Elderly individuals move into nursing home facilities with the assumption they’ll be cared for and protected. Unfortunately, this trust – combined with a myriad of underlying health issues and limited independence – make many nursing home residents vulnerable to abuse.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
Nursing home abuse is any type of harm that’s inflicted on elderly residents of long-term care facilities by nursing home staff, other residents, or poor quality measures and inadequate processes.
According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 10 percent of all Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some type of elder abuse. A significant proportion of these cases occur in nursing home facilities.
Nursing home abuse can take on any number of forms. Here are some symptoms of the four most common types:
- Physical or sexual: Fractures, bruises, burns, cuts, sores, unexplained STDs, and other visible signs of abuse.
- Emotional: Withdrawal, isolation, depression, anxiety, uncertainty, confusion, and other extreme changes in behavior.
- Financial: Unexplained financial activity, uncharacteristic giving, depleted financial accounts, sudden changes to a will/power of attorney, etc.
- Neglect: Lack of proper hydration and nutrition, lack of proper medical care, confinement to a bed or room, dirty and disorganized living quarters, lack of proper amenities, untreated bedsores, etc.
6 Things You Should Do
Here are the proper steps to take if you suspect a parent or loved one is the victim of nursing home abuse:
1. Ensure Your Loved One Gets the Proper Treatment
The first step is to make sure your loved one is okay and that they get the appropriate treatment (if necessary). This is especially vital in cases of physical or sexual abuse, but can also come into play with emotional abuse or neglect. (In cases of financial abuse, putting your loved in direct contact with an attorney and/or honest money manager is key.)
2. Speak to Your Loved One About the Abuse
Don’t tiptoe around the issue. If there’s legitimate abuse – or even if you suspect there is – you need to be as clear and straightforward about the matter as possible. Ask pointed questions and don’t be afraid to probe for more detailed answers. Abuse can be uncomfortable to discuss out loud, but it’s a necessary part of moving forward and holding abusers accountable for their actions.
3. Report Concerns to Nursing Home Administration
If you suspect an issue, report your concerns directly to the nursing home administration. While they may be hesitant to answer questions, this at least gets your complaint on file. (All Medicaid- and Medicare-certified nursing homes are required to follow specific grievance procedures when complaints are brought to them.)
Don’t be surprised if the administrative staff is standoffish. They may not want to report cases of abuse to the proper authorities and will likely not appreciate your allegations (especially if they’re true).
If you aren’t getting the sort of response and attention that you believe is deserved, you can also contact an ombudsman, whose job it is to advocate for nursing home residents in cases of abuse or neglect.
4. Call Law Enforcement
Even if the nursing home administration promises to look into the incidents, it’s smart to call law enforcement. This jumpstarts the process and prevents the administration from putting the issue on the back burner.
5. Hire a Lawyer
Lawsuits linked to neglect in a nursing home are a serious matter. Once you’ve got the ball rolling, contact a nursing home abuse attorney to help you handle the legal side of things. This lawyer will meet with your loved one and gather the facts so that the proper claims and suits can be brought against the responsible parties.
6. Remain Vigilant
Abuse is rarely isolated. If your loved one is abused once, it’s possible they’ll be abused again. It’s also common for an abuser to target multiple victims. Remain vigilant of the situation and keep an eye on your loved one to ensure they’re safe and protected from harm.
Putting it All Together
There’s no playbook for precisely how you should respond. It all depends on the specific circumstances and factors involved in your loved one’s case. The important thing is that you’re proactive and forthcoming. The sooner you act, the more likely it is that the issue is resolved.