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.
Eye-Opening Nursing Home Numbers
As of December 31, 2014, more than 1.4 million Americans were living in over 15,600 nursing homes; in Maryland, we have approximately 228 nursing homes. Most nursing homes nationwide are for-profit enterprises; roughly 70 percent are for-profit in Maryland.
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. It is projected that the number of elders who will need long-term care will be at least 12 million, 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. Employing oversight, and holding those who abuse seniors accountable, 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 (NCEA) is aware of more than 20,000 complaints of abuse annually – but how many more go unreported? From 7 to 10 percent of elders suffered from at least one episode of abuse in the past year, according to the most recent studies.
The NCEA revealed in a 2012 report:
- In one study, around 44 percent of those in nursing homes reported abuse, and 95 percent reported neglect, either as victims themselves or as witnesses to its happening to other residents.
- More than 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted that they mistreated residents within the previous year.
- During a recent two-year period, around one in three nursing homes were found to be violating federal regulations and were cited accordingly. Almost 1 in 10 of the nursing homes committed violations dangerous enough to cause residents serious injury or harm or place them in jeopardy of death.
What Types of Abuse Occur in Nursing Homes?
It is disheartening to disclose that all types of abuse can and do occur in nursing homes. According to the NCEA, of all the reported abuse in nursing homes:
- Physical abuse accounts for 29 percent
- Psychological/verbal abuse accounts for 21 percent
- Gross neglect accounts for 14 percent
- Financial exploitation accounts for 7 percent
- Sexual abuse accounts for 7 percent.
The remaining 22 percent of abuse cases are resident-on-resident abuse, which can be physical, psychological, financial, or sexual.
Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes
Any action that deliberately causes pain, injury, or impairment qualifies as physical abuse. Included among possible abusive actions are slapping, pinching, or hitting the resident; handling them roughly when changing clothing or diapers, or during bathing; lifting them improperly so that they fall; using restraints inappropriately; and deliberate isolation. Warning signs of physical abuse are:
- Unexplained burns, cuts, bruises, welts, sprains, broken bones, or dislocations
- Broken eyeglasses
- Restraint marks
- Members of the staff do not want you to be alone with the resident.
Psychological/Verbal Abuse in Nursing Homes
This type of abuse includes the use of abusive words and terms, name-calling, yelling at the resident, belittling or humiliating them, and threatening them or otherwise intimidating them. Things to watch out for include:
- Any controlling or threatening behavior you see from the staff
- Sudden behavioral changes in the resident, such as withdrawal or unexpected depression
- Signs of agitation in the resident, such as sucking, rocking, or mumbling to themselves
- Members of the staff do not want you to be alone with the resident.
It is important to note that, when your loved one has dementia, signs of psychological abuse can be difficult to spot. If you sense something is amiss, listen to your gut.
Gross Neglect in Nursing Homes
Gross neglect includes such things as not providing adequate food, shelter, clothing, medical care, medication, or assistance. Two areas need spotlighting:
- Medication abuse can mean giving the wrong medications, giving the right medications but at the wrong time or in the wrong amounts, or withholding medications either accidentally or on purpose. Sometimes pain medications are not given because a staff member is stealing the drugs.
- Nutritional neglect can mean receiving inadequate amounts of food, inappropriate types of food (something the resident cannot physically eat or digest), food of poor quality, food that tastes bad, insufficient liquids, or not helping the resident eat if they cannot feed themselves.
Some warning signs of gross neglect are:
- Dehydration, unexpected weight loss, and signs of malnutrition
- Soiled clothing, bedding, dirt, bugs, and generally unsanitary conditions
- Inadequate or infrequent bathing and odors of urine or feces
- Insufficient clothing when it’s cold or too much clothing when it’s hot
- Untreated physical problems
- Complaints from your loved one concerning not receiving pain medication.
Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes
Any sexual contact that is not consensual is abuse. Examples of sexual abuse are any inappropriate touching and any sexual activity which the resident was forced into, did not consent to, or is unable to consent to due to dementia or medical issues. Watch out for the following:
- Bloody or stained underwear
- Unexplained bleeding from the vaginal or anal areas
- Bruising near breasts and genitals
- The resident complains of pain in the genital area
- Behavioral changes, such as fearfulness and withdrawal.
Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes
Using or appropriating a resident’s personal property or financial resources is financial abuse. Abuse can take the form of stealing a resident’s money or possessions, forging their signature, or tricking them into signing legal documents that have financial impact. Be on the lookout for:
- Missing cash or property
- Withdrawals made when the resident could not have made them, such as at an ATM
- Unauthorized users suddenly listed on bank or credit card accounts
- Any suspicious or unexpected changes in the resident’s financial condition.
Believe Your Loved One
If your loved one complains of abuse of any kind, or says that they are missing items or money, or cries that they are scared, believe them and investigate. Ask questions. Don’t let things go, but insist on answers.
Over half of all residents have some form of cognitive impairment or dementia such as Alzheimer’s. If your loved one has dementia, it can be especially difficult to discern whether what they are telling you is the truth. The sad fact is that residents with dementia are the ones most vulnerable to abuse and often the ones most likely to be abused. If you suspect abuse and your loved one has dementia, take it upon yourself to find out whether your suspicions are correct.
A Word about Arbitration Clauses
When your loved one entered a nursing home, you were probably given a contract to sign that was many pages long and that likely contained a lot of fine print. In the contract, more likely than not, was an arbitration clause. An arbitration clause means that, by signing the contract, you give up your right to sue the nursing home in cases of abuse or neglect.
Allowing mandatory arbitration clauses in nursing home contracts—meaning your loved one cannot live in the nursing home unless they agree to mandatory arbitration—became prohibited under President Obama for any nursing home that takes federal funds. Most nursing homes take federal money in the form of Medicaid or Medicare.
But the current administration wants to roll back these legal protections and take away your right to a day in court by permitting mandatory arbitration clauses. No fewer than three dozen consumer groups and organizations have characterized the change as “cruel” and “disturbing,” pointing out that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) should be protecting residents, not make it easier for nursing homes to get away with abuse and neglect.
It remains to be seen how the situation will play out, but it is one more factor to take into account if you are searching for a suitable facility or are experiencing problems with your loved one’s current nursing home.
Holding the Perpetrators Responsible
Unfortunately, short-staffing and low budgets lead to a dissatisfied and undereducated work force at a number of nursing homes. These staff members are more likely to engage in negligent or abusive behavior toward elderly residents. In addition, a 2011 report released by the Department of Health and Human Services says that approximately 92% of U.S. nursing homes employ one or more people who have been convicted of a crime.
Don’t let 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.
If you lack information about caring for a loved one who needs assistance, browse our resources for disabled individuals.
Let Down by the Eldercare Industry? Let “The Injury Lawyer” Help You
When you place a loved one in a nursing home, you are entrusting their well-being and health to a staff that you hope is caring, competent and professional. Unfortunately, many elderly people suffer from various forms of abuse, including harm done by other residents that the staff overlooks or does nothing to prevent. Those in nursing homes can even be evicted without just cause simply because they are too expensive or sick for the corporation running the nursing home. To resolve certain situations and obtain damages owed, you may need caring and compassionate legal assistance for your parent or other relative.
The law offices of Steven H. Heisler act on behalf of personal injury victims, including those harmed by nursing home injuries. Interested in more information on whether you have a valid nursing home injury or damages claim? Contact Baltimore nursing home abuse lawyer Steven H. Heisler today for a free initial consultation at 1-410-625-4878, or use our online contact form.