We all want our loved ones to have the best care possible. Therefore, we look for a nursing home that will provide exceptional medical care and emotional support, as well as a comfortable and safe environment. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect is a growing problem. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that half a million people over the age of 60 are abused or neglected each year.
While not all seniors live in nursing homes, many do. Nursing home abuse occurs when elderly individuals are harmed while they are in the care of a nursing home. This harm may take several forms, including physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse. The perpetrator may be a staff member, caregiver, or fellow nursing home resident. The best way to protect your loved one is to know and watch out for the signs so that you can put a stop to the abuse. Ask questions, be alert, and pay attention to your loved one’s behavior.
Warning Signs of Abuse
Actions such as kicking or hitting a nursing home resident are obvious abuse. But physical abuse can also involve the use of unauthorized medication, restraints, or neglect, such as failing to turn a patient when needed.
Signs of physical abuse and neglect include:
- Unexplained bruises or welts;
- Burns or lacerations;
- Lethargy or changes in consciousness;
- Restraint marks on the wrists and ankles; and
- Broken eyeglasses.
Emotional abuse can take many forms, such as yelling, threatening, or belittling residents.
Signs of emotional abuse include:
- Fear of particular staff members;
- Withdrawal from staff and other residents;
- Depression and anxiety; and
- Changes in cleanliness and grooming habits.
There are many signs of sexual abuse. They may be either behavioral or physical.
Signs of sexual abuse include:
- Sustaining a pelvic injury;
- Developing a sexually transmitted disease or STD;
- Bruising or bleeding of the genitals or inner thigh;
- Symptoms of agitation; and
- Social or emotional withdrawal from others.
Financial exploitation, like other forms of abuse, can have lasting effects on an elderly resident.
Signs of financial abuse include:
- Missing credit or debit cards;
- Missing checks;
- Other missing property; and
- Insufficient funds in accounts.
Who Is Responsible for Reporting Elder Abuse?
Many federal and state laws have been enacted dealing with elder abuse, such as the Elder Justice Act of 2009. In Virginia, § 63.2-1606 deals with the protection of aged or incapacitated adults, including mandated and voluntary reporting. Laws like this show that elder abuse and mistreatment are taken seriously in the state.
Why Does Elder Abuse Frequently Go Unreported?
Many nursing home residents are physically and/or emotionally frail. Their ability to see, hear, or think may be diminished. They are less able to protect themselves, fight back, or stand up to bullying. Therefore, an unscrupulous person may take advantage of their weakened state. Signs of elder abuse or neglect can be difficult to recognize or may be mistaken for symptoms of mental deterioration. This is also an easy way for an abusive caregiver to explain away the symptoms. In some cases, staff are overworked or lack proper training, so they miss the signs of abuse.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elderly residents may be reluctant to report abuse because of fear of retaliation, or because they don’t want to get the abuser in trouble. Residents and their family members may fear reporting the incident will only lead to further abuse. When nursing home residents speak up, their allegations may be dismissed by facility management. They may be accused of being troublemakers or having dementia or other mental problems. Therefore, many residents or their family members who are dissatisfied with their care fear that filing a complaint will further jeopardize the resident’s well-being.
Staff members may fail to report incidents of abuse and neglect due to fear of retribution. They may be afraid they will lose their job, have their work hours reduced, or suffer other consequences. This fear of retaliation often leads to a high turn-over rate among nursing home staff.
Despite the widespread availability of Adult Protective Services and mandatory reporting laws, an appalling number of cases of abuse, exploitation, and neglect go unreported each year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
How Can a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Help?
If you see signs of nursing home abuse of an elderly loved one, it is hard to know what to do. Of course, if the abuse is severe or life-threatening, take whatever steps are necessary to protect your loved one. No matter what the circumstances, working with an attorney who knows the laws and your legal options is very helpful.
If you suspect nursing home abuse, start documenting the abuse in detail. Careful documentation will support any future legal action. If abuse is suspected or confirmed, it is very important to report the abuse to the proper person, organization, or agency. However, in many cases, just reporting the abuse is not enough. An attorney can meet with responsible parties, such as nursing home management, to determine the next steps and ensure that your loved one is protected.
Filing a Nursing Home Malpractice Claim
When a nursing home abuses or neglects a resident, the nursing home, or the responsible staff, has committed an act of medical malpractice. This may include anything from medication errors or failing to turn a resident to prevent bedsores, to physical abuse. The person filing the lawsuit must prove that the nursing home owed a duty of care to the resident; that the nursing home breached the duty of care; and that the resident was harmed as a result.
An experienced nursing home abuse attorney can help you identify, document, and report abuse, as well as file a lawsuit and recover damages. Your attorney will also be a source of advocacy and support in this difficult time.
Nursing home abuse and neglect can take many forms. As the population ages, many people will live in nursing homes due to illness, immobility, or mental incapacity. It is vitally important to protect vulnerable residents from nursing home abuse and neglect.