Nursing Home Neglect
While nursing homes promise to ensure the health and well-being of our older
loved ones, nursing home neglect does happen. Nursing home neglect can present itself in many ways, such as failing to provide:
- Appropriate and clean clothing
- Adequate and healthy food
- Timely medical care
- Access to medications
- Supervision or assistance with daily activities
- Pressure ulcer (bedsore) preventative measures
- Assistance with bathing or keeping residents clean
- A safe environment or equipment
The rights of nursing home residents are just as necessary as those of people living independently, and nursing home residents have the right to live with dignity. Working with an older adult law attorney can help give you or your loved one a voice in what feels like a hopeless situation.
There are different types of mistreatment facing older people in care facilities, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, financial abuse, and neglect. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), neglect is “the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person's obligations or duties of care to an older adult which include, but are not limited to, life necessities such as food, water, clothing, shelter, personal hygiene, medicine, comfort, and personal safety."
Neglect can be intentional or negligent. Negligent care often involves understaffing, failing to follow care regulations or guidelines, or trying to cut costs. Intentional neglect could be used as a way to cruelly punish the victim by denying food, basic care, or isolating the patient.
Anyone can be responsible for neglecting an older or disabled person, including a stranger, nursing home staff member, family member, or even a spouse. Abuse can also happen anywhere, including in the home, a family member's house, or an institutional setting.
Residents of long-term care may be at an increased risk of neglect because they cannot remove themselves from the dangerous environment. Instead, they have to rely on the care facility and care providers for their food, medication, healthcare, dental care, shelter, clothing, and other needs of their daily life.
Nursing home neglect and abuse are more common than you may suspect. Older adult residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities are vulnerable and are not always able to speak out for themselves. According to the NCEA, approximately 10% of older adults are at risk of abuse, including physical harm, psychological or verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial exploitation, and neglect.
The problem of older adult neglect is made worse because older adult abuse is underreported. According to a New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, for every one older adult abuse case that is reported, there are 24 cases that are unknown. Even residents who can communicate about their care may fear retaliation from the staff members for reporting the abuse.
Even when family members have questions about the type of care their older relative is getting, they may be hesitant to report it. The family could have difficulty finding a facility and have limited options for finding a place for their loved one. They may also accept the nursing home's story of how the resident was injured.
People who enter a nursing home may spend years living in the facility. Staff members, facility administration, and nursing care needs can change over time. Family members must take an active role in their older parent's care and report any suspicious changes.
It can be challenging to know if your family member is suffering neglect. Some long-term care patients may be unable to communicate and not tell you they are being mistreated or abused. Patients with dementia or Alzheimer's may not be believed if they complain about neglect. Other older adults may hesitate to speak out because they fear punishment from nursing home staff members for reporting the abuse.
You may be able to look for warning signs of possible neglect, which can include:
- Sudden weight loss or malnutrition
- Poor hygiene
- Medication errorsor overmedicating
- Unexplained injuries
- Loss of interest in activities
- Unexplained or sudden decline in health
- Depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Isolation from friends and family
Nursing home neglect can result from negligent or intentional acts by staff and can continue by the failure of other staff to intervene after witnessing the neglect. Some assisted living facility neglect happens because staff members are poorly trained or have histories of violence or older adult abuse.
Other facilities may have inadequate staffing to administer proper care for all their residents. There are certain minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes to be approved for Medicare and Medicaid. However, nursing home administrators may fail to provide even this minimum level of staffing as a way to save money.
You may wish to pursue a civil negligence lawsuit against the nursing home to receive compensation for your loved one's injuries and suffering. Nursing home negligence claims involve showing the nursing home owed a duty of reasonable care, breaching that duty caused the injury, and your loved one suffered damages as a result.
Nursing home neglect claims are brought against the nursing home itself for issues like:
- Negligent hiring and training practices
- Failure to correct negligence of its staff members
- Failure to properly maintain the premises or equipment
Sometimes, the claim may hold a particular care provider liable for negligent care or supervision of a nursing home resident. A nursing home abuse attorney can help you determine your strategy for filing a nursing home negligence claim. In some cases, neglect can be so severe that the resident cannot survive the serious injuries, leading to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Typically when you or a loved one moves into a nursing home facility, you sign a contract laying out the services being provided and their costs. If the nursing home fails to provide a reasonable quality of care while performing the agreed-upon services, you may also have a breach of contract claim.
As awareness of nursing home negligence grows, so have the laws criminalizing the mistreatment of our older loved ones. Several states have laws to protect nursing home residents and penalize those who neglect them. Some state laws cover inappropriate or violent physical contact and may not cover neglect or threats.
This process begins by reporting the incident to law enforcement so they can conduct an investigation. For example, in South Carolina, suspected nursing home abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation can be reported to the Department of Health and Environmental Control online or by phone.
The findings from the investigation may be used as evidence in the criminal case. The district attorney handles criminal prosecution against a nursing home. However, an older adult law attorney can also help you determine if there are civil options to pursue in your personal injury case.
Another option is to report the neglect to your local adult protective services agency. For example, in Kentucky, any suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation against older adults must be reported to Adult Protective Services (APS). Residents may also be able to contact their state long-term care ombudsperson (LTCO) for advocacy. According to the Arkansas LTCO, the local ombudsman is "a resident advocate making sure residents at long-term care facilities have a good quality of life and get the care they need and deserve."
These agencies work with law enforcement, medical and mental health specialists, and other professionals to protect against neglect, investigate claims, and help remedy these situations. Additionally, these agencies can sanction nursing home facilities that are found responsible for neglect and communicate these incidents with the proper professional and medical licensing organizations for sanctions and license revocation.