When making the difficult decision to entrust a loved one to the care of a nursing home, you are trusting that he or she will be diligently cared for. Unfortunately, some facilities betray this trust and the residents face abuse or neglect at the hands of staff members. With nursing home abuse occurring frequently across the country, it is important to know how to recognize signs of mistreatment and understand what legal actions may be taken, should you uncover abuse.
The abuse or neglect of a nursing home resident can take many forms which may lead to both short and long-term damage. Physical abuse includes intentional use of force which results in pain, injury, or impairment, which can be caused by both assault and improper use of restraints. Emotional abuse consists of psychological damage through hurtful words, isolation, or menacing behavior. A resident may also face sexual abuse or financial exploitation at the hands of caregivers. Nursing home neglect commonly occurs and can range from denying a resident consistent meals to refusing to treat illness or failure to provide basic care. Healthcare fraud covers situations such as charging for care that was not provided, overcharging for services, or overmedicating a resident. These types of abuse can overlap and lead to serious mental and physical harm, especially when performed over a long period of time.
The signs of potential abuse can vary between each person, but recognizing some warning signs may help you to identify nursing home abuse:
- Sudden injuries which cannot be explained, including bruises, welts, broken bones, burns, or scars
- Signs of restraint, such as marks around the wrists
- Abrupt changes in personality or behavior
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Manic behaviors, such as rocking or mumbling to oneself
- Denial of visiting the resident without a caregiver present, or isolation from family members
- Witnessing belittling or aggressive behavior from a caregiver
- An unexplained sexually transmitted disease
- Trauma or swelling in genital area
- Torn or stained underclothes
- Significant or unexplained withdrawals from accounts or purchases
- Changes in wills, titles, or power of attorney
- Unpaid bills, even when elder has means to cover them
- Items or cash missing
- Weight loss or malnutrition
- Cracking, swollen lips or other signs of dehydration
- Bedsores or ulcers
- Signs of deteriorating personal hygiene
- Dirty or unsafe living conditions
- Soiled bedding or clothing
- Unsuitable clothing for weather conditions
- Unexpected leftover medication
- Excessive testing
- Unexplained billing to medical provider for services
- Duplicate bills for service or medication
- Unnecessary treatment or medication
If you notice the development of one or more of these warning signs, it is imperative to investigate immediately. Should you uncover nursing home abuse, legal action can be taken in the form of both criminal and civil actions. After informing the police or district attorney about the abuse, you may also file a complaint with the department of social services or the adult protective services of your state. This may lead to criminal charges against certain caregivers, including any staff that knew of the abuse and failed to report it or attempted to hide it. The facility may also face punitive fines and citations in certain situations.
In many cases, the resident or their family may be eligible to file a lawsuit in civil court, seeking compensation for incurred damages. These damages can include financial costs, such as money paid to the facility for care or medical expenses, or it may cover physical or emotional damage, such as pain and suffering or mental anguish.
Each state provides different regulations for nursing home care, and steps may vary in holding facilities responsible for neglect which occurs there. To ensure that you are pursuing the right course of action, consider enlisting the services of a personal injury lawyer who can help you understand the options available in your state.