When adult family members require more care than we can give them, we face a difficult choice: if we can’t afford in-home care, our loved ones may need to move into an elder care facility or nursing home. When this happens, we expect they will receive kind, compassionate care and live in relative comfort and contentment.
Too often, though, we hear horror stories of elder abuse in these facilities —for example:
13 elderly residents of the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington have died from the coronavirus disease; 31 additional residents have tested positive for COVID-19. The year before, that facility had been cited for lapses in their infection control protocol. A Kaiser Health News analysis found that since 2017, federal regulators issued citations to 61% of all nursing homes for infection-control issues.
A Michigan woman was horrified to watch a video of an employee at Advantage Living Center in Warren slam her grandmother’s head onto a counter. The woman’s 91-year-old, wheelchair-bound grandmother was a resident at the nursing home.
In Monterey, California, a 38-year old nurse assistant was arrested for sexual battery and elder abuse against a patient at the Cypress Ridge Care Center.
Attorney General Bill announced a new nursing home enforcement initiative to address “grossly-substandard” care. In that March 3, 2020, speech, he said that approximately 30 nursing facilities in nine states that were “unfit for living” were currently under investigation.
What Constitutes Neglect or Abuse in a Nursing Homes?
Nursing homes have a legal duty to provide a safe and healthy environment for clients. They must:
- Remove unnecessary dangers to health and safety from the premises, and practice proper sanitary protocol.
- Provide adequate life and medical care to their residents who require it, and protect residents from harm.
- Screen and train employees properly, and avoid hiring employees who place residents at risk of harm.
The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) recognizes these types of elder abuse:
Neglect occurs when a dependent person is deprived of basic needs, including food, water, warmth, and cleanliness; prescribed medication/treatment for illness or injury; or emotional needs for companionship, love, and positive attention. Signs of neglect include sudden weight loss, bedsores, body odor or dirty appearance, unwashed clothing, untreated medical issues, or unsanitary conditions.
Physical abuse involves physical force being used against the body: beating, kicking, shoving, force-feeding, or improperly restraining an elder. Signs of physical abuse include cuts, bruises, or fractures.
Sexual abuse involves any form of non-consensual sexual contact, including rape, unwanted sexual touching, and forced nudity or nude photography. Signs of sexual abuse include sexually transmitted diseases or injuries to the genitals, breasts, or buttocks. You may also notice blood stains on clothes, bedding, or other fabric.
Emotional abuse, involves causing deliberate emotional harm, such as yelling at, mocking, berating, deliberately ignoring or abandoning a dependent (i.e., deserting the person, often in a public place). Signs of emotional abuse include mood changes, withdrawal, depression, anger, or fear one particular caregiver. Individuals may also exhibit these signs if they are suffering physical or sexual abuse.
Financial abuse involves any sort of theft or economic exploitation, such as embezzlement or unauthorized control of a dependent’s financial resources, as well as healthcare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security fraud — or as in the Santa Rosa case, falling far short of the level of care for which the resident is paying. Detecting financial abuse may require careful oversight of the person’s expenses for fraud or theft.
Self-neglect occurs when residents refuse to care for themselves. An example of this may be when a resident wanders off without supervision. Nursing home staff should be alert for this and prepared to deal with it if it happens.
Taken on their own, none of the warning signs are proof of abuse, and may manifest for other reasons. Speak to the staff about your concerns; if you are not satisfied with their response, see below.
How do You Report Elder Abuse?
If a loved one is in immediate danger, call 911 to ensure their safety. If the situation is less urgent, but still a potential criminal matter, call the non-emergency number for the police.
If the situation is not urgent, but you suspect physical or emotional abuse or neglect, and you are not satisfied with the staff’s response, go to the supervisor or director.
A nursing home that is Medicare and/or Medicaid-certified must have a grievance procedure, and have posted information about the state groups that oversee their facility. If your problem isn’t resolved, follow those procedures, or contact the appropriate state agency, or state ombudsman.
The state government is empowered to investigate cases of elder abuse in nursing homes, and punish facilities that are found responsible. More jurisdictions are taking steps to improve this process. For example, Harris County, Texas, recently launched the Senior Justice Assessment Center, a program that brings together city police, the Sheriff’s Office, the District Attorney, Adult Protective Services, and other health care professionals to tackle elder abuse as a cohesive unit.
Resident Injury or Death in a Nursing Home
Of course, an injury or death of a nursing home resident may be a tragic accident or a natural result of the resident’s medical conditions. If the nursing home did contribute to an injury or death through inadequate care, neglect or abuse, it can and should be held responsible.
TorkLaw is dedicated to protecting individuals against nursing home abuse. Our firm will help families keep their loved ones safe, recover their losses, and find justice.