When someone you love is in a nursing home or assisted living facility, you trust the staff to provide a safe and healthy environment, but nursing home abuse is a growing problem. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 44% of nursing home residents report being abused and 95% report being neglected. Compounding the problem is high staff turnover and declines in profitability.
According to the New York Times, due to COVID the 14,000 skilled nursing facilities in the United States have an average vacancy rate of 25%, with many homes at risk of closing. Staff shortages can result in a lack of adequate staffing, less supervision, delays in dispensing medication, and staff training challenges.
A June 2021 World Health Organization study showed that the problem is not getting better.(1)
- 1 in 6 people over 60 years old experienced some type of abuse in community settings.
- Elder abuse in places such as long-term care facilities or nursing homes are high with 2 in 3 staff reporting that they have committed some form of nursing home abuse in the past year.
- During COVID-19 the study found an increase in abuse. Nursing home abuse continues with a United States study showing that abuse may have increased as much as 84%.(2)
- Elder abuse results in long-term psychological consequences and physical injuries.
For these reasons it is essential that family members learn how to detect nursing home abuse and neglect and what to do about it as an essential way to protect your loved one.
Understanding the Types of Elder Abuse
Nursing home abuse is not always obvious, which is what makes it so hard to uncover and stop. Abuse can be physical, sexual, emotional, mental, and financial. Abuse can be outright, but also includes benign neglect that leads to illness or injuries. There are a variety of ways nursing home residents can be manipulated, harmed, bullied, or threatened.
Physical warning signs of abuse can include bruises, scratches, bed sores, pressure sores, unclean bedding, marks from restraints, weight loss, sexually transmitted diseases, and lack of basic hygiene. A senior who express fear, is withdrawn or isolated, talks about being hungry, or makes sudden changes to finances he or she controls (such as naming a nursing home employee in a will) or is missing money may be abused. Abuse can occur not only by a staff member but also resident to resident.
The same World Health Organization Study mentioned above found that the prevalence of different types of elder abuse in community settings in 6 countries are as follows (as reported by older adults):
- Psychological Abuse (11.6%)
- Physical Abuse (2.6%)
- Financial Abuse (6.8%)
- Neglect (4.2%)
- Sexual Abuse (.9%)
According to the National Institute on Aging the most common forms of abuse in nursing homes are physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse, and financial abuse.(5)
Medical Problems and Abuse
Often serious medical problems are signs of abuse or neglect. Bed sores, septic shock, renal failure, dehydration, UTIs, and other medical concerns that are not discovered or are left untreated for too long are often caused by abuse or neglect. Nursing homes that over prescribe a sedative or anti-psychotic drugs to manage residents are committing abuse. A nursing home is supposed to provide competent medical care and if your senior is suffering from declines in cognitive function such as Alzheimer’s disease, has memory issues, is suffering from an untreated or under treated health problem or is overmedicated, this is a concern.
Studies also show that is a patient is aggressive or resists care, the result could be caretakers that response to such residents with rough handling and abuse.(4)
How to Detect Nursing Home Abuse
If any family members report a medical concern to the staff and the care failure or incident is not handled in a timely manner, this is a sign of possible abuse. Any injury that occurs in a nursing home must be documented, so always ask to see the documentation if there is a bruise or a cut or any type of sores such as bedsores. If there are any conditions, injuries or the explanations don’t make sense, you should be concerned.
Other abuse can be more difficult to detect such as delays in providing proper nutrition, food or care. The best way to ensure the safety of a nursing home resident is to visit often and to visit at unusual times. Most people do not visit between 9 pm and 8 am, so this visiting and speaking with staff members during time frame can be useful. Vary the times you are there and ask a family member to unexpectedly stop in at other times. Talk to the patient as well as to his or her roommate, aides, and nurses on the floor to find out what is happening. Joining the nursing home’s family council can be a way to connect with other families and hear about concerns they may have.
If you notice an unusual change in behavior, pain, or emotional reactions by your loved one, it is a sign that all may not be well. Keep a close accounting of your senior’s belongings and access he or she has to money or financial accounts or legal documents. If something is missing or a change is made, report it. Above all, listen to your instincts.
Speaking with other nursing home residents such as a roommate can also provide insight into any elder abuse.
How to Report Nursing Home Abuse
Call 911 for immediate emergency assistance. Your state’s adult protective services agency can also be called in an emergency where you believe the patient is at risk. For a non-life threatening concern, it may make sense to report it to the proper authorities such as supervising nurse, staff social worker, or administration first so it can be resolved. But, if you see a pattern of problems, it requires escalation.
File a report with your state long-term care ombudsman. Remember that you do not need to prove abuse or neglect is happening. You only need to suspect it. It is the job of state workers to investigate. That being said, any evidence you can gather, such as photographs of injuries, professional medical advice you have received, videos of your senior describing the nursing home abuse and neglect, or notes you have made about the situation can be powerful evidence.
Why You Need an Attorney
Once you’ve taken steps to remove a loved one from immediate jeopardy, it is time to report abuse or neglect to the state, long-term care ombudsman, adult protective serves, or the police. It can be helpful to get an attorney to assist you with your eldercare abuse case. Nursing homes and their employees are not only criminally liable for abuse and neglect, but they are also civilly liable. It is important to pursue all the avenues at your disposal. Nursing homes are owned by powerful corporations with large law firms representing them and helping them avoid responsibility. You and the senior you love need an attorney who can stand up to them. At a minimum a local attorney will have the experience for advising you on actions to take, and may know about other cases if you decide to switch to a nursing home that is not accused of nursing home neglect.
Howard Law LLP nursing home abuse attorneys are ready to seek justice in all New Jersey nursing home abuse cases.
Just give us a call at 201-488-4644 or contact us using the form below for an initial free case review with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer. We’ll review what to do when reporting nursing home abuse and if legal action is needed. We will also discuss if seeking financial compensation is a course of action to be considered.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is Considered Abuse in a Nursing Home?
Nursing home abuse occurs when there is injury or harm to a person carried out with the intention of causing suffering, pain, or impairment. The Administration on Aging defines abuse as the “willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or cruel punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish, or deprivation by a person, including a caregiver, of goods or services that are necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish or mental illness.” (3)
What are the 3 Most Common Complaints About Nursing Homes?
According to AARP common complaints about nursing homes include roommate conflicts, food issues and lost items.(6)
Why Does Abuse Happen in Nursing Homes?
There are many causes of abuse in nursing homes including a lack of staff, inadequate training, and poor supervision. Studies show that abuse tends to affect the elderly with limitations in physical and cognitive functioning.(3)
What are the Most Common Types of Abuse in Nursing Homes?
According to the World Health Organization the three most common complaints of elder abuse in community settings are psychological abuse (11.6%), financial abuse (6.8%), and neglect (4.2%).(1)
(2) High prevalence of elder abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic: risk and resilience factors. Chang ES, Levy BR. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33518464/
(3) Elder Abuse in Residential Long-Term Settings: What is Known and What Information is Needed
(5) National Institute on Aging
(5) My Mother Doesn’t Like Her Nursing Home, 5 Rules for Handling Common Problems and Complaints, AARP