We’re always concerned when we hear this question, because it usually means the person who asked has serious worries about a loved one. No one wants to think about a parent or other relative being neglected or abused by the very establishment that’s supposed to care for them. But unfortunately, this situation is more common than many people think.
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) has researched the problem, and notes that it’s difficult to get an accurate picture of exactly how widespread the problem is because many victims are too embarrassed or afraid to report the abuse or neglect. However, the NCEA has estimated there may be close to 2 million victims of various forms of elder abuse in a one-year period.
Where nursing homes are concerned, understaffing is a huge problem. The Center for Medicare and Medicare Services estimates as many as 91 percent of nursing homes are chronically understaffed. Sadly, this means that even well-meaning employees may not be able to give all their residents the full attention they deserve.
According to one federal report, about 40 percent of nursing homes would have to hire 50 percent more staff just to comply with minimum staffing standards. Unfortunately, this chronic understaffing can lead to big risks for the home’s residents. One study found that the risk of making medication or other errors increases significantly after a health care worker has been on shift for eight hours, and is even higher after 12.5 hours. This may mean a higher likelihood that a nurse or other worker accidentally gives a patient the wrong medication, or the wrong dose, leading to dangerous consequences.
Types of Abuse
Accidental errors that hurt or even kill a loved one are terrible, but intentional abuse is also, sadly, a very real problem in nursing home situations. The NCEA has defined seven types of elder abuse that may occur in or out of nursing homes:
- Physical Abuse
- Sexual Abuse
- Emotional Abuse
- Financial abuse or exploitation
- Self Neglect or behaviors that threaten the individual’s safety
It’s a good idea to visit your loved one often and unannounced. If your work or school schedule only allows you to visit on weekends, you might ask another relative to drop by during the week and check on your loved one. Here are some signs of physical abuse to watch out for:
- Bruising, scars or welts seen on the body
- Having unexplained broken bones, dislocations or sprains
- Failing to take medications properly
- Signs of restraint, such as rope marks on the elder’s wrist
- Broken eyeglasses
- The refusal of the caregiver to let you be alone with the elderly person
Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration accepts complaints about health care facilities, including nursing homes. The online complaint form can be found here, and there are also options for filing a complaint by phone. It is helpful to have as much information and evidence of the suspected abuse or neglect as possible when you file your complaint.
However, some people have concerns about filing a complaint. What if the facility retaliates against your loved one? What if you can’t prove what happened, and they’re now in a position to hurt the elderly person even worse? What if you don’t have the means to move them to a different facility? Sadly, we’ve met people who tearfully told us they simply couldn’t afford another nursing home, as much as they wanted to move their relative. Or they just did not have the resources to care for a family member in their own home.
This type of retaliation against a patient because they or a family member complained about their care is illegal—but so is the abuse or neglect they may have already suffered. There’s no guarantee it won’t happen. However, if you don’t report the situation, the abuse or neglect will likely continue, so doing nothing probably isn’t a good option. If you decide to file a complaint, it will be more important than ever for you and other relatives to be vigilant about visiting and keeping an eye on the patient. A Florida personal injury lawyer can advise you on other ways to protect your relative while still pursuing your concerns about the nursing home.
How Can I Gather Evidence Against the Nursing Home?
This is another common question. Keep detailed notes of any injuries you observe. If you notice bruises or other physical signs of injuries, take pictures of those. If you suspect some sort of financial abuse, you might help your relative contact their bank about cancelled checks, call the credit card company to see if someone new was unexpectedly added to their list of cardholders, etc.
You may need to enlist the help of the family member who has your loved one’s power of attorney—a document allowing them to make decisions for someone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to handle their own affairs. Most people designate a power of attorney at the time they enter a nursing home, unless they are already unable to make their own decisions. In this case, often a family member will petition the court for power of attorney. If you have your loved one’s power of attorney, you should be able to easily access their financial records if you’re suspicious someone in the nursing home is taking advantage of them.
You could also talk with other witnesses—family members or friends who also visited the person in the nursing home, other residents of the home or their guests, and sometimes other staff members. Keep in mind, however, that when talking to staff members, your questions may get back to the person you suspect of hurting your loved one. In general, it’s a good idea to talk with a personal injury lawyer if you’re unsure how to proceed.
If you or a loved one were seriously injured while a patient in a nursing home or other health care facility, you do have rights and you need an advocate who is ready to protect those rights. Speak with an injury attorney today from the Law Offices of David M. Benenfeld, P.A.
We offer a free, no-obligation consultation. You can meet with an injury attorney now to discuss your case and see if you qualify for compensation. Call us now at 954-677-0155 or request more information online.