When you place a loved one in a nursing home, you are entrusting their well-being and health to a staff you hope is caring, competent and professional. Unfortunately, many elderly people suffer nursing home injuries during their nursing home stays. From neglect and nursing home abuse to slips and falls and improper restraint injuries, the scope and severity of nursing home injuries can vary significantly from case to case.
Nursing Home Statistics
In 2009, approximately 3.2 million Americans were living in nursing homes, and more than 900,000 were residents of assisted living facilities. In Maryland alone, there were 233 nursing homes in 2012, with nearly 25,000 patients. With the aging of our country’s population, these numbers are expected to increase substantially over the next few decades. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that by 2030, there will be about 72.1 million seniors, so the healthcare facilities focused on treating and housing the elderly are going to play a larger role in the nation’s economy and medical system. Oversight, and holding them accountable for abuse or injuries incurred there, is now – and will increasingly be – a solemn duty for those of us who are pledged to protect the innocent and vulnerable.
Sadly, many nursing home residents are the victims of abuse and neglect. We know that the National Center on Elder Abuse is aware of more than 20,000 complaints of abuse annually – but how many more go unreported? One source estimates that only one in 14 incidents of nursing home abuse are reported, either because the victim is afraid or is unable to speak up.
Typical Nursing Home Injuries
Nursing home residents are often victims of fall injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as three out of four nursing home residents take a fall each year, often more than once. Ten to 20 percent of nursing home falls result in serious injury or even death. Hip fractures and head injuries can result in an older person’s permanent disability and inability to enjoy their later years. Some falls are due to health problems or weakness of the patient, but nearly one third of them occur because of hazards such as wet floors, poor lighting, and beds or wheelchairs that are improperly fitted or maintained. And, of course, nursing home patients are subject to medication errors which leave them sedated or unsteady on their feet.
However, falls aren’t the only injuries that threaten the wellbeing of nursing home residents. Improper restraint, including restraints used to prevent slips and falls, can cause lacerations, bruising, internal damage, and even fractures. State and federal laws require that restraint be applied only in certain situations in which nursing home residents or staff are in documentable danger and require medical orders before restraint is applied.
Bed sores (also known as decubitus ulcers or pressure ulcers) are one sign that an elderly person may be the victim of nursing home abuse. Bed sores are typically the result of a lack of movement, caused by sitting or lying in the same position for long periods of time. When a person’s skin has pressure upon it continually, there is a decrease in the blood flow to that particular area, causing the tissue to die. Bed sores may range from a minor skin irritation to a sore which affects the skin, muscles, tendons and bones.
As hard as it is to fathom, some nursing home patients are victims of sexual abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) defines elderly sexual abuse as “non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person,” including unwanted touching, rape, sodomy, coerced nudity and taking sexually explicit photographs. One study based on Medicaid Fraud Reports found that 8.8% of 488 abuse cases were sexual in nature.
Signs of Elder Abuse
Families and friends of seniors in a nursing home or assisted living facility should watch for any of the following signs of possible abuse:
- Open wounds, cuts, bruises or welts
- Frequent falls
- Significant weight loss
- Persistent odor of urine or feces
- Torn clothing
- Broken or missing personal items
- Complaints of being slapped or mistreated
- Extreme agitation or unusual withdrawal
- Strange behavior, such as rocking to and fro
- Bruises around legs or arms that suggest the use of restraints
- Poor hygiene, including lack of dental care
- Disorientation or depression.
Holding the Perpetrators Responsible
Unfortunately, short-staffing and low budgets lead to a dissatisfied and undereducated work force at some nursing homes. These staff members are more likely to engage in negligent or abusive behavior towards elderly residents, who may be neglected or subjected to sexual, financial, emotional or physical abuse during their stay. In addition, a 2011 report released by the Department of Health and Human Services says that more than 90% of U.S. nursing homes employ one or more people who have been convicted of a crime.
Don’t let the abusive or negligent nursing home personnel get away with mistreating our elderly citizens. If your elderly relative has suffered a nursing home injury, know your rights. Every nursing home resident is entitled to dignified, humane and respectful treatment regardless of their mental or physical condition. You should consult with a nursing home attorney as soon as possible to explore your legal rights and find out more about compensation for your relative’s injuries.
Helping Your Injured Loved Ones
In addition to reporting the incident of abuse to the state authorities, you can file a civil lawsuit against the nursing home for personal injury damages. Damages for nursing home injuries can include compensation for medical costs associated with the injury, as well as money for pain and suffering and for emotional distress. If the abuse was so severe that it resulted in death, family members of the victim can file a wrongful death action.
The law offices of Steven H. Heisler act on behalf of personal injury victims all over the country, including those harmed by nursing home injuries. Interested on more information on whether you have a valid nursing home injury claim? Contact Baltimore nursing home abuse lawyer Steven H. Heisler today for a free case consultation. If you need information about caring for a disabled loved one, browse our resources for disabled individuals.
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