We place our trust in long-term residential care facilities, hospice caregivers, nursing homes and assisted living facilities to provide the best possible care for ourselves and our loved ones. Yet, critically low staff, poor training, inadequate operations and corporate greed continue to plague our seniors and feed America’s elder abuse and neglect epidemic from New York to Florida to California and every other state.
As more and more Baby Boomers enter retirement, it is important to understand how to identify cases of elder abuse and neglect and what to do if you suspect neglect or abuse of a loved one.
This article expands on the types of senior abuse and neglect seen in American nursing homes today and shares information on how to seek financial compensation should you or a loved one experience nursing home abuse or neglect.
5 Million American Seniors Experience Abuse or Neglect Each Year
An estimated 1 in 10 Americans over age 60 have experienced some type of elder abuse, with as many as 5 million U.S. seniors experiencing abuse each year. These tragic statistics are also costly.
Adults over age 65 who experience abuse or neglect are at a 300% greater risk of chronic health problems (including depression, high blood pressure and cardiac problems) than seniors who don’t experience abuse or neglect. These health issues increase the cost of healthcare by an estimated $5.3 billion each year.
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are the setting of many cases of elder abuse, with the highest risk to patients found in for-profit nursing home facilities.
Over 1.35 million Americans reside in nursing homes today, with another 835,000+ living in residential care communities with location in every state including the large population centers such as California, Florida, New York and Texas.
Nearly 30% of nursing home facilities nationwide have been cited for abuse, averaging 4500 cases of patient abuse per year. Nurses, physicians, caretakers, visitors and even other patients can be the abuser.
In fact, up to 20% of nursing home residents suffer abuse at the hands of other patients due to faulty supervision on behalf of the facility.
An alarming number of elder abuse and neglect cases go unreported. And unfortunately, a majority nursing home victims who do report abuse or neglect are met with disbelief instead of concern and support. The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates victims report only 1 in every 14 abuse cases. Other studies suggest that as many as 24 out of 25 cases of elder abuse go unreported.
Studies suggest a majority of elder abuse victims who visit hospital emergency departments are released without an abuse diagnosis. Only an estimated 1 in 7,700 visits for injuries due to abuse bring a formal diagnosis of elder abuse.
Dementia, social isolation and physical disabilities present obstacles that hinder victims from identifying and/or reporting neglect or abuse. In addition, victims may choose not to report abuse due to fear of the abuser, embarrassment or lack of awareness as to what constitutes abuse or neglect.
Many family members fail to report cases of elder abuse simply because they are not aware of the signs and symptoms.
Research shows that nursing home caretakers, nurses and EMT’s may suspect elder abuse but choose not to report it for several reasons, including:
- Fear of employer retaliation or negative consequences for coworkers
- Concern around ability to recall events surrounding abuse
- Lack of confidence concerning correct identification of elder abuse or neglect
- Time burden associated with recording evidence and reporting the abuse or neglect
Sadly, an estimated 1,800 elder abuse cases result in death each year. The actual number is potentially vastly higher with so many cases either going unrecognized or where facility managers and staff conceal the circumstances surrounding these wrongful deaths.
U.S. Nursing Home Residents Have Specific Legal Rights
The National Center on Elder Abuse defines elder abuse as a series of intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable senior. Elderly females are more at risk for nursing home abuse than males, and risk of elder abuse increases with age, disability and dementia.
Congress enacted the Nursing Home Reform Act in 1987, following a disturbing Congressional study showing frequent nursing home resident neglect and abuse and overall substandard care in facilities across the nation. Under the Nursing Home Reform Act, nursing homes and long-term care facilities participating in Medicare and state Medicaid programs must abide by certain rules and regulations enacted to protect residents.
Regarding patient well-being, federal regulations require that nursing homes ensure residents receive the “highest practicable” mental, physical, and psychosocial wellbeing.
The Act also grants nursing home residents legal rights designed to protect their medical needs, dignity, privacy and individuality. Every nursing home resident has the right to quality medical care and life free from neglect, abuse or isolation.
Under the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, each nursing home resident has the right to:
- Dignity, privacy and individuality
- Freedom to exercise independence and voice opinions without fear of retaliation
- A safe, hazard-free living environment
- A comprehensive, customized care plan
- Regular care assessments
- Proper medical care, nutritional care and pharmaceutical services
- Assistance with hygiene, nutrition, communication and movement
- Freedom from neglect, abuse or isolation
- Participation in care plan design, review and amendments
- Access to medical records
- Freedom from inappropriate physical and chemical restraint
- Full-time social worker (for facilities with >120 beds)
In addition to the federal Nursing Home Reform Act, many U.S. states have their own long-term care laws enforced by both federal and state regulators. State laws commonly require:
- Regular nursing home and long-term care facility inspection
- Patient’s ability to participate in meaningful activities
- Regular assessments of treatment plans
- Ability to have frequent visitors
- Grievance process free from concern of retaliation
- Mental and physical needs accommodation
Nursing home facilities must have adequate staff numbers to provide this elevated level of care for each and every resident.
Low staffing or inadequate medical equipment is no excuse for poor patient care. If a long-term care facility cannot offer a high standard of care for its residents, the facility and staff may be liable for damages and fines – including damages paid to the victim and their family members.
Common Types of Long-Term Care Resident Abuse or Neglect
It can be difficult to know for sure whether a loved one is suffering from neglect or abuse at a long-term care facility. Families are often unaware that the abuse is present, and victims of nursing home abuse are not always able to describe their living conditions to family members.
Negligent or abusive nursing home staff may attribute frequent:
- Anxiety, or
To the normal signs of aging – and many families simply don’t question it.
Continual visits to the facility, interaction with staff and spending time with your loved one are the best ways to notice when something is wrong. You should also educate yourself on the types of elder abuse and neglect to help you identify a problem and address the issue early on.
Several types of elder abuse occur in long-term care facilities across America and can qualify a victim or family for legal remedies.
Nursing home negligence occurs when a facility’s intentional or unintentional failure to use reasonable care to protect its residents results in patient harm. Elder negligence can include failure to provide proper physical or emotional care. Signs of negligence can include frequent falls, fractures, bedsores, wandering or malnutrition.
Physical abuse occurs when caregivers treat a patient roughly or physically harm them. Nursing home physical abuse can include overmedication, assault, denial of pain medication or improper use of physical restraints.
Emotional abuse can be equally or more damaging than physical abuse, yet is often the hardest to detect. Nursing home emotional abuse may include inattention, forced isolation, teasing, threats, verbal humiliation, unwarranted sarcasm or manipulation.
Elder financial abuse may occur when a staff member steals a resident’s private property, asks for gifts in return for care, uses threats, manipulation or deceit to access a patient’s bank account or forces the patient to alter the terms of a deed, will or power of attorney.
For a detailed look at elder financial abuse and how you can recover stolen funds, download our Free Guide on Elder Fraud and Financial Abuse.
Nursing home sexual abuse involves both physical and emotional abuse and is unwanted, non-consensual sexual contact with a patient by staff, other patients or even visitors.
Both the facility and the perpetrator are liable for sexual abuse since the facility has a duty to provide a safe environment. Sexual abuse may include forced sex, coerced sex, intentional invasion of privacy or sexual contact with patients who cannot consent.
Warning Signs and Symptoms of Nursing Home Abuse
Educating yourself on the signs and symptoms of elder abuse and neglect can help you identify a problem before a severe injury occurs. The National Center on Elder Abuse’s Red Flags of Abuse Factsheet lists several important signs of abuse and neglect.
Common warning signs and symptoms of nursing home abuse include:
- Lack of supervision for disabled, immobile or dementia patients
- Non-working plumbing, heating, air conditioning, lighting or appliances
- Soiled or inadequate bedding
- Clutter, unclear walking paths, fire hazards
- Poor hygiene, unkempt appearance
- Weight loss, hair loss
- Dizzy spells
- Chapped lips, dry skin
- Extreme thirst or hunger
- Missing or broken necessities - dentures, glasses, hearing aids, walkers
- Bruising, fractures or infected pressure sores (bedsores)
- Constant pain (possible theft of pain medication)
- Abnormal social isolation, paranoia, anxiety or lack of interest
- Recurrent crying or depression
- Complaints about facility or staff
- Fatigue, weakness (potential overmedication)
- Missing jewelry or valuable possessions
- Suddenly signing over power of attorney, deed or will
For a more detailed list of warning signs of nursing home abuse, download our Free Guide on Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse.
Even a mere suspicion of abuse or neglect is enough to consult an experienced nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer.
Courts Offer Financial Compensation to Nursing Home Abuse Victims
When nursing homes fail to comply with any Nursing Home Reform Act standard, that facility may be subject to agency monitoring, civil penalties, denial of state Medicaid or Medicare payments, temporary exclusion or termination.
In addition, when a nursing home or other long-term care facility violates state or federal law, and that violation results in injury or death to the patient, the victim and/or family members may be eligible to file a lawsuit for financial compensation.
Courts may order negligent or corrupt nursing home facilities to pay substantial damages to victims and their family members, including:
- Past and future medical costs
- Damages for pain and suffering
- Attorneys’ fees and litigation costs
- Wrongful death damages
An experienced elder abuse and neglect lawyer will seek out evidence of additional deficiencies within the nursing home in addition to the obvious claims for neglect and abuse.
Common shortcomings that often coincide with neglectful or abusive nursing home facilities and caregivers include:
Inadequate Staffing Levels
Medicare and most state Medicaid programs require nursing homes and long-term care facilities to maintain adequate staffing levels. Yet some corrupt facilities attempt to save money by cutting corners on staffing.
Understaffed facilities lack the required resources to properly respond to emergencies and provide adequate daily treatments for patients. Low staffing levels inevitably lead to poor quality care, stressed caregivers, patient neglect and potential abuse.
Poor Training / Improper Credentials
Nursing homes may also try to save money by employing healthcare workers who lack the certifications required by law or by skimping on caregiver training. For example, using LPNs as substitutes for RNs is illegal when a treatment requires an RN provider.
Similarly, allowing nurses to prescribe and sign for medications that require a medical doctor signature is illegal.
Courts may also hold long-term care facilities and administrators liable for negligent hiring. All employees should be background checked for prior or pending criminal charges, prior acts of violent behavior and any substance abuse or dependency issues.
Employees with a history of crime or addiction are more likely to steal medications or personal property from patients.
Improper Medical Care
By law, every nursing home patient is entitled to quality healthcare. If the level of care falls below the legal requirements, courts may hold the facility liable. Improper or lacking patient care plans, overmedication, missed meds, treatment errors and other such acts constitute improper medical care.
Safe Environment Claims
Nursing home facilities have a legal duty to make their premises safe for patients. This includes providing secure hand rails and functional ramps for wheelchair access, passageways clear of debris, clear and accessible fire exits and frequent patient checks.
Even if a resident abuses another resident, courts may hold the facility and its administrators responsible for allowing the conduct to occur.
A finding of any of the above deficiencies in nursing home neglect and abuse cases can increase the potential amount of damages the court awards to the victim.
What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse
Putting a stop to the ever-increasing problem of nursing home abuse means safeguarding yourself and your loved ones by familiarizing yourself with the legal rights of nursing home residents. Learn to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of elder abuse and neglect and understand what to do should you discover that your loved one is in an unsafe place.
Many innocent families experience the tragic effects of our damaged elder care system every day. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be a victim of abuse or neglect in a long-term care facility, be sure to follow these three steps:
Step 1: Remove Patient from Immediate Danger
If you, your loved one or another senior is in immediate danger, call 911. Plan to remove them from the nursing home as soon as possible. Transfer them to a hospital, alternate care facility or a temporary stay in a trusted home.
Remember to pack all required medications, obtain copies of medical records and notify the patient’s physician of the relocation.
If your loved one is not in immediate danger, make plans to transfer them to an alternative care facility as soon as possible. While you should always notify the patient’s physician of your intentions to transfer residence, you do not have to discuss your reasons for leaving with anyone involved.
Step 2: Contact an Elder Abuse and Neglect Attorney
Any victim of abuse, or friend, family member, caretaker or other acquaintance who suspects nursing home abuse or neglect should contact an elder abuse and neglect attorney through the Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyer Network immediately.
Our elder abuse attorneys offer contingent fees on nursing home abuse cases, meaning you pay only if and when we win compensation for you.
Remember that reporting your concerns to law enforcement, nursing home staff, administrators or even friends before speaking with an attorney can seriously jeopardize your eligibility for financial compensation.
Your lawyer will protect your information, your rights and the success of any claim for financial compensation.
An experienced nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer helps their client:
- Protect the resident from future abuse
- Navigate complex nursing home abuse and elder care laws
- Follow detailed procedures and statutes of limitations involved in filing a claim
- Protect the rights of the victim and their family members
- Understand what documents or evidence are helpful for a case
- Know how to legally obtain those documents
- Maximize financial compensation
Step 3: Collect Evidence and Consider Filing a Lawsuit to Collect Financial Compensation
Evidence of nursing home abuse or neglect may include:
- Medical documents and records
- Photos or video of injuries or the living environment
- Audio recordings of interactions with staff
- Medical expert opinion
- Staff witnesses
- Visitor testimony or another patient’s testimony
In addition, keeping a detailed written diary of all events or suspicious activities relating to the abuse or neglect of a senior is important. Write down all dates, times, descriptions of your concerns and the names of any eye witnesses.
Any of these forms of evidence will help prove a claim for financial compensation.
When a nursing home facility violates the legal rights of a nursing home resident, that resident and their family have the right to file a claim for damages. Families and victims use civil lawsuits to obtain financial compensation from the wrongdoer and address pain and suffering.
In addition, the victim and family may pursue criminal charges in cases of severe physical abuse, financial abuse or property theft.
Winning financial compensation for nursing home negligence or abuse requires that the victim or their family show that injury or death was a result of the nursing home’s failure to perform their legal standard of care.
Your nursing home abuse and neglect attorney can help you gather the evidence and testimony to prove your claims of abuse or neglect.
Victims and families of nursing home abuse don’t always have to go to trial to collect financial compensation.
Often, nursing home facilities are willing to pay a large settlement to end the case without going to trial. Settlements offer more privacy to the victim and family and can be less time intensive than trial. In other cases, the victim may opt to continue to trial for a judge’s decision.
Locate an Experienced Elder Abuse and Neglect Lawyer
Whether you are considering reporting a nursing home for neglect or abuse or seeking financial compensation for medical bills and pain and suffering, the Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Lawyer Network can help answer your questions in a free, fully confidential case evaluation.
Our experienced nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers have prevailed against numerous wealthy and large companies and will fight for your rights and the rights of your loved ones. Our medical experts, investigative team and legal staff are fully versed in the nuances of elder law.
We can guide you through the complex process of filing a claim to collect the financial compensation you and your family deserve.
Do not hesitate to contact us with questions about your case. Your family is our family. If you suspect that your loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse, call now and learn how to stop the illegal conduct and your potential for financial compensation in a free, fully confidential case evaluation. 833.201.1555