Establish a good relationship with the staff and do take the time to get to know the people who care for the residents. Inspect the place yourself on a regular basis, see if the residents appear clean and well-kept. If you see abuse, report it immediately (you may want to contact Adult Protective Services as soon as possible). Find out who the State licensing agency is and ask for the yearly survey of the nursing home (also, ask for all the complaints filed by family members).

Some legal advice

When someone in your family suffered a nursing home abuse, you may be eligible to file a personal injury claim. The claim may be based on negligent personal supervision and care, negligent hiring and retention, negligent selection and maintenance of equipment, medical malpractice, or in the worst case, wrongful death. Please contact our Little Rock AR injury law firm for a free consultation. Our nursing home lawyer will be happy to provide a free case evaluation.
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