When you put your parent or loved one into a nursing home, you expect that they will be properly cared for. That is what the home is there for, correct? But nursing home abuse is a significant problem in the United States, and these cases are tricky because they can be difficult to prove. So if you feel that something is “off” when you visit your loved one, here are some ideas on what you can do to address the situation.
Make Sure They Are Not in Immediate Danger
If you have any reason to believe that your loved one is actually in imminent danger, don’t hesitate. Call 911 immediately or the police immediately if you feel that it is necessary. And do not shy away from taking drastic measures if you truly fear for their safety – even going so far as to remove them from the facility if that becomes necessary.
Familiarize Yourself with Common Signs of Abuse
Common signs of abuse are usually the first indication that something is wrong. Here are some common indicators that you should look out for when visiting.
- Atypical silence – If a once chatty person suddenly falls silent or withdrawn, it can be a red flag.
- Significant changes in personality or behavior
- Unexplained bruises
- Unexplained lacerations, burns, welts, or sores
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
- Physical discomfort
- Bruising or pain near genitals
- Changes to their will, power of attorney, and the like
- Financial problems that didn’t exist before
- Lack of basic personal hygiene, cleanliness, and clean clothes
- Lack of nutritional food
- Lack of supervision for patients with dementia
- Unsanitary conditions of any kind
Talk to Your Loved One
The first thing you need to do is talk to the person you think maybe a victim of abuse. With seniors in nursing homes, this may be easier said than done because many elderly patients suffer from some degree of memory loss or dementia. But you know your relative, and you likely have a pretty good idea of when they are lucid and when they are not. Try to schedule a visit during the time of day when they are typically more responsive to questions and when their memory is at its best – which is typically in the morning for most dementia patients. Try to see if you can get the story from them.
However, it is important to keep some things in mind as you talk to the patient.
- Do they feel scared or intimidated about telling you the truth?
- Many nursing home residents are afraid of telling someone about abuse for fear that the abuse may get worse before it gets better. Especially if your loved one has limited mental acuity, employees of the home may actually make threats to keep them quiet. So keep in mind that this may be the case, and study your loved one for signs that they may be afraid to speak up.
- Is their memory accurate?
- Again, you know your loved one. You are likely familiar with their level of dementia, if any. So do your best to assess the accuracy of their claims. Look around the room for any indication of abuse. Look on the victim themselves for evidence of unexplained bruising, lacerations, or other indicators of physical abuse. Any evidence that helps to substantiate their claim can help you in determining if there is something to worry about.
Because these cases can be difficult to prove, it is important to document as much as you can regarding your concerns. Take photos of anything that is amiss, from bruises to unsanitary conditions. Get copies of medical reports that are suspicious, inaccurate, or that inadequately explain an illness or injury. You can even keep a running journal of your concerns so that, if you decide to act on your suspicions down the road, you will have a more accurate recollection of why you were suspicious in the first place. Memory wanes with time, so document as much as you can.
Talk to Nursing Home Staff and Administrators
When you feel it’s time, speak to the people who are responsible for the care of your loved one. Some people begin by speaking with the nursing staff responsible for the patient’s care. However, in some instances, the abuser is among those very staffers. So speaking to them first may just give the abuser a head’s up that you are aware of the abuse. In some cases, this may stop the abuse – but not always. In fact, in some cases, the abuse may escalate if you inadvertently speak with the abuser.
The choice of who to speak to is yours, but it may be safer to go directly to the administration. Ultimately, they are the ones responsible for patient care, and this will give the home a chance to look into the matter themselves. They may be able to resolve the situation to your satisfaction, but if not, there is always the next step.
Report the Abuse
If the problem is not sufficiently remedied by speaking with the administration, then the next step is to report the abuse. You can simply call the police and file a report with them or the district attorney in your area. But the Florida Dept. of Children and Families has a department solely focussed on elder abuse, and that is the Adult Protective Services. You can call 1-800-962-2873, or file your report online. There is also the Florida Ombudsman program that is dedicated to improving the quality of life for long-term care patients. You have the ability to file an online complaint with them as well.
Hire a Proven and Highly-Skilled Attorney
Finally, you will benefit from contacting an experienced attorney in your area. Attorneys can help recover financially for any abuse, pain and suffering, medical expenses, or emotional distress that your loved one has suffered. Contact David M. Benenfeld by calling us, or contact us online. We stand ready to help you get justice for your loved one and compensation that can help carry them safely into the future.