There is a point when almost everyone needs help carrying for themselves. Some get by with the help of family members while others rely on home care. For others the choices may include an assisted living facility, adult day care, dementia care placement, hospice or a skilled nursing facility (nursing home). We should be comfortable in our golden years and family members should share that same comfort, knowing that their loved one is in good hands.
Unfortunately, there are a few bad actors out there. People ready to financially exploit the elderly, greedy relatives willing to steal from a loved one or nursing homes more interested in making profits instead of patient care.
That is where elder abuse lawyers can help. In this post we examine the laws in Pennsylvania regarding nursing home abuse, financial exploitation and legal protections for seniors. Although we use the words “elder” and “senior” throughout, in many cases these laws protect other care dependent people.
Elder abuse and neglect is illegal in the Keystone state. Pennsylvania law covers a wide variety of conduct involving seniors. Those laws include:
- Illegal use of chemical and physical restraints (medical necessity test)
- Unreasonable confinement
- Physical harm or abuse
- Sexual assault or abuse
- Sexual harassment
- Depriving a patient of adequate care, food, water or medication
- Undue influence or coercion
- Taking property (stealing)
- Material exploitation
According to census data, Pennsylvania has the fourth largest population of seniors, 21.4% of the state’s population. By 2020 over 3 million Pennsylvanians will be over 60.
Worried that you or a loved one is the victim of serious abuse or neglect, contact us online or by phone at 833.201.1555 (toll free). All inquiries are protected by the attorney – client privilege and kept confidential.
Pennsylvania Nursing Home Patients Have Rights!
Both federal and Pennsylvania give nursing home residents important legal rights. These rights include:
- The right to choose your own attending physician
- The right to participate in the development of your treatment plan
- The right to be fully informed about your treatment plan
- The right to be free of chemical and physical restraints which are not medically necessary to treat your medical conditions’
- The right to have a comprehensive medical assessment within 2 weeks of admission
- The right to access your medical records upon demand
- The right to privacy
- The right to voice grievances and do so without the fear of retaliation
- A right to be given at least 30 days notice before being transferred or discharged
Pennsylvania Assisted Living Facility Patient Rights
Licensed skilled nursing facilities obviously provide a higher level of care. Assisted living facilities, however, fill in an important gap for those folks who need a little more assistance with daily living but not the specialized advance care of a nursing home.
Even in assisted living facilities, patients have rights. Those rights include:
- The right to privacy
- The right to receive visitors
- The right to freely come and go
- The right to have assistance with medications or receive reminders to take medication
- A right to 30 days advance notice if one’s stay is to be terminated
- The right to be free of chemical and physical restraints
Why are there differences between patients in nursing homes and assisted living facilities?
The obvious difference is the level of care required. Nursing homes – known as skilled nursing facilities – offer a much higher range of healthcare services and operate more like hospitals. In Pennsylvania, assisted living facilities are regulated by the state Department of Welfare whereas nursing homes are regulated by the state’s Department of Health.
Signs of Elder Abuse and Neglect
Elder abuse occurs when someone harms, neglects or exploits an older or care dependent person. There are usually warning signs, however many victims are too afraid or embarrassed to report being abused. This is especially true if the victim is dependent on the care giver or the care giver is a family member.
The warning signs include:
- Dehydration / malnutrition not related to medical condition
- Unexplained weight loss
- Poor hygiene
- Unsanitary/unsafe living conditions
- Bedsores (There is never an excuse for bedsores. See our post “Can I Sue a Nursing Home for Bedsores” for more information)
- Bruises, cuts, or welts
- Falling (Falls are mostly preventable, frequent falls in a facility is a red flag of poor care)
- Vaginal bleeding, genital bruises or sexually transmitted disease)
- Broken bones
- Refusal or reluctance to see a physician for injuries
- Frightened or withdrawn
- Depression or sudden change in mood
- Refusal to speak
- Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts
- Sudden new “friend” (sometimes a sign of financial exploitation)
- Unpaid bills
- Missing financial documents
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. For more on the types cases we accept, keep reading!
Pennsylvania Mandatory Abuse Reporting
In 1997, the Pennsylvania Legislature mandated reporting of abuse on the elderly and care dependent adults. (Abuse of minors was already subject to reporting.)
Pennsylvania Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA)
The law applies to all administrators and employees (including contract workers) of long term care facilities, older adult daily living centers and personal care homes. It also applies to personal care and home healthcare workers who provide services in care dependent person’s home.
The law protects “adults who, due to physical or cognitive disability or impairment, requires assistance to meet needs for food, shelter, clothing, personal care or health care.” Ch. 15 Pennsylvania Code. Despite the words “older adults” in the title of the law, there is no minimum age in order to be protected.
Although the law requires home healthcare and nursing home workers to report abuse, the law is often ineffective when it is employees of the nursing home or the victim’s home care worker who are committing the abuse. The state’s mandatory law is no substitute for vigilance by concerned friends and family. Those suffering neglect and abuse are often the ones who are alone and have no visitors. (Refused visitation is also a red flag of abuse!)
The Pennsylvania Older Adults Protective Services Act also requires state police background checks for most long term care workers.
Pennsylvania Law on Emergency Intervention
Pennsylvania law allows the state to seek an emergency order from the Court of Common Pleas when there is “clear and convincing evidence that, if protective services are not provided, [an] older adult to be protected is at imminent risk of death or serious physical harm.” Pa. Code §15.71. A court can order the forcible entry into the victim’s residence and take custody of the senior and provide necessary services. The orders are good for 72 hours after which a full hearing must be scheduled.
Only the local Area Agency on Aging or its designee can file an emergency intervention orders. Families or loved ones can also seek court intervention but not without a full hearing and proper notice. The emergency intervention procedure is only for dire “life and death” emergencies.
[Intervention orders are not the type services we typically handle. Our practice is geared to prosecuting elder abuse cases involving serious injuries and death.]
Pennsylvania Elder Financial Abuse
Much of this post is dedicated to physical abuse and neglect of Pennsylvania seniors. But according to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, financial abuse is one of the most frequent type of abuse against Pennsylvania elders. A state Elder Abuse and Neglect Committee report found that 16.1% of abuse cases investigated by Area Agencies on Aging in Pennsylvania involved substantiated complaints of financial abuse against elders. The report noted that by some estimates, as much as 30% of elder abuse cases may involve financial exploitation.
Many of those financial exploitation cases involve misuse of powers of attorney.
Knowing this, Pennsylvania courts allow many interested parties to seek court review of the agent’s conduct involving powers of attorney. Section 116 of the state’s Uniform Power of Attorney Act allows the principal (the elder or care dependent person). Spouses, parents, children and grandchildren and named beneficiaries to seek court review.
[Note the agent is the person holding or exercising the power of attorney.]
Getting help is easy in Pennsylvania. The hardest step is picking up the phone and making the call. If you or a loved one was seriously injured or died because of neglect or abuse or lost $500,000 or more in a financial scam / forged or phony will, we can help. Call us immediately. Our team and network of dedicated Pennsylvania elder abuse lawyers have decades of experience fighting for the rights of seriously injured people. All inquiries are confidential and there is never a fee for the consultation.
Worried about how to pay for a lawyer. In most instances are services are provided on a contingency or success fee basis meaning you don’t owe us for our time or costs unless we recover money for you.
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.
Have other problems? We suggest you for start with your local Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging. The number for all 52 agencies appear below.
Important Pennsylvania Resources for Seniors
- Pennsylvania Department of Aging Elder Abuse Hotline 1-800-490-8505
- Pennsylvania Attorney General Elder Abuse Unit 1-866-623-2137
- Office of State Long Term Care Ombudsman 717-783-8975
- Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233
- Pennsylvania Area Agencies on Aging (These AAA offices are a good starting point for help)