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Georgia Elder Abuse – Nursing Home Abuse

Elder abuse and nursing home neglect are huge problems in Georgia.  Luckily, there are many resources available for victims of abuse and their families. In the information below, we have summarized the laws and help available.

Our seniors and disabled adults are one of our most cherished and valued assets. They are also vulnerable and sometimes lack a voice. As elder abuse and nursing home neglect lawyers, we work tirelessly to protect and serve our seniors.

Unfortunately, government statistics reveal that Georgia nursing homes are some of the most dangerous in the nation. That’s not a typo and its why we selected Georgia to be our first state information page.

Data from the government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicates that more than 25% of Georgia nursing homes only received a one-star rating. The Families for Better Care organization gives Georgia an overall grade of F and notes it is the worst of the southeastern states.

Ominously, its ratings have been plummeting in recent years. Instead of a wakeup call, Georgia is getting worse!

National statistics indicate that between 4% and 6% of seniors are victims of financial abuse, physical abuse or neglect. That figure skyrockets when a senior’s health declines to that point of requiring home care or placement in a nursing home.

According to Families for Better Care, Georgia ranks worst in direct care staffing and 49th in professional nursing staffing. (We don’t fault the nurses or healthcare workers for these atrocious figures, the problem rests squarely with the facilities that put profits before patients.)

Worse, most incidents of neglect and abuse are never reported. In fact, only 1 in 44 cases of elder financial abuse are reported.

This resource and information page is divided into several sections:

GEORGIA ELDER ABUSE and NURSING HOME ABUSE

Elder Abuse refers to any reckless, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult. Georgia law recognizes several categories of Elder Abuse including:

  • physical abuse,
  • financial abuse (exploitation),
  • sexual abuse,
  • neglect; and
  • emotional abuse (including verbal or mental abuse).

Who Is Protected in Georgia?

Georgia’s elder abuse laws include persons 65 and older and younger adults 18 and older if they possess certain disabilities. For purposes of this website, we frequently refer to these folks as “seniors” or “elders” although Georgia law extends to any adult who is incapacitated or disabled.

Who Are the Abusers?

Abusers can be anyone who comes into contact with an elder. In most cases, however, they are family members, caregivers or someone the elder knows and trusts.

However, they are often people that the senior knows or trusts. Here are some common examples:

Family Members. The biggest culprits in Georgia elder financial abuse schemes? Family members! Georgia’s Division on Aging Services believes that over 60% of the people behind financial abuse schemes are members of the victim’s family… often the victim’s own son or daughter.

Sometimes the motivation is jealousy, sometimes it is a feeling of entitlement and sadly, sometimes because the offender has an addiction.

Often we see victims afraid to report exploitation by family members. They are sometimes too ashamed to come forward or worry that if they raise a fuss, no one will come and visit.

Caregivers. The number two offender group is caregivers. It could be a direct caregiver such as a CNA or a home health aide. Sometimes it is someone who works in the back office, someone with access to the victim’s social security number and other biographical identity information.

Sadly, we often see cases involving poorly trained and poorly screened home health care workers. By having access to the victim’s house, they can access checkbooks, credit cards and other important documents.

Caregiver cases are frequently not reported. Because the victim may be totally dependent on the caregiver, there is a hesitation to report theft and exploitation.

Fiduciaries. We trust lawyers, bankers, stockbrokers and even guardians to care for our elderly and disabled family members. These are folks who have a legal obligation to look after the best interests of their clients. Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples who use their positions of power and trust to benefit themselves at the expense of their clients.

Con Artists. The last group of offenders are con artists. This broad category includes door to door salesmen, Internet scams and fraudsters that run phony contest schemes.

Physical Abuse

Georgia defines physical abuse is defined as the use of force that may result in bodily injury or physical pain. Physical abuse can include any act of violence. It includes the obvious… hitting, shoving, pushing, shaking and kicking. It can also include improper use of physical restraints, forced feeding and improper medications.

Some nursing homes and adult day care centers make up for their own inadequate staff by simply drugging their patients. (In one case we prosecuted, patients that were improperly medicated were said to be on “the Thorazine shuffle.”)

Signs of physical abuse can include:

  • Bruises (look for bruises that suggest shaking or holding someone down),
  • Black eyes,
  • Internal injuries,
  • Signs of drugging or medication overdoses,
  • Welts,
  • Marks consistent with restraints,
  • Broken bones; and
  • Open wounds (bed sores may be a sign of neglect or physical abuse – if the patient is forcibly restrained and develops a bed sore, the wound is a sign of physical abuse).

In addition to the obvious, look for things like a sudden change in behavior or the patient suddenly becoming depressed or uncommunicative. Another sign is a caregiver who either refuses access to the patient or insists on being present in the room.

Sometimes caregivers steal a patient’s pain medication. If a loved one is in constant and chronic pain and the medications appear to have no effect, consider a lab test to see if the medications are even being dispensed.

If you or a loved one has been suffered serious harm in a nursing home, adult care facility or in your own home, contact us today.

For more information, contact us online or by phone at 833.201.1555 (toll free). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.

Financial Exploitation (Elder Financial Abuse)

Georgia law broadly defines financial abuse. It includes theft of an elder person’s funds, assets or real estate. Common examples include unauthorized withdrawals from a senior’s account, forging signatures on wills or other documents, coercion or undue influence over an elder in order to get them to turn over assets or money, and undue influence to coerce a senior to sign a will or power of attorney.

In some really egregious cases, it can include filing a false guardianship or conservatorship proceeding simply to get control of the elder’s property. (Cases involving forged wills or coercion in the execution of wills and estate documents is covered later in this guide.)

Seniors and family members should regularly examine bank accounts and ATM activity. Look for sudden withdrawals of large sums of money, unexplained ATM withdrawals and checks that appear forged. (It isn’t unusual for caregivers to steal a few blank checks and later use them.)

Banks are now trained to flag the sudden appearance of a person accompanying an elder to a bank, especially when that elder tries to make a large withdrawal or transfer of money.

Although harder to detect, the sudden appearance of a relative or “friend” who claims rights in a senior’s property or assets should be a red flag.

Often, we see forgeries on wills after the senior has passed away. More about phony wills and coercion later.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of elder financial abuse, contact us today.

For more information, contact us online or by phone at 833.201.1555 (toll free). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes rape, sexual assault or any nonconsensual sexual contact. If the person is legally incapacitated, they are probably legally unable to consent making any sexual contact.

Georgia defines incapacity as the loss of sufficient capacity to make or communicate significant responsible decisions concerning one’s health or safety.

In Georgia, sexual abuse includes not only penetration and unwanted touching but can also include sexually explicit photography or forced / coerced nudity.

Signs and symptoms of sexual abuse include bruising on breasts and genitalia, bruises on the upper arms (from holding someone down), genital infections or bleeding, torn clothing and sudden changes in behavior. It is not uncommon for elderly victims of sexual assault to become depressed or noncommunicative.

If you or a loved one has been suffered serious harm or been the victim of a sexual assault in a nursing home, adult care facility or in your own home, contact us today.

For more information, contact us online or by phone at 833.201.1555 (toll free). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.

Emotional or Psychological Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse is often more harmful than physical abuse. Constant humiliation, threats, and verbal abuse can leave seniors and disabled people in fear. Because folks who are home bound or reliant on others for care are more vulnerable, emotional abuse is particularly harmful. Common signs of emotional and psychological abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sudden withdrawal or non-communication
  • Agitation
  • Eagerness to please
  • Rocking
  • Lack of interest in daily activities
  • Increased anxiety
  • Isolation
  • Claims of abuse made to others

Of course, any of the signs could be associated with other conditions.

One of the best ways to counter psychological abuse is to spend more time with loved ones and family members. The more isolated a senior, the more likely that psychological abuse doesn’t get reported.

Neglect

If abuse is the active form of harming a nursing home patient or senior, neglect is the passive. Both are equally serious, but neglect is more difficult to spot. We all know that punching a patient is illegal but what about constantly ignoring their needs?

Nursing home neglect is frequently overlooked. Over time, it results in a decline in general health and emotional wellbeing of patients. In extreme cases it can be fatal.

Neglect is defined as the refusal or failure to provide proper care for an elder. It is the most common form of elder abuse. Neglect can take many forms including failure to provide food, water, clothing, medications, or personal hygiene assistance.

If a guardian has responsibility for the elder’s finances, neglect can include the failure to manage the senior's money responsibly.

Typical signs of neglect include:

  • Extreme thirst or dehydration;
  • Loss of weight,
  • Untreated bedsores (there is almost never an excuse for bedsores);
  • Poor personal hygiene (soiled bedding, lice, no clean clothes);
  • Untreated health problems;
  • Hazardous living conditions (no heat or air conditioning, exposed wiring); and
  • Unpaid bills despite resources;

Isolated patients or seniors are far more likely to suffer from neglect. Caregivers that prevent visits or insist on being present during visits are a giant red flag.

We often also see neglect when the elder relies on home care. While we believe that most caregivers are eligible for sainthood, sometimes the low wages and easy access to drugs / money motivate the wrong type of person to become home care workers.

What to do if you or someone you know is being abused or neglected?

Nursing home abuse and elder financial abuse are frequently not reported. Georgia is no exception. Whether it be fear, embarrassment or reluctance “to become a burden,” many seniors don’t report or are physically incapable of reporting abuse and neglect.

When you or a loved one is the victim of abuse or neglect (including elder financial abuse), seek legal help immediately.

From serious physical injuries to large thefts to having a loved one die under suspicious circumstances, we are here to help.

Our national boutique and network of elder financial fraud and nursing home abuse lawyers is here for you and your family. We know how to navigate the legal system, advocate for your rights and get the justice you and your family deserves.

We also understand that bringing an elder abuse lawsuit is not just about compensation. By taking action against abusers, we can prevent the same thing from happening to others.

If you or a loved one has been suffered serious harm in a nursing home, adult care facility or in your own home or if you have been the victim of elder financial abuse, contact us today.

For more information, contact us online or by phone at 833.201.1555 (toll free). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.

Georgia Mandatory Reporters

Many people are required by Georgia law to report when they suspect abuse, neglect or exploitation.

Mandated reporters must make a report when they have a reasonable cause to believe that 1) an at-risk adult has had an injury or injuries inflicted upon them by a caretaker or 2) has been neglected or exploited by a caretaker.

Georgia law lists mandated reporters at Code Section 30-5-8 for alleged victims who are disabled adults or elder persons who live in the community; and at Code Section 31-8-80 for alleged victims who are long-term care facility residents. By law the following are mandated reporters of abuse, neglect, and exploitation:

  • Physicians (including interns)
  • Dentists
  • Psychologists
  • Social Workers
  • State or Private Social Service Agency Workers
  • Adult Day Care Operators
  • Pharmacists
  • Nurses
  • Financial Institution Employees
  • Police Nursing Home Workers

Georgia law is somewhat unique in that the list of mandatory reporters extends to bankers and stock brokers. Often banks are the first to see financial exploitation. This can occur when a senior is suddenly at a teller’s window trying to make a large withdrawal and accompanied by a stranger. Another example is a frequent number of ATM withdrawals or ATM withdrawals in a vacation hotspot even though the senior is homebound or in an adult living facility.

When a mandatory reporter in Georgia reports suspected abuse, the report goes to the Georgia Adult Protective Services (“APS”). Their agency rules require:

Upon receiving a report, APS must conduct a prompt, thorough investigation. APS will provide or arrange for protective services with the victim's consent if the investigation shows that the adult needs them. Services may include help to get medical care or better housing; counseling a caregiver; finding adult day care; seeking a protective order; or, in cases where the victim is incompetent, asking a court to assign guardianship. APS can refer you to legal services, help you apply for public assistance, assist you in managing your affairs and even arrange a safe place for you to live.

If anyone interferes with an investigation or with provision of protective services, a petition can be filed in court seeking access to the elder. If there is clear and convincing evidence, the court can order that protective services be provided to the elder and prohibit interference with those services. The hearing usually will be held between 5 and 10 days after the petition is filed. If there is an immediate danger to the elder, an expedited petition can be filed and the court can issue an immediate order, known as an ex parte order. The order will allow immediate access to the elder to determine his or her well-being.

The state and community ombudsman, known as the Long-Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO), in the Division of Aging Services, investigates complaints made by residents in long term care facilities. The ombudsman ensures that the rights of a person living in a nursing home or personal care home are protected. The ombudsman helps the individual resident, not the facility or the family. Under Georgia law, the ombudsman must keep all complaints confidential unless the resident gives permission.”

The Adult Protective Services process in Georgia is intended to be a safety net. The state wants to remove the danger from the senior as quickly as possible. They are not charged with getting damages for injuries or getting back any money that may have been stolen from the victim.

Georgia Criminal Code – Protection of Disabled Adults and Elder Persons

The abuse of an elder or disabled person is a crime in Georgia. The penalties below are in addition to any other crimes that may apply. That means stealing from an elderly Georgia resident can be prosecuted both as theft and as elder abuse.

§ 30-5-8 - Criminal offenses and penalties

(a) (1) In addition to any other provision of law, the abuse, neglect, or exploitation of any disabled adult or elder person shall be unlawful. (2) In addition to any other provision of law, it shall be unlawful for a person to act with the specific intent to abuse, neglect, or commit exploitation of any disabled adult. For purposes of this paragraph only, the term "disabled adult" means a person 18 years of age or older who is: (A) A resident of a long-term care facility, as defined in Article 4 of Chapter 8 of Title 31; and (B) Mentally or physically incapacitated or has Alzheimer's disease, as defined in Code Section 31-8-180, or dementia, as defined in Code Section 49-6-72. An owner, officer, administrator, or board member of a long-term care facility shall not be held criminally liable for the actions of a person who is convicted pursuant to this paragraph. Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed to preempt any other law or to deny to any individual any rights or remedies which are provided under any other law. (3) Except as otherwise provided in Title 16, any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a felony and, upon conviction, shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than five years. (b) (1) It shall be unlawful for any person or official required by paragraph (1) of subsection (a) of Code Section 30-5-4 to report a case of disabled adult or elder person abuse to fail knowingly and willfully to make such report. (2) Any person violating the provisions of this subsection shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. (c) Any violation of this Code section shall constitute a separate offense.

§ 16-5-100 - Cruelty to a person 65 years of age or older

(a) A guardian or other person supervising the welfare of or having immediate charge or custody of a person who is 65 years of age or older commits the offense of cruelty to a person who is 65 years of age or older when the person willfully deprives a person who is 65 years of age or older of health care, shelter, or necessary sustenance to the extent that the health or well-being of a person who is 65 years of age or older is jeopardized. (b) The provisions of this Code section shall not apply to a physician nor any person acting under a physician's direction nor to a hospital, skilled nursing facility, hospice, nor any agent or employee thereof who is in good faith following a course of treatment developed in accordance with accepted medical standards or who is acting in good faith in accordance with a living will, a durable power of attorney for health care, an advance directive for health care, an order not to resuscitate, or the instructions of the patient or the patient's lawful surrogate decision maker, nor shall the provisions of this Code section require any physician, any institution licensed in accordance with Chapter 7 of Title 31 or any employee or agent thereof to provide health care services or shelter to any person in the absence of another legal obligation to do so. (b.1) The provisions of this Code section shall not apply to a guardian or other person supervising the welfare of or having immediate charge or control of a person who is 65 years of age or older who in good faith provides treatment by spiritual means alone through prayer for the person's physical or mental condition, in lieu of medical treatment, in accordance with the practices of and written notarized consent of the person. (c) A person convicted of the offense of cruelty to a person who is 65 years of age or older as provided in this Code section shall be punished by imprisonment for not less than one nor more than 20 years.

GEORGIA RESOURCES and LINKS

[Note: In an emergency, always dial 911]

Elder Law Info Line … 833.201.1555 (toll free)

Georgia Adult Protective Services … 1-866-55AGING (1-866-552-4464)

Georgia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program … 866-552-4464

Georgia Department of Behavioral Health … 1-800-715-4225

Senior Adult Victims Advocate (SAVA) … 404-657-5250

Area Agency on Aging … 404-657-5258

Alzheimer's Association … 800-272-3900

Senior Legal Hotline … 404-657-9915, outside Metro Atlanta … 1-888-257-9519

Office of Regulatory Services Personal Care … 404-657-4076

(If the senior resides in a personal care home)

Office of Regulatory Services Long Term Care … 404-657-5726

(If the senior resides in a nursing home)

Elderly Legal Assistance Program … (404) 657-5319, outside Metro Atlanta … 1-866-552-4464


Remember, we are always here to help. The first step is picking up the phone and calling us. We can take on the heavy lifting from there. If you or a loved one has been suffered serious harm in a nursing home, adult care facility or in your own home or if you have been the victim of elder financial abuse involving the loss of $500,000 or more, contact us today.

For more information, contact us online or by phone at 833.201.1555 (toll free). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.