Serving Nursing Home Residents
One of the most difficult decisions for any family is to move an aged loved one into a nursing home. In addition to concerns about preserving your relative’s independence and maintaining your relationship, ensuring their safety is a top priority.
Unfortunately, far too many nursing home residents suffer abuse and neglect at the hands of their caregivers. If you suspect that your loved one is being abused or neglected, it is important to take action.
Nursing Home Residents Have Rights
The residents of nursing homes in New York enjoy a number of rights and legal protections. Some of these include:
- Dignity and Respect: Nursing homes must provide residents with safe, clean and comfortable rooms and surroundings. Residents also have the right to privacy in communications with caregivers, staff, and people outside the nursing home, as well as autonomy in decisions regarding their plan of care and participation in activities at the facility. Nursing home residents also have the right to protection from harsh and abusive treatment.
- Admission: Nursing homes are obligated to provide equal access to quality care and may not discriminate on the basis of source of payment (i.e., Medicare and Medicaid benefits).
- Life at the Facility: Each nursing home resident is entitled to a written description of their legal rights. The description must address opportunities to participate in resident and family councils at the facility, how to lodge a complaint, access to information concerning federal and state surveys of the facility, and more. Nursing homes may not infringe on your right to pursue “action for damages or other relief for deprivations or infringements of your right to adequate and proper treatment and care” (i.e., a personal injury claim).
- Clinical Care and Treatment: Nursing home residents have the right to adequate and appropriate medical care, including nursing, rehabilitation therapies, social work, dental and other professional services. Residents also have the right to be fully informed of their health status and make decisions pertaining to the care they receive, as well as appoint a surrogate to act on the resident’s behalf in making healthcare decisions.
- Privacy and Confidentiality: Nursing homes must provide residents privacy in accommodations, medical treatment, personal care, visits and meetings of family, friends and resident groups. Residents also have the right to approve or refuse the release of personal and clinical records.
- Finances: Nursing homes must be transparent in the services provided at the facility, including charges for additional services and changes in rates. Residents also have the right to manage their own financial affairs.
- Transfer and Discharge: Residents have the right to request a transfer to a different room within the facility, as well as the right to appeal involuntary transfers and discharges.
Nursing homes are required to post a summary of resident rights, visiting hours at the facility, information on applying for Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and other information in a prominent, accessible location for reference by residents and visitors. Violations of these rights may be grounds for a nursing home abuse or neglect claim.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
The abuse and neglect residents suffer in nursing homes can take many different forms. Some types of mistreatment are relatively easy to identify, while others are more subtle (and insidious).
If your loved one is in a nursing home, watch out for the following:
Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes
Caregivers may subject residents to a wide range of physical abuse. Common examples include:
- Pushing and shoving
- Slapping and hitting
Physical abuse may also involve the improper or excessive use of restraints.
Residents who endure physical abuse from a caregiver don’t just suffer bodily injury. They may also suffer psychological trauma.
Most forms of emotional abuse involve a verbal component. Caregivers may subject residents to the following:
- Insults, including sexist, racist, ageist, and other demeaning comments
- Threats of violence
Caregivers may also emotionally abuse residents by isolating them from other residents, as well as visiting family and friends. In addition, residents may self-isolate as a coping mechanism if they are suffering mental, emotional, or verbal abuse.
Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes
There is a significant imbalance of power between caregivers and nursing home residents. Unwanted sexual contact is one of the most heinous ways caregivers may abuse their power.
Examples of nursing home sexual abuse include:
- Lewd comments
- Threats of sexual violence
- Forced touching
- Forcing residents to view pornographic images or videos
- Sexual assault and rape
Seniors who have suffered sexual abuse or assault may become withdrawn. They may also experience mood swings and outbursts as a result of the trauma they have suffered.
Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes
Unscrupulous caregivers may attempt to profit financially from vulnerable nursing home residents in a number of ways. Common examples of nursing home financial abuse include:
- Stealing money and personal items from the resident’s room
- Fraudulently using a resident’s credit cards, debit cards, and/or checks
- Identity theft
- Manipulating or threatening seniors into adding the caregiver as an authorized user on a debit or credit card
- Manipulating or threatening the resident into adding the caregiver to a will
Financial exploitation of the elderly doesn’t just affect the senior’s ability to pay bills. Depending on the circumstances, the abuser may rack up significant debts in your loved one’s name or deprive you and other family members of assets to which you have a legal claim.
Nursing Home Neglect
Generally, neglect is the result of negligence on the part of one or more caregivers, rather than active malice or misconduct. However, as with the types of abuse discussed above, nursing home neglect can take a variety of forms.
Common examples of neglect in nursing homes include:
- Failure to supervise residents
- Failure to assist residents with personal hygiene and other activities
- Misuse of lifts, hoists, and other equipment
- Failure to provide residents with meals and hydration
- Failure to maintain the safety and cleanliness of residents’ rooms and other parts of the facility
- Errors in administering medications
Nursing home staff and the facility itself may be liable for instances of neglect that cause elderly residents harm. An experienced lawyer can investigate negligence on the part of the nursing home and advise you of your options for filing a claim.
These can be signs of either physical or emotional abuse and require a skilled eye to track and expose those responsible.
How to Identify Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
The best way to ensure your loved one’s safety in a nursing home is to be a consistent presence. Visit often, and vary the days and times that you visit so you can see how residents are treated by different staff members.
If you notice any of the following signs, it may be time to start taking steps to protect your loved one:
- Dehydration or malnutrition: If your loved one routinely reports being hungry or thirsty, caregivers at the facility may be failing to meet residents’ basic needs.
- Lack of hygiene and poor grooming: Some nursing home residents need assistance washing themselves, laundering clothes, and performing other tasks. If your loved one appears to be unbathed, dishevelled, or lacks clean clothing, this may be a sign of neglect.
- Unsafe and unsanitary premises: Issues such as slippery floors, loose or torn carpet, broken sidewalks, poor security, and other hazards may be indicative of negligence in the nursing home.
- Bed sores: One of the common signs of negligence in a nursing home setting is the development of bed sores, or decubitus ulcers. Bed sores form as a result of unrelieved pressure on the skin. They are common in nursing home residents who do not receive assistance turning or adjusting their position in bed, generally due to inattention on the part of a caregiver.
- Physical injuries: The nursing home should notify you as soon as possible if your loved one is injured. Demand answers for how the injury occurred; if your loved one seems evasive or the staff and administrators are not forthcoming, neglect or abuse may have been a factor.
- Weight loss, fatigue, and worsening health: You entrust the nursing home to provide care for your loved one that you and family can’t provide yourselves. If your loved one gets sick or an existing health issue gets worse, however, this may be a sign of neglect.
- Behavioral changes: Some changes in behavior occur as a result of aging. However, nursing home residents who become withdrawn, aggressive, or uncommunicative may be suffering abuse or neglect.
- Missing or damaged personal items: Damage to possessions may occur due to negligence or misconduct of nursing home staff. Caregivers may also manipulate or abuse residents by taking money and other items.
- Missing medication: Some seniors require a number of medications to maintain their health, manage pain, and more. Improper distribution of medications – including the wrong medication, the wrong dose, and failure to administer medication as prescribed – can result in serious issues for residents who depend on nursing home staff to provide them with the right meds.
- Intrusive and uncooperative staff: If members of the staff at the nursing home attempt to prevent you from visiting your loved one, refuse to leave you alone with your loved one, or seem to have an inappropriate relationship with your loved one, these are all red flags.
If you are concerned about your loved one’s well-being in a nursing home, it is important to listen to your instincts. Timely action can prevent further suffering and avert a tragic outcome.
Do I Have a Nursing Home Abuse Claim?
To file a claim against a nursing home, the facility must first owe you or your loved one a duty of care. This requirement is generally satisfied by the contract you and/or your loved one signed as part of the admissions process, which establishes the rights and responsibilities of both the resident and the nursing home. A caregiver and/or the facility must have breached that duty through abuse or neglect, causing you and/or your loved one injury. For your claim to be viable, these injuries must result in damages (financial and other losses).
Common issues in nursing home abuse and neglect claims include:
- Understaffing: Neglect is common in nursing homes with insufficient staff to care for residents.
- Failure to supervise staff: Improper management of caregivers increases the risk of abuse and neglect.
- Failure to train staff: Staff members who are improperly trained may make critical errors in performing their jobs that can endanger the health and safety of nursing home residents.
- Negligent hiring practices: Nursing homes and other care facilities that fail to perform background checks may hire staff who are likely to abuse or neglect residents.
- Premises liability: Premises liability claims involve negligence that results in a dangerous condition on a property. Given the risk seniors face for falls and other injuries, hazards on the premises of a care facility can be especially dangerous.
These are examples of institutional negligence, where the mismanagement of the nursing home exposes residents to harm. Individual caregivers may also be liable for neglect and abuse.
Compensation for Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Ultimately, the damages you may be able to recover in a nursing home abuse claim will depend on the losses you and your family have suffered. You may be entitled to compensation for the following:
- Medical bills
- Out-of-pocket expenses for relocating your loved one, purchasing medications and assistive equipment, traveling to and from medical appointments, and more
- Loss of society and companionship
- Punitive damages
Nursing home residents who suffered abuse or neglect may be entitled to pain and suffering damages, as well as compensation for the embarrassment, humiliation, and inconvenience they suffer as a result of their injuries. In the event of a disabling injury, your loved one may also be entitled to damages for the loss of enjoyment of life.
If your loved one died as a result of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, your family can pursue compensation through a wrongful death claim. You and your surviving relatives may be able to recover compensation for medical and palliative care expenses, the cost of a funeral and burial or cremation, loss of consortium, and more.
What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect
You should report your concerns to the nursing home administrator immediately. You can also file a complaint with the facility and/or report suspected nursing home neglect or abuse to state authorities.
If you think your loved one is in imminent danger, call 911. You should also speak to an attorney at Lincoln Trial Lawyers as soon as possible to discuss your legal options.