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Nursing Home Abuse

What To Do When Your Loved One Suffers Nursing Home Abuse

A nursing home is a residential facility that offers special care to people with special needs. They are particularly useful for older persons with mobility and eating problems or some disability.

Due to the vagaries of life, it often happens that we are unable to provide the personal, loving care we know our elderly loved ones deserve. Nursing homes help to fill the gap and provide the loving, personalized care we are unable to. They ensure that older persons can get proper attention and even better care than their families may have been able to provide.

But what happens when the nursing home you have trusted to take care of your elderly loved ones cause them injury instead. What happens when they do not get the special care you expressly requested but suffer neglect instead? While this may seem like an evil too great to perpetrate, the unfortunate truth is that nursing home neglect is very common.

The World Health Organization reports that between 4% and 10% of senior citizens aged 65 and older experience at least one act of elderly abuse each year. Even more, over 3 million people in the U.S. experience some form of abuse or neglect while living in nursing homes.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 500,000 older adults over the age of 60 are abused or neglected each year. These numbers likely reflect just a portion of the real problem, since many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported each year.

The startling truth is your elderly loved ones can suffer neglect, abuse and injury where you expected they would have special care. Fortunately, they have a right to redress under the law. If they are unable to take legal action by themselves due to their advanced age or illness, the law also allows you take action on their behalf.

If anyone has made your elderly loved ones suffer, you can hold them responsible. At Oshan and Associates, our task is to see that responsible parties are held to account for every abuse or neglect your loved ones suffer.

To hold the responsible parties to account though, it is important that you understand what your rights are in the event. This article explains nursing home abuse and neglect in the care facility setting and outlines an abused or neglected resident's legal options.

Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse is also commonly referred to as elder abuse. The Administration on Aging, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services, defines elder abuse. It constitutes “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult”.

Six types of maltreatment have been identified by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be common to people aged 60 and above. These include: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial abuse, and abandonment. These forms of abuse can be grouped into two:

  • Physical Abuse: This entails the improper application of physical or medicinal restraints. They cover slapping, pushing, and hitting. Quite often, they may become identifiable with the presence of unexplained injuries like bruises, burns or broken bones.
  • Emotional Abuse: Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse cannot be easily detected. It may however manifest through sudden and unexplained change in mood or personality. Anxiety or fear of interacting with nursing home staff or caregivers or even refusal to see family members or close friends are useful pointers.

Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing home neglect is also referred to as elder neglect. With 95 percent of nursing home residents reporting neglect in the past year, nursing home neglect is the most common type of elder abuse in nursing facilities.

Elder neglect doesn’t lend itself to simple definition. In its simple form, it can be understood to be the failure of a caregiver or hired staff to perform their obligations towards the care of an elderly.

Elder neglect is not the same thing as negligence though. It is also different from elder abuse. Nursing home neglect presupposes the presence of the ‘intention’ of the caregiver to harm the elderly person. Nursing home abuse, conversely, means a breach of duty or the use of substandard care to the elderly. In this instance, there is reasonable expectation that the actions of the caregiver could cause harm to the elderly.

Nursing home neglect may take the form of denial of essential needs like shelter, food, clothing, hygiene or medical care.

Forms of Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing home neglect can assume many forms. All these will qualify as breach of duty on the part of the caregiver:

  • Neglect of Basic Needs: Basic needs are those necessaries that include food, water, and clothing. Neglect occurs when a nursing facility fails to provide the resident with obligatory basic necessities.
  • Medical Neglect: Nursing homes are duty bound to attend to the medical needs of their residents. Neglect occurs when the nursing facility fails to attend to the medical concerns of the resident. It may also arise when pre-existing medical conditions like bedsores, infections, mobility issues or lacerations, are left unattended.
  • Neglect of Personal Hygiene: Other than access to clean and safe environment, the resident should also be aided in maintaining personal hygiene.  Failure to offer the nursing home resident adequate assistance with personal grooming will amount to neglect.
  • Social or Emotional Neglect: This has also been recognized by law to be a form of nursing home neglect. Depending on the circumstances, isolation or ‘abandonment’ may qualify as social or emotional neglect.

Common Nursing Facility Neglect Symptoms

The majority of nursing home residents are elderly. As such, they stand a greater risk of being prone to physical injuries or illnesses and infections.

While some of these injuries may be physically obvious, others are less visible and can easily go undetected. Injuries from falls or strangulation from a malfunctioning bed can exhibit physical signs of significant nursing facility neglect.

Other concerns related to neglect on the part of nursing home residents include bedsores, dehydration, and malnutrition. These are facility neglect symptoms that can be easily identified by the resident’s loved ones.

There are quite a large number of other illnesses that may be regarded as being less severe, and thus go unreported. This highlights the importance of always reporting incidences of nursing home neglect. This can often be a matter of life and death for the nursing home residents.

Signs of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

Detecting nursing home neglect is not often easy. This is no doubt because the telling signs can be extremely subtle. Even more saddening, there may be no physical indication of neglect.

This is made more difficult when our loved ones are in nursing homes that are not within close distance. Behavioral changes, and even bruises, may go undetected as a result of this. Add the fact that many senior citizens may be unable to express their concerns about possible neglect (due to illness or degenerative) disease, and the problem is even worse.

Despite these difficulties, there are telltale signs that may point to the existence of nursing home neglect or nursing home abuse. Some of these include:

  • Injuries as a result of falls;
  • Sudden weight loss;
  • Bedsores and frequent infections that may be as a result of malnutrition;
  • Dehydration due to failure to provide the resident with adequate amounts of water;
  • Social withdrawal or abnormal changes in behavior;
  • Alterations in appearance or personal hygiene;
  • Presence of environmental or hygienic hazards like slippery floors, unsafe wheelchairs, walkers, or unsafe furniture in the nursing home.

These signs are not exhaustive in themselves. They do not also strictly signify the existence of nursing home abuse or neglect. They only serve as pointers that we should always watch out for in the nursing homes of our loved ones. And when they are observed, it is imperative to follow up with questions.

Legal Protection of the Aged

Special attention must be paid to the needs of the aged. It is for this purpose that various laws and programs, have been made to protect the rights of nursing home residents. These laws specify minimum standards expected of nursing homes in the care of their residents.

The laws include the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 and the Older Americans Act. Policies include the Veterans Administration, Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, Adult Protective Services, Medicare and Medicaid.

In order to ensure adequate care of elderly persons, the Older Americans Act was specially enacted in 1965. The act provides funds for critical services that keep older Americans healthy and independent. An important aspect of this law is that it offers older Americans the right to access a network of free legal services. This is to safeguard their wellbeing and quality of life.

Under this law, the Administration of Aging, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was instituted. This department offers legal assistance under Title III-B Provisions of the Older Americans Act.

With over 1,000 service providers nationwide, the legal services of the Older Americans Act has provided more than 1 million hours of service every year.

For elders with pressing economic or social needs, the legal aid includes assistance to secure public benefits and access housing. They are also helped to designate surrogate decision makers, secure financing options, and take legal action in response to fraud or abuse.

Nursing Home Negligence

Nursing homes are obligated to provide adequate care for their residents. When they fail in this duty, the issue of legal negligence may arise. Going largely underreported, it is estimated that more than 2.5 million Americans annually are victims of elderly abuse caused by the negligent acts of nursing homes.

Recognizably, the majority of the patients or residents in assisted living facilities and nursing homes are older and vulnerable members of the society that must be protected.

If the nursing home fails in its duties, the residents of the home or their loved ones may file a negligence lawsuit. This may cover failure to provide the required standard of care and medical treatment or a reasonable and safe environment. It could also cover the maintenance of adequate health and safety procedures.

Liability of Persons in Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

The nursing home may incur vicarious liability for the acts of its employees done in the course and scope of employment. Legally, this means that the superior (the nursing home) can be held accountable for the acts of the subordinate (the employees).

When an abuse or neglect happens, the nursing home can be held liable for any of the following:

  • Breach of statutory or regulatory obligations
  • Negligent hiring
  • Understaffing
  • Inadequate training of staff
  • Medication errors.

Apart from the nursing home, some other persons may also be held liable for nursing home neglect or abuse. Third parties such as independent contractors working for the nursing home may be liable. They are not employees of the nursing home though and as such, the nursing home will not be held vicariously liable for their acts.

Here, the third parties will also answer for the nursing home abuse or neglect arising from their actions or inactions.

Actions to Take If You Suspect Nursing Home Neglect or Abuse

Waiting for conclusive evidence or physical proof of nursing home abuse before acting may prove damaging. This is why you cannot afford to delay taking necessary steps.

If you have reasonable suspicions, you can contact your local Adult Protective Services (APS) agency to report any issue you have spotted. The APS is a social services program provided by state and local governments nationwide for the protection of the rights of older adults and adults with disabilities.

When you make the report, the agency will conduct its own investigation. This may involve meeting with the victim. As it is only a report, you would not be required to provide ‘conclusive proof’.

You may also contact the National Center on Elder Abuse on their resource page if you have any concerns. Your state’s long-term care ombudsman can also serve as a resource. To find your local ombudsman’s office, call the U.S. Administration on Aging at 800 677 1116. For New York, you may contact the Administration on Aging here for their local offices.

Nursing Home Lawsuits

The initial recourse is to try and remedy the nursing home neglect or abuse with government agencies. For a number of reasons however, you may have to seek the remedy you require through lawsuits.

For one, government agencies may not take adequate action to resolve the neglect or abuse. You may seek remedy in the courts to:

  • Sue the offenders or abusers
  • Recover stolen assets and property
  • Ask the court for damages for injuries suffered by the victim as a result of the neglect or abuse
  • Seek restraining orders against the assailant

In these instances, legal assistance can be provided by private attorneys, local or state-operated bar associations or government-subsidized legal aid programs for seniors.

Statute of Limitations For Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse Cases

The statute of limitations concerns the timeframe within which a matter can be instituted in court. Once the given period expires, the matter can no longer be entertained by the court.

Lawsuits in nursing home abuse or neglect cases also have a limitation period specified by the statute of limitations. They however vary from state to state and can be anytime from a period of 1 year to 6 years.

The average statute of limitations on nursing home abuse is between 2 and 3 years. In New York, nursing home abuse or neglect case generally must be instituted within 3 years from the day of occurrence.

Consult with an Attorney Experienced in Nursing Home Cases

Victims of nursing home abuse or neglect are among the vulnerable. Staff, caregivers, family members, doctors and other residents are obligated to report nursing home abuse or neglect to the authorities.

At Oshan and Associates, we strongly believe no person should be taken advantage of, least of all elderly citizens. We will not only help you determine whether or not you have a case and the parties to be held liable, we will help you hold them accountable.

Get in touch with the team of experienced nursing home abuse or neglect attorneys at Oshan and Associates to set up your initial consultation today. We will help you learn more about the legal options available for your loved ones who have been victims of abuse in nursing homes. Schedule a free consultation here or call us on (206) 335-3880 or (646) 421-4062 today.