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There are over 15,000 nursing homes, with well over 1.4 million residents across the United States. The purpose of these institutions is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care for adult loved ones who require live-in care or 24-hour supervision. We expect nursing homes to be a safe environment for elderly and dependent adults, where we can be confident our loved ones will receive the highest standard of care, and be treated with dignity and compassion.
Unfortunately, too many nursing homes fall short of this expectation. Neglect and outright abuse in U.S. nursing homes happens far more often than we would like to think. It is important to know the signs of elder/dependent adult abuse, to be vigilant in identifying it, and to hold accountable those who mistreat the weak and helpless.
Types of Abuse towards Elders and Dependent Adults
The National Center on Elder Abuse recognizes these types of abuse toward elders and other adults dependent on full-time care:
- Physical abuse is any forceful action that causes physical pain or injury, including slapping, punching, kicking, shoving, force-feeding, or improperly restraining an individual, among other things.
- Sexual abuse involves any form of non-consensual sexual contact, including rape, unwanted sexual touching, and forced nudity or nude photography.
- Emotional abuse is inflicting pain through psychological means, such as verbal abuse or prolonged periods of silent treatment. Although it is non-physical, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as any other form.
- Financial abuse involves any sort of theft or economic exploitation. Financial abuse includes acts such as embezzlement or unauthorized control of an individual’s financial resources, as well as healthcare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security fraud.
- Neglect is the failure to attend to a dependent’s basic needs including food, water, clothing, hygiene, shelter, sanitation, medical attention, and human companionship.
- Abandonment involves deserting a dependent person, often in a public place.
- Self-neglect occurs when an elder fails to take care of their basic needs or places themselves in danger. It frequently involves elders who are not in control of their mental faculties. Caretakers should be on the lookout for signs of self-neglect in an elder or dependent adult.
If you suspect that a loved one in a nursing home is being abused, the abuser is likely to be a member of the nursing home staff. It may be also be a visitor to the nursing home, or even another elderly resident.
Warning Signs of Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse
The warning signs of abuse to an elder or dependent adult will depend on the type of abuse to which your loved one is being subjected.
If a person is being physically abused, you may notice physical injuries, such as cuts, bruises, or fractures. If the person is being sexually abused, he or she may be diagnosed with a sexually-transmitted disease or have injuries to the genitals, breasts, or buttocks. You may also notice blood stains on clothes, or bedding.
If your loved one is suffering emotional abuse, you may notice changes in mood. He or she may be distant, withdrawn, afraid, or angry. You may notice sudden weight loss or gain, or a sudden fear of a particular caregiver. These signs may also indicate physical or sexual abuse.
If an elder or dependent adult is being neglected, you may notice signs of neglect such as bedsores, unclean clothing, bedding or facilities, or untreated infections or other medical problems. Neglected individuals may also lose weight suddenly, and their medical condition may worsen abruptly.
Financial abuse will be harder to detect, and will typically involve careful oversight of the elder’s expenses to detect any sort of fraud or theft.
Warning signs may also be present in the facility itself. When you visit the nursing home, look around to see if the premises are clean and safe, and if the other residents look happy and healthy. If there are health or safety hazards, or residents seem overly distressed, this is a red flag.
It is much easier to detect abuse if you take a proactive interest in your dependent loved one’s affairs. Visit them regularly, and keep an eye out for any warning signs.
It is also important to listen to your loved ones. Some will come right out and tell you that abuse is happening. However, many elders and other dependent adults are afraid to do so because they think they will not be believed, especially if they suffer any form of cognitive impairment, such as dementia or and acquired brain injury. For some, this is sadly a reasonable fear.
If you think that an elderly or dependent loved one may be in danger, start a conversation with them. Let them know that you want to listen and to help; be gentle and understanding, but persistent in finding the truth.
Of course, none of the above signs are proof of elder abuse. Sometimes people will experience changes in mood for a variety of reasons unrelated to abuse. A person may suffer a physical injury that was not the fault of the caregiver. And of course, any adult who is able to give consent has the right to engage in consensual sexual activity. However, if you see warning signs, investigate a little further to see if anything is wrong.
What to Do If You Discover Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse
If you discover that a loved one is being abused, the first thing to do is to ensure the person’s safety. Remove the person from the dangerous situation immediately, taking him or her out of the nursing home entirely, if necessary.
If a criminal act such as rape, battery, or fraud has happened, immediately call the police, and report the crime. You have a responsibility to do this both for the sake of your loved one and for any other potential victims of the same abuser.
The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act establishes rights for nursing home residents related to the protection of their privacy, autonomy, health, and dignity. Any nursing home that violates these rights stands to lose federal Medicare and Medicaid funding. If your or a loved one’s NHRA rights have been violated, report it to your state ombudsman.
Sometimes, unfortunately, the authorities do not take cases of elder abuse as seriously as they should. In these cases, if you know that there is something wrong, keep pushing until proper attention is given to the problem.
Once you have taken steps to protect your elderly loved one and notify the proper authorities, you should file a lawsuit to recover damages that were caused by the abuse.
Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits
There are two broad categories of tort law; in other words, types of wrongs that personal injury law seeks to correct: negligence and intention. Nursing home abuse lawsuits can involve either or both factors.
If a nursing home employee has committed an intentional act, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or fraud, the individual can be held responsible for this act. If the abuse is systemic and involves multiple employees or the nursing home’s management, you can file a claim against the business itself.
If the nursing home was negligent in maintaining a safe environment for the residents within the facility, they can still be sued for negligence. This includes the responsibility to properly vet its employees, and not hire staff or attendants who will hurt the residents.
Plaintiffs in a case against a nursing home can recover a variety of economic and non-economic damages, including compensation for fraud, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more, depending on the ways the abuse cost your loved one.
In some abuse cases, you may also be able to recover punitive damages. And if a loved one was killed by the abuse, then may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek damages related to the death.
Some nursing home abuse cases involve only a single plaintiff. However, since nursing homes are large establishments, it is extremely common for there to be multiple victims of abuse. When this occurs, a nursing home lawsuit may be expanded into a class action lawsuit and involve many plaintiffs who were similarly injured.
If an elder or dependent adult has been abused in a nursing home, we want to hear about it. The best way to deter nursing homes from cutting corners to boost profits and diminish the care of their residents is to make them pay for such abuse through aggressive litigation.
TorkLaw is dedicated to combatting nursing home abuse. No matter who was responsible, our firm will fight on behalf of victims and their families to hold those responsible accountable. Our goal is not just proper compensation, but also to send a strong message to abusers of the elderly and dependent adults. Contact us for a free consultation at 888.845.9696.