What Can I Do If My Loved One Was Abused at a Nursing Home?
Old age is one of the most vulnerable times in a person’s life. If a loved one can no longer care for themselves, sometimes the only solution is to put them in a nursing home. Families often make this difficult decision in the hope that professional caregivers can do a better job than they could. While some nursing homes are excellent facilities, some are understaffed, and the workers are poorly trained. Unfortunately, understaffing and inadequate training often lead to nursing home abuse.
As of 2018, there were 52 million people over the age of 65 in the United States. Some estimates suggest almost one in ten older adults suffer from elder abuse each year, meaning that as many as 5 million elderly people could be hurt annually. The National Institutes of Health and the National Center on Elder Abuse both report that elderly women are more likely to suffer from abuse than men. While abuse can occur in the home, there are high rates of ill-treatment in long-term care facilities and nursing homes. In 2018, two in three staff members at these institutions admitted to abusing patients within the previous year.
We can all agree that no one should be subjected to abuse. It can be distressing to learn that your parent or grandparent is being mistreated by the very person who should care for them. Fortunately, you and your elderly family member have recourse. If you can prove that the nursing home or its employees acted negligently, you may be able to hold them liable for damages. Working with a nursing home abuse lawyer, you can get compensation for medical bills, disability, disfigurement, pain and suffering, and other losses. Depending on the state in which the abuse occurred, you may also be able to recover punitive damages in particularly serious cases.
Types of Elder Abuse
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elder abuse is a deliberate act or failure to act that causes harm or creates the risk of harm in an older adult. An older adult is an individual over the age of 60. The responsible person can be a caregiver or another person in a position of trust. Elder abuse can be:
- Physical. This includes obvious forms of abuse like hitting, pushing or kicking the patient or throwing objects at them. However, physical abuse also covers overmedicating, force-feeding, and using excessive chemical or physical restraints.
- Emotional. Mental abuse can take several forms including insults, threats, and isolation. It also includes emotional manipulation. A staff member may tell the patient they won’t get fed or cared for if they reveal other instances of abuse. Elderly people can also be manipulated into not asking for water or snacks if they want to avoid abuse. Sometimes, this results in them becoming malnourished or dehydrated.
- Sexual. Elderly people can be tricked or forced into unwanted sexual contact. They can also be taken advantage of if they are too ill or weak to consent to sexual activity. Staff members, residents, visitors, and even strangers can sexually assault elderly people.
- Financial. Financial abuse is perhaps more likely to happen in the home. However, nursing home workers can engage in some abusive acts like forcing or tricking an elderly person to sign a will or contract or forging their signature to access funds.
- Neglect. Sometimes abuse takes the form of failure to act. A nursing home worker may fail to show the expected degree of care. They may neglect to assist the patient with personal hygiene or seek medical treatment when necessary. A nursing home may also fail to address health and safety issues or unsanitary conditions.
How to Identify Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
In order to get prompt help for your relative, you need to be able to pick up the warning signs of abuse. Very often, elderly people are afraid to report abuse or unable to communicate what is happening to them. Behavioral changes and altered emotional states may be indicators of abuse. Your loved one may become agitated, fearful, apathetic or anxious. They may also try to hint that they are being mistreated. A caregiver’s refusal to allow you to be alone with the patient may also be an indicator.
In addition to these general signs, there are indicators associated with each type of abuse. For example, a patient who is physically abused may have unexplained injuries like broken bones, burns or bruises. Emotionally abused people may become withdrawn or angry. Those who are sexually abused may have bruising around the genital area or they may contract a sexually transmitted infection. Meanwhile, unusual bank account activity or suspicious signatures can indicate financial abuse. If your relative is being neglected, they may be malnourished or dirty and their medical conditions may go untreated. They may also develop bedsores.
Grounds for Filing a Nursing Home Abuse Claim
There are a number of reasons why nursing home abuse can occur. Given all the mental and physical challenges faced by elderly people, accidents happen and it’s not always easy to prove abuse. Identifying why it occurred can also be difficult. Your attorney will investigate your case and advise you on the appropriate grounds for filing your claim. Possibilities include:
- Understaffing. When a nursing home fails to hire an adequate number of staff members, residents are often neglected. In addition, a low staff-to-patient ratio creates extra work for staff who may be poorly paid. The resulting stress can lead to low morale and a lack of compassion. If an elderly person gets hurt because of a lack of caretakers, the home can be held liable.
- Negligent hiring. Nursing homes are obligated to hire workers who are properly trained and qualified. Staff must have the academic qualifications necessary for the role for which they were hired. They must also not have a history of neglect, abuse or violence. If the home in which you placed your elderly relative didn’t conduct background checks, residents could be at risk. The facility can be held responsible if abuse occurs.
- Inadequate training. It can be very challenging to handle elderly people. Some are disabled while others are uncooperative or belligerent. When employees don’t have the proper training, they can’t provide the level of care that’s required or expected. Elder care facilities can be held accountable if a patient gets injured because of a training deficit.
- Third-party claims. Senior citizen homes can be found liable if a thirty party abuses a resident. They are required to provide a safe environment for each patient by providing adequate security. If a visitor or another resident abused your relative, the facility may be held responsible.
Why A Nursing Home Abuse Attorney is So Important
If you suspect that your loved one is being abused, you need to contact an attorney as soon as possible. You will want to look an attorney or law firm that focuses on nursing home abuse cases. They will guide you on how to proceed. You don’t want to make things worse by voicing accusations against the nursing home without first speaking to an attorney. Your lawyer will look into the case and ensure that the appropriate authorities are called in to investigate. They will also help you to protect your legal rights and those of the elderly person.
In many cases, nursing homes attempt to settle abuse claims out of court. This provides an opportunity for the victim to get compensation while the facility avoids the publicity and expense of a jury trial. However, some nursing home abuse cases go all the way to trial. You will need to work with your attorney to determine what is best for your family.