Sometimes it is necessary to entrust the long-term care of a loved one to a nursing home. While many nursing homes provide competent and compassionate care, some do not and a loved one may experience elder abuse. Major types of elderly abuse include neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, and financial abuse.
Some people are afraid of disclosing elderly abuse in nursing homes for fear it will become worse or because they do not wish to cause worry. Nursing home residents are also often victims of horrible abuse because they may have physical or mental restrictions that leave them unable to communicate what is going on. For these reasons, it is important to notice if there are any visible signs of abuse that your loved one may not be verbally communicating.
Remember, an individual in the long-term care of a nursing home has a number of rights under the law. These rights include the right to:
- Be free from physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse
- Be free from physical and chemical restraints
- Be treated with dignity and respect
- Adequate and appropriate care
- Participate in planning his or her care
- Voice grievances and problems
If you believe a loved one may be the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, a lawyer from Kelley & Ferraro, LLP, can assist you in determining your rights and whether you have a legal remedy for your loved one's injuries or damages.
What is nursing home abuse?
Nursing home abuse includes any mistreatment of an elder, whether it is physical or verbal. Punches, kicks, insults, restraints, deprivation, over- or undermedication, lack of socialization activities, monetary theft – these are just a few examples of abuse.
What is nursing home neglect?
Nursing home neglect includes any incident in which an elder fails to receive proper medical attention, nutrition, socialization, hygienic care or other mandatory care. Such neglect can cause serious harm and, in some cases, can spell death for the victim. Neglect is the most common type of nursing home abuse.
What are the causes of nursing home neglect and abuse?
Determining who is responsible for the abuse or neglect is the first step in every case. Many times, nursing homes do not hire enough staff or qualified staff. Running a home with underqualified, insufficiently trained and overworked staff can result in abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, many nursing home residents are unable to properly communicate instances of abuse or neglect because of their physical or mental state.
What are the different types of nursing home neglect and abuse?
- Mental abuse: Fear, agitation, hesitancy, depression, withdrawal, sudden behavior changes, unusual behavior patterns, unwillingness to communicate, disorientation, confusion, isolation, rude, humiliating, derogatory comments by staff, complaints by residents
- Physical abuse: Wounds, cuts, abrasions, burns, bruises, welts, swelling, broken bones, sudden, inexplicable weight loss, unexplained/hidden injuries, unwarranted restraints (either physical or chemical), specific complaints by residents
- Neglect: Bedsores (decubitus ulcers), unsanitary environment, malnutrition, dehydration, smells of urine and/or feces, unkempt appearance, poor personal hygiene, untreated medical condition, specific complaints by residents
- Exploitation/financial abuse: Sudden, unjustified selling of property, missing/stolen money or property, radical changes in handling personal/financial affairs, specific complaints by residents
What are some recognizable signs that nursing home neglect and abuse could be occurring?
Any of the following signs of physical abuse, mental abuse, neglect or exploitation could warrant further investigation:
- Unexplained bruises or wounds
- Bedsores or pressure ulcers
- Venereal disease or genital trauma or infections
- Changes in mood or personality
- Staff refusing to let family members or friends visit the resident
- Resident being kept in an overmedicated state
- Loss of resident's possessions
- Sudden large withdrawals from bank accounts or changes in banking practices
- Abrupt changes in will or other financial documents
How prevalent are nursing home neglect and abuse?
More than 1.6 million Americans reside in more than 16,000 nursing homes across the country. A 1998 study conducted by the U.S. General Accounting Office concluded that more than half of the suspicious deaths studied in nursing homes were probably due to neglect, including malnutrition and dehydration. The study also found that about one in three California nursing homes have been cited by state inspectors for "serious or potentially life-threatening care problems," but these citations are occurring across the nation and not in California alone. These figures also exclude unreported instances of nursing home abuse that must also be taken under consideration.
How can I choose a safe nursing home?
There is no fool-proof way to choose a safe nursing home, but you can take steps to better ensure the safety of your family members. By asking questions and looking for signs at the facility, you can better prevent abuse. Here are a few questions you can ask the facility (information from Medicare):
- Are the home and the current administrator licensed?
- Does the home conduct background checks on all staff?
- Does the home have special services units?
- Does the home have abuse prevention training?
As with any important decision, by doing your homework you can help put your mind at ease with your final decision.