Abuse of elderly and disabled patients in nursing homes is a widespread and deep-rooted problem around the country. Despite the fact that it is so common, it is sometimes hard to spot and even more difficult to stop.
Residents and family members must know about the types of nursing home abuse so that they can detect, report, and put a stop to it right away. They include physical, sexual, emotional, and financial abuse, abandonment, and neglect.
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What Constitutes Nursing Home Abuse?
Nursing home abuse is any type of harm that caretakers and staff inflict upon long-term care facility residents, either intentionally or through neglect. Abuse can occur at the physical, emotional, sexual, or financial level.
Nursing home abuse refers to any type of long-term care facility, not strictly nursing homes. Abuse can happen at assisted living facilities, continuing care retirement communities, skilled nursing facilities, adult care homes, and others.
Abuse versus Neglect
Abuse is cruel or violent treatment. Neglect is the failure to provide proper care for someone or something. It is a form of abuse that generally stems from inaction in some way. When most people consider abuse, they think of harmful actions. However, neglect is the absence of action or care that leads to harm.
For example, when a nurse decides not to visit a patient’s room for a bath for days, they are neglecting the patient’s care. They have not physically taken action to harm the patient, but they haven’t taken necessary action to help the patient, either. The lack of bathing ultimately harms the elderly resident who cannot bathe on their own.
Types of Abuse Taking Place in Nursing Homes
Abuse takes multiple different forms. There are seven types of abuse that elderly and disabled patients experience in long-term care facilities. Knowing the types of abuse enables you to identify the signs in your loved ones.
Physical abuse is when a caretaker or staff member inflicts bodily harm upon a nursing home patient using physical force.
Examples may include:
When an elderly or disabled person suffers physical harm in a nursing home, you may notice:
- Cuts, scratches, and scrapes
- Open wounds
- Jumping or flinching at sudden movements of others
- Broken bones
- Other unexplained injuries
There is a misconception that sexual abuse requires the use of physical force. Sexual abuse includes any sexual contact or exposure that is non-consensual. It can involve physical force or violence, but it does not have to. Forcing a nursing home resident to watch pornographic material against their will is sexual abuse, inasmuch as forcing them to engage in sexual acts.
Examples of sexual abuse include:
- Touching, fondling, or groping
- Sexual violence
- Forced nudity
- Forced participation in the creation of pornographic material
- Forced viewing of pornographic material
- Verbal sexual harassment
Emotional abuse consists of using words and nonverbal actions to cause distress or pain to another individual. In nursing homes, staff members or even other elderly residents may repeatedly say hurtful things or act in a way that makes another person feel bad about themselves or feel sad, uncomfortable, scared, or unsure of themselves.
Emotional abuse may look like:
- Making threats
- Intimidating the resident
- Lobbing insults or demeaning comments
- Isolating the resident from family and other residents
- Implementing the silent treatment
Emotional abuse usually manifests itself in how the elderly resident behaves.
They may act:
- Upset or agitated without explanation
- Withdrawn, non-responsive, or quiet
- Exhibiting changes in behavior, including self-soothing themselves with sucking or rocking
- Nervous around others
- Fearful or paranoid
- Prone to insomnia
- Experiencing a loss of appetite
Neglect is when someone fails to fulfill their duty to provide proper care, whether it’s a deliberate or unintentional act or refusal.
Neglect is usually a continual state and not a singular instance. In nursing homes, neglect can occur due to intentional actions, but many times, it also happens because the staff is overwhelmed, leaving some residents unnoticed.
Neglect involves depriving victims of necessities, such as:
- Food or proper nutrition
- Clothing or proper clothing
- Assistance with personal hygiene and daily tasks
If a nursing home resident is being neglected, they will show signs of lack of care. Their hygiene or physical state may suffer. They may start to look different due to weight loss, or their health may decline.
Signs of neglect to look for include:
- Malnutrition and/or sudden unexplained weight loss
- Declining health and unattended health problems
- Poor hygiene, body odor, dirty clothes
- Unsafe living conditions, such as no heat, no air conditioning, tripping hazards, etc
- Unsanitary living conditions like soiled bed linens, undisposed human waste, or pest infestations
- Bed sores and infections
- Cuts, scrapes, bruises
- Repeated falls
Abandonment is the act of deserting someone after you have assumed the role of caretaker or provider. Family members, friends, or caretaker staff may abandon elderly people, whether that’s deserting an elderly or disabled person in a public place or leaving them at home and not returning.
If an elderly person has been abandoned by a caretaker, they may exhibit signs that they cannot care for themselves. If you ask questions, you could determine that someone else was in charge of their care previously.
Financial abuse, also called material exploitation, is the improper or unauthorized use or commandeering of another person’s assets, such as money and property. Nursing home residents may have a person whom they trust to handle their financial affairs and take care of their necessities. They may provide access to their credit cards, bank accounts, and cash, expecting this person to act in their interests, such as paying bills or purchasing food.
The designated manager may perform these tasks and steal money from the victim or use their funds to make purchases for themselves without authorization. Additionally, they may manipulate their elderly victim into adding them to accounts or signing over property.
Examples of financial abuse include:
- Stealing money or possessions
- Cashing checks or using credit cards without authorization
- Forging signatures
- Using funds for unauthorized purposes
- Manipulating the victims into signing documents or adding names to accounts
- Coercing the elderly into amending their will
Oftentimes, the nursing home resident is not aware that they are suffering from financial exploitation and abuse. If there are no family or friends monitoring their finances or checking in, they may not catch on until it is too late.
To detect financial abuse, watch out for:
- Sudden changes to banking practices
- Withdrawing large sums of money
- Disappearing funds or possessions
- Changes to a will or beneficiaries on accounts and financial documents
- Unauthorized purchases or ATM withdrawals
- Unpaid bills after money was provided for them
- Forged signatures on financial or title documents
- Assets being transferred to relatives or non-relatives
- Adding additional names to bank cards
- Unexplained helpers providing unnecessary services
You May Not See Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
A nursing home resident may report their abuse to the nursing home staff or to someone they know. Never discredit reported abuse because you do not see any signs. Some people hide it well or receive threats from their abuser to keep quiet.
Abuse in any form is unacceptable. All people, regardless of age or ability, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The federal government acknowledges that people in nursing homes are vulnerable to abuse due to the lack of oversight from family or friends outside of the facility.
The government ensures that people in long-term care facilities are protected under the law. The Nursing Home Reform Act endows nursing home residents and their families with several rights.
Nursing homes residents have a right to:
- Adequate care, treatment, and additional services
- Care that is free from abuse and neglect
- A prompt and reasonable response to their requests
- Participate in their own care
- Privacy and confidentiality
- Be fully informed
- Make choices independently
- Receive visitors
- Remain in the nursing home unless certain conditions are fulfilled
- Complain about nursing home staff, food, conditions, treatment, or anything else without retaliation
Nursing Home Residents Have a Right to Complain
Residents in nursing homes and their families have a right to complain without fear of retaliation. Any treatment that is harmful or fails to live up to the standards endowed through the Nursing Home Reform Act is grounds for reporting grievances to the appropriate authority. It is likely that if one nursing home resident is experiencing poor care and mistreatment, many others are as well.
You can report elder abuse in long-term care facilities to a number of authorities, including:
- The police
- Your local ombudsman
- State department or administration on aging
- State department of health
- Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU)
You can report abuse anonymously in most cases.
Local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
The federal government created the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program as an advocacy program to protect the rights of elderly residents in long-term care facilities. The departments or administrations on aging usually oversee each state’s ombudsman program.
These programs typically operate at the state or local level. The role of an ombudsman is to investigate any complaints at nursing homes and other facilities and attempt to resolve them for the residents. Ombudsmen make visits to long-term care facilities and inspect the quality of care the residents receive.
Why Does Nursing Home Abuse Happen, and Who Is Responsible?
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that one in six people ages 60 or older is a victim of elder abuse.
All of this elder abuse may occur due to the actions of one or multiple staff members or the nursing home supervisors. When nursing home staff become impatient or frustrated with elderly residents, they may handle them roughly or neglect them altogether. Other times, staff members may be cruel for no reason at all.
While the law might hold the perpetrator accountable for his or her actions, the nursing home company is also held responsible through vicarious liability laws. The nursing home may even be directly responsible for the harm residents suffered if the company failed to properly train or supervise its employees or if the company failed to adequately staff or stock the facility.
Many long-term care facilities are understaffed, resulting in staff members becoming overworked, frustrated, and neglecting patients and necessary maintenance.
Nursing Home Abuse Victims May Recover Compensation
Victims of abuse can seek justice for the harm they suffered at a nursing home through a lawsuit. The compensation they recover can help provide the cost of medical care, therapy, relocation, or other necessities, as well as bring closure as they recover physically and emotionally from this difficult time in their lives.
If you or a loved one was abused at a nursing home, you don’t have to suffer in silence. No matter what type of nursing home abuse you experienced, you can seek justice with the help of a nursing home lawyer.