There are over 15,000 nursing homes in the United States, with well over a million residents altogether. 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 treated with dignity and compassion.
Unfortunately, not all nursing homes live up to this expectation. Neglect and outright abuse happen in U.S. nursing homes far more often than we would like to think. Many Americans are unaware of its full scope. However, the price paid by our elders for this lack of societal awareness is all too real. Our society has a duty to act to improve the situation by recognizing the signs of elder abuse and putting a stop to it whenever possible.
The National Center on Elder Abuse recognizes these types of elder abuse:
If an elder resides in a nursing home, the abuser is likely to be a member of the nursing home staff. Less often, an elder in a nursing home may be abused by a visitor to the nursing home, or even by another elderly resident.
The warning signs of elder abuse will depend on the type of abuse to which your loved one is being subjected.
If an elder is being physically abused, you may notice signs of physical injury, such as cuts, bruises, or fractures. If an elder is being sexually abused, there may be STDs or injuries to the genitals, breasts, or buttocks. You may also notice blood stains on clothes, bedding, or other fabric.
If an elder is suffering emotional abuse, you may notice changes in mood. They may be distant, withdrawn, afraid, or angry, lose or gain weight suddenly, or become afraid of one particular caregiver. They may also exhibit these signs if they are suffering physical or sexual abuse.
If an elder is being neglected, you may notice signs of neglect such as bedsores, unclean facilities, or untreated infections or other medical problems. Neglected elders may also lose weight, and if they have a medical condition it may get worse.
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 elders look happy and healthy. If there are health or safety hazards, or if the other elders seem to be in distress, this is a big red flag.
It is much easier to detect elder abuse if you take a proactive interest in your elderly loved one’s affairs. Visit them regularly, and keep an eye out for any warning signs when you see them.
It is also important to listen to your elders. Some elders will come right out and tell their loved ones that abuse is happening. Many elders, however, are afraid to do so because they think they will not be believed. For some, this is sadly a reasonable fear.
If you think that an elderly loved one may be in danger, start a conversation with them. Be gentle and understanding, and let them know that you want to help and are not angry with them, but be persistent in finding the truth.
Of course, none of the above signs are proof positive of elder abuse. Sometimes elders will experience changes in mood for a variety of reasons unrelated to abuse. An elder may suffer a physical injury that was not the fault of the caregiver. And of course, elders in control of their mental faculties have the same right as any other adult to engage in consensual sexual activity. However, if you see any of these warning signs, then this is a strong indication that you should investigate a little further and see if anything is wrong.
If you discover that an elderly loved one is being abused, the first thing to should do is to ensure the elder’s safety. Remove the elder from the dangerous situation immediately, taking them 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 elderly loved one and for that of any potential future victims of the same abuser.
Under the 1897 Nursing Home Reform Act, patients in a nursing home are afforded a bill of rights 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, you should 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 elder abuse.
There are two broad categories of tort (i.e. wrong) that can be found in personal injury law: negligence and intention. Nursing home elder abuse lawsuits can involve either or both factors.
If a nursing home or one of its employees has committed an intentional act, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or fraud, then they can be held responsible for this act.
However, if the nursing home was negligent in maintaining a safe environment for the elders within the facility, then 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 noneconomic damages, including damages for fraud, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more, depending on the ways in which the elder abuse cost you and your elderly loved one.
In some elder abuse cases, you may also be able to recover punitive damages. And if an elderly loved one was killed by the abuse, then you may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek damages related to the death.
Some elder 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 has been abused in a nursing home, we want to hear about it. If some nursing homes consider it to be in their financial interest to cut corners when it comes to the well-being of the elderly, the best way to counterbalance that is by making them pay for any abuse through aggressive litigation on behalf of the elderly.
TorkLaw is dedicated to protecting the elderly against 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 that their behavior will not be tolerated, and to help you and your family receive justice.
Don’t guess about your legal rights or whether you have a case against a nursing home or assisted living facility. Contact us for a free consultation (888) 845-9696.