How to Identify Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Your parents spent most of a lifetime caring for you and supporting you as you moved out into the world. You always believed that you would be able to return this love and support as they aged. However, you never realized the challenges that this would pose. Your parents needed far more physical and emotional support than you could reasonably provide. Moreover, their changing medical needs required increased trips to the doctor and careful monitoring of the various medications that they were taking. You found yourself worrying about them whenever you were not with them, wondering if they would be able to call for help in the event of an emergency or if they would take their medications as prescribed. Ultimately, you discussed their needs and decided that a nursing home was the best option for them. As a loving child, you were careful to research the nursing home to be certain that it met all of their needs, particularly in providing a safe environment for your parents. You were brought to your knees when you learned that one or both of your parents was the victim of nursing home abuse.
Nursing home abuse and elder neglect are all too common. Understaffing, over-crowding, and employee actions all contribute to the epidemic that is wreaking havoc on our senior population. No matter how much care you took in choosing the right nursing home for your parents, neglect and abuse can occur. The skilled lawyers and professionals at Stern Law, PLLC are committed to helping you discover what actually happened to harm your loved one. We will work with you to identify and punish the wrongdoers, no matter how they attempt to hide the truth.
The Definitions, Signs, and Symptoms of Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse can take many different forms, leading to some confusion about what really qualifies as neglect and abuse. Neglect occurs when there is a failure, whether intentional or not, to tender the appropriate care and services to residents of a nursing home in a timely manner. This withheld or delayed care results in the resident suffering harm or discomfort. Neglect also may take the form of a failure to act when there is a danger to a resident, leading to anxiety, agitation, or physical harm. This is different than abuse.
Abuse of the elderly is any willful, knowing, or reckless action that causes harm to an elderly individual through the affirmative action, omission, or instigation of action of another person. The resulting harm does not have to be physical to qualify as elder abuse. It can be emotional or financial as well. Some common forms of elder abuse include physical abuse, including the infliction of corporal punishment, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, verbal abuse, and physical or chemical restraint. Forced separation of a resident also may qualify as elder abuse under certain circumstances. Breaking these down into specific descriptions, elder abuse includes:
Any knowing, willful, or reckless contact with a nursing home resident with the intent to cause physical harm or discomfort may fall within the category of physical abuse, including pinching, slapping, hitting, punching, or kicking. The use of corporal punishment to modify behavior also counts as elder abuse.
This is a common form of elder abuse, especially when residents have mobility challenges or suffer from cognitive impairment. It involves any form of touching of the resident’s breast, anus, or genitals with the intent of the arousal or sexual gratification of any person participating in or viewing the abuse. Sexual abuse includes sexual assault, coercion, or harassment.
Nursing home residents are very vulnerable to psychological abuse due to their reliance on caregivers for most of their physical and emotional needs. When a staff person harasses, intimidates, humiliates, and threatens a resident with deprivation or punishment, he or she is committing psychological abuse.
A resident may be abused through written, oral, or gestured communications that are derogatory, disparaging, or delivered in an intimidating manner. The communication may be considered abusive if made within a close enough proximity for the resident to hear or see, even if the resident does not have the cognitive ability to understand the abusive communication.
In a nursing home, there are limited opportunities for residents to interact with friends, relatives, staff, and other residents. Denying that contact through forced separation or involuntary seclusion is a form of abuse. This action must be taken against the wishes of the resident or the resident’s designated agent. Seclusion that is ordered for medical or other legitimate reasons, and which is monitored by qualified staff, does not constitute abuse.
Physical or Chemical Restraints
The use of physical restraints, including tie-downs and bed rails, and drugs that incapacitate residents was a common form of abuse for many decades. Because of the wide-spread abuse, state and federal regulations were implemented to prevent the use of restraints accept under the direction and supervision of a physician. However, this type of abuse does continue to occur in nursing homes throughout the country.
If you suspect that your loved one may be suffering from abuse at his or her nursing home, you can look out for the following signs:
- A rapid or severe change in your loved one’s behavior, including agitation or anxiety, emotional withdrawal, refusal to allow particular staff members assist them, reported nightmares, or sleeplessness;
- Wandering or attempting to escape from the nursing home;
- Instances of the resident being left in soiled clothes or linens;
- Fear or reluctance to be touched;
- Exhibiting unusual behaviors like biting, sucking on objects or body parts, or rocking back and forth;
- Wanting to remain isolated and not wanting to interact with one or more staff members;
- Increased reports of falls;
- Appearance of unexplained injuries, including bruises, lacerations, and welts;
- Increased or more severe injuries like fractures and head trauma;
- Malnutrition, including rapid weight loss;
- Pressure sores;
- Infections; or
- The unexpected or unexplained death of a resident.
It is important to let your loved one know that you can help if you are given a chance to do so. Many times, a nursing home patient may be convinced by a staff member that he or she will be forced to remain there no matter what the individual reports and that the abuse will only get worse if he or she tells someone about it. By reassuring your parent that there are alternatives and that you will take immediate action to put a stop to the abuse, your parent may talk to you about what happened.
Some additional warning signs that may indicate abuse include:
- The occurrence of severe injuries that require medical intervention or hospitalization, especially if the nursing home staff and management cannot offer a reasonable explanation about why this occurred;
- Broken bones;
- Finding the resident heavily medicated or sedated without justification;
- Learning about incidents involving one resident harming another one;
- Frequent illnesses, especially where they are not promptly brought to the attention of the doctor or other medical personnel; and
- Serious injury or death of a resident, especially shortly after an incident where they caused some disturbance in the nursing home or wandered away from the facility.
If you believe that your parent is being abused, you should take immediate action to get your loved one emergency care and report the suspected abuse to the nursing home administration. If you do not think that management is reacting appropriately, you should report the abuse to the police.
Stern Law, PLLC: Our Lawyers Make a Difference
You believed that a nursing home facility was the best place for your parents, who developed greater needs as they aged. After lengthy discussions with all of your loved ones, you decided that the best place for them would provide a social environment in which they could interact with other people every day. You also selected a nursing home that had a staff that really appeared to be dedicated to the health and wellbeing of the residents. It was a terrible day when you learned that your parent had been neglected and possibly abused. Not only was it a betrayal of your parent, but it also was a betrayal of the trust that you had placed in the nursing home to take care of your parents. Your first reaction was to get your parent the care that he or she needed after the harm that your loved one suffered. Now, you are looking for answers. These may be hard to find because nursing homes are big business and they staff and administration may have a lot of incentive to hide what actually happened to your parent. The attorneys, investigators, and medical professionals at Stern Law, PLLC know how to get through all the barriers to discover the truth. We are committed to providing the resources and knowledge to find out who or what caused your parent’s injury.
It is a situation like yours that first motivated me, Ken Stern, to found a legal initiative where a person suffering from a devastating injury as the result of another person’s actions could find justice. As a son, I understand the emotional upheaval that you experienced when you first learned about your loved one’s suffering. The fact that it was after you had carefully selected a facility that you believed would benefit your parent that makes it so much worse. I know that you seek answers and that it is tough to find these, especially if there are people acting to thwart your efforts. Stern Law, PLLC is based on helping your discover the best path to learning what really happened. We also are committed to providing you with the resources that you need without imposing any obligation on you. This is the best way that we know to help. Part of these founding principles is that I am, personally, available to talk to you and answer your questions, without charge. When you are ready to talk, please call our team at 1-877-469-7273 (1-877-4MYPARENT) at any time, seven days a week. Together, we can get the help that your loved one deserves.