Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse: Recognizing when Your Loved One is in Need

As the Boomer Generation gets older, the nursing home population is expected to grow dramatically.

While these facilities are designed to meet the medical and social needs of older adults and others who are unable to care for themselves, they often fall short of this goal – sometimes, with devastating results.

For many of us, the decision to put our parents or other loved ones into a nursing home is one of the most difficult choices we will ever make. The reality is that many of us do not have the resources or training to provide sufficient care for them, leaving us with no other option.

All we can do is try to find the best facility possible, and trust that the people who have made it their responsibility to care for our loved ones will do so with care and compassion.

The unfortunate truth is that tens of thousands of nursing home residents suffer neglect or outright abuse at the hands of the very people that are supposed to be caring for them. It is absolutely unacceptable that those we trust to care for our loved ones would provide anything less than the level of care that they contracted to provide, yet this occurs on a daily basis in nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the country.

Many older adults are extremely vulnerable to neglect and abuse, and it is unethical and wrong for anyone to take advantage of this vulnerability.

Fortunately, the law recognizes the special position that facilities like nursing homes occupy in our society and imposes legal requirements regarding the standard of care that they provide. When nursing home residents are hurt by the negligent or intentional acts of nursing home staff, they are often entitled to recover compensation for the injuries they have suffered.

While money cannot undue the damage, a financial remedy can certainly hold facilities liable when their residents are allowed to be mistreated, and also provide victims with the sense that justice has been served.

In addition, by holding a nursing home responsible when residents are allowed to be injured or harmed, it prevents others from harm and from suffering needlessly.  That deterrence is important.

Nursing homes know what they are doing. They operate like a business and take steps to minimize the chances that they will be held liable for hurting our loved ones. This is why you should call the most qualified nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer you can find.

As a Loved One of a Nursing Home Resident, You Are Their First Line of Defense

Here’s a fact that may come as a shock: many studies indicate that a significant percentage of nursing home abuse and neglect goes unreported.

Many seniors are too embarrassed or scared to tell their loved ones about the way they are being treated.  After all, the people who are “caring” for them are the gatekeepers to food, medication, and other essentials. It is possible that neglected or abused residents fear that their situation would become worse, that the nursing home would retaliate, if they reported their treatment to their loved ones or authorities.

In some cases, residents with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease may not have the mental capacity to recognize or communicate that they have been the victims of abuse or neglect.

Because nursing home abuse and neglect can go unreported, it is critical for those of us with loved ones in nursing homes to be their first line of defense. When you visit a family member or loved one in a nursing home or long-term care facility, be on the lookout for signs of abuse.

What are the Most Common Signs of Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse?

Of course, in order to recognize neglect or abuse you need to know what to look for. Here are some of the most common signs that your loved one has been subjected to nursing home abuse or neglect:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Overmedication
  • Unnecessary use of restraints
  • Infections
  • Bed sores
  • Pressure Ulcers
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Broken bone or fractures
  •  Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fearful behavior
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Bruises
  • Unwillingness to communicate
  • Untreated medical conditions
  • Malnutrition/Dehydration

What Is Neglect and Abuse and What Does It Look Like?

In addition to being on the lookout for signs of abuse and neglect, loved ones should also be aware of the conduct that can be considered abuse and neglect.

It is important to understand that there is a difference between “abuse” and “neglect.”  Abuse occurs when a person harms a vulnerable person, while neglect involves a pattern of failing to provide the level of care that is legally required.  Some of the more common examples of the abuse and neglect that happens to nursing home residents include the following:

  • Yelling
  • Shaming
  • Verbal abuse
  • Ignoring
  • Failure to provide medical attention
  • Withholding of medication, food, or water
  • Financial exploitation
  • Forgetting to provide scheduled care
  • Negligent hiring or poor training of staff
  • Failing to implement the care ordered by a physician
  • Allowing unsanitary conditions
  • Sexual assault and inappropriate sexual behaviors

If you see or hear nursing home abuse or neglect while you are visiting your loved one, you should not hesitate to report it, even if your loved one is not the one victimized at that time.

If a staff member is abusing one resident, it is likely that it is not an isolated incident. Reporting such suspicions can serve to improve the physical and emotional safety of all residents of the nursing home, your loved one included.

Abusers are Not Always Staff Members

While you are observing the conditions at a nursing home, you should remember that not all cases of abuse are at the hands of staff members working at the facility. Instead, some abusers can be visitors of other residents, strangers who should not be at the nursing home, or even other residents.

An important duty of a nursing home is to provide adequate security to make sure that no one is allowed in resident rooms where they should not be. Failing to have such security measures in place can result in residents being physically or sexually abused by others.

Even if an abuser does not work for the nursing home, the facility may still be held liable if it allowed abuse to occur due to inadequate security on the premises.

You Play an Important Role in Your Loved One’s Safety and Well-being

Unfortunately, many instances of neglect or abuse are never directly seen or heard by visitors but instead happen behind closed doors. Residents may then be threatened or intimidated by the abusive staff member to keep quiet about what happened.

In some situations, a nursing home resident may be ashamed of the abuse that occurred. Such shame may stem from the lack of physical ability to resist or fight back, or from harsh psychological abuse. Feelings of shame are especially common after sexual assault or abuse occurs.

If you want your loved one to be open and honest about any abuse or neglect that takes place, it is essential that you visit them regularly and make it clear that they can trust you.

Remind them that you always want the best for them and inquire about their happiness or other feelings they may have about their living situation and the people around them. Ask them questions about how they spend their days.

Take care to note any personality, mood, or behavioral changes.  Victims of abuse and neglect often become withdrawn, irritable, or may lash out for seemingly no reason.

You should especially note whether your loved one changes their behavior or acts fearful around any particular staff members or residents. You should also note if specific staff members are hesitant to leave you alone with your loved one.

Gaining and keeping the trust of your loved one can increase the chances that they may open up and report that they have experienced neglect or abuse in their nursing home.

You Suspect Neglect or Abuse – How Can You Help?

If your loved one confides in you that they are being mistreated in some way, you should determine whether they need emergency medical care or attention. There may also be physical or psychological injuries that are not readily apparent, and having them examined by a trusted medical professional is generally a good idea.

You should immediately report the abuse or neglect to the nursing home administration.

Many nursing home administrators understand that instances of abuse and neglect can have a significant impact on their bottom line, and even threaten their license to operate the facility. For this reason, many facilities will take swift action against employees who violate their rules and engage in the poor treatment of residents.

However, not all nursing home administrators are cooperative with family members who have concerns about abuse or neglect. Some administrators worry about the effect such reports will have on their reputation; they may deny that any abuse happened and may dispute liability for any injuries that occurred.

In other situations, there may be a pattern of mistreatment that is widespread among staff. Many nursing homes hire underqualified staff members and expect them to work long hours without substantial pay. This can breed an environment of mistreatment.

If neglect or abuse appears to be an accepted practice in a particular nursing home, or if a nursing home refuses to address your concerns, you will want to remove your loved one from that facility as soon as possible.

If your loved one has been badly injured or harmed, you should call and report the abuse to law enforcement.

Standing Up for The Rights of Nursing Home Abuse Victims

Once you are sure your loved one is safe and their medical needs have been addressed, you should discuss your legal options with an experienced nursing home abuse and neglect attorney.

Any nursing home that allows mistreatment, injury, or harm to its residents should be held fully accountable for the damages that can result from abuse and neglect, including:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional anguish
  • Medical expenses to treat physical, mental, and emotional injuries
  • Any other relevant losses

If a nursing home is disputing liability for your loved one’s suffering and injuries, the case may be complicated. You always want an attorney who understands how to fight for the rights of nursing home abuse victims.

Remember How Important Your Role Can Be

Even if your loved one lives in a facility that provides around-the-clock care, you cannot assume that they are receiving the care they need and deserve, and were promised.

You should always remember to visit your loved one on a regular basis – not just to remind them that you love them and that they are important, but also to check in and make sure they are being treated properly.

If you have any suspicions of mistreatment, you should never hesitate to report your concerns because of a fear of seeming disrespectful or accusatory.

The sad reality is that nursing home neglect and abuse occurs regularly, and for that reason, you have valid cause to be concerned when something does not seem right.

You should also never wait to consult with a nursing home abuse attorney who advocates for the rights of the vulnerable or helpless nursing home residents.  We can evaluate your case and help you determine the best course of action to take for your loved one.

To schedule a free consultation with a Phoenix nursing home abuse and neglect attorney, call Miller Kory Rowe LLP today at (602) 461-8640 or send us an email through our online contact form.

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