What should I look for if I suspect nursing home abuse?

Abuse in a nursing home can take many forms.  Many people think that then only types of abuse the elderly and incapacitated suffer in nursing home facilities are intentional, overt  physical acts. While, unfortunately, there are numerous reports of violent physical contact between patients and staff, far more abuse occurs as a result of neglect.  It is estimated that twenty (20)  percent of reported nursing home abuse cases involve emotional abuse,  sixteen (16) percent involve physical abuse,  three (3)  percent involve sexual abuse, and twelve (12)  percent involve other forms of neglect.

Many residents of nursing homes are elderly, and become, and continue to be, victims of abuse because they may be mentally or physically unable to communicate to loved ones that they are subject to abuse. The lack of properly trained employees, or the lack of sufficient numbers of employees to assist the number of patients residing in a facility can increase the likelihood of abuse occurring. Unfortunately, nursing homes are big business, focusing on financial profits.  As a result, the need to stay within budget to maximize the “bottom line” if often a greater priority than focusing on patient care, comfort and well being.

Too often, patients suffer from abuse caused by withholding of food and/or water, inadequate daily care and grooming, poor hygiene as a result of inadequate toilet facilities and medication errors. Lacking the ability to communicate these issues to anyone can result in nursing home residents suffering serious injuries, and even death, as a result of malnutrition, starvation, dehydration and bedsores.

Depending on the severity of a resident’s diminished physical and mental capacities, a resident may require round the clock attention. Abuse is easily missed if a resident is unable to communicate and/or has few visitors that are able to observe a patient’s deteriorating physical or mental condition. Abuse is not always clear and obvious. Abuse can be physical, psychological, emotional or financial. It can range from something as minimal as not being treated with respect and dignity to injuries more severe as broken bones or death. Although not complete or exhaustive, below are some signs of abuse that you may observe when visiting your loved ones when visiting them in a nursing home.

It is not uncommon for residents who suffer from emotional abuse to exhibit signs of withdrawal or to be non-communicative when coming into contact with family and friends. The effects of abuse may cause a resident to “crawl into a shell” as a defense mechanism to deal with something they cannot control. Emotionally abused residents often exhibit strange unusual behaviors. It is not uncommon for a victim of emotional abuse to engage in acts of rocking, biting or sucking as a coping mechanism. Mood swings are typical for patients suffering from emotional abuse, as well as uncontrolled bouts of anxiety and agitation. Many times, depression and/or low self esteem are  direct results of a resident that is the victim of emotional abuse.

While the symptoms of emotional abuse are often more subtle and less obvious, physical abuse is many times more easily detectible. Broken eyeglasses may be an indicator that abuse is occurring.  As a result of lack of adequate nourishment, residents may experience a rapid, unexplained loss of weight. The appearance of bed sores (decubitus) is a clear sign of lack of proper attention in residents who are restricted to remaining in a bed or lack the ability to move on their own.  Broken bones, dislocations and sprains are usually a clear sign that a resident has been a victim of physical abuse. Be suspicious of any unexplained accident or injury that result in bruises, welts, abrasions, cuts and skin injuries or burns. Other obvious injuries such as lacerations or skull fractures are obvious signs that abuse is likely.

No one would ever want to think that a loved one would be subject to sexual abuse while residing in a nursing home facility but this type of abuse is not uncommon. As many residents are unable to communicate the atrocities that they must endure is some homes, predators find them easy prey. Some of the frightening indicators of this type of abuse are unexplained bruising around the upper abdomen, breasts and/or inner thighs. Victims of sexual abuse may exhibit torn or stained underclothes and vaginal or anal bleeding.  Immediate suspicion should occur if a resident develops genital infections, venereal disease or other forms of sexually transmitted diseases.

Nursing home abuse is often not reported because of a victim’s inability to communicate the acts, embarrassment over the incident or the fear of reprisals or intimidation by the staff members perpetrating the abuse. In the event you observe anything that raises a suspicion that nursing home abuse has occurs, or is still occurring to a loved one you should get the appropriate medical or psychological attention for the victim immediately. Identify the individuals involved in the suspected abuse (e.g. names, ages, addresses). Report the abuse to the nursing home administrator and file a complaint with the department in your state that regulates nursing homes and contact the local police. Nursing home abuse is a criminal offense and is both illegal and unacceptable, and the proper authorities should receive timely notice to prevent more abuse from occurring.

If you, or a loved one, know of a family member that has been a victim of nursing home abuse, you should contact a qualified, experienced attorney to advise you of your legal rights. The Law Office of Dan Newlin & Partners is dedicated to protecting those rights. We have a staff that is experienced in handling nursing home abuse cases and knows the right questions to ask in order to get the right answers. You are encouraged to call our office at (407) 888-8000 any time for a free consultation, and it would be an honor to answer any questions you may have.