Nursing Home Abuse
It is not something we like to think about, but the reality is some day you or a loved one may have to reside in a nursing home. We’d like to think that it will be a place where there is social activity, good food, medical supervision and wonderful staff. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
Abuse of the elderly can come in several ways – physical, emotional and financial. Any of these are reprehensible and the victims should be compensated.
For this article, we are focusing on the issue of abuse as opposed to neglect. Neglect is equally appalling, but the dynamics of neglect are different, and we will address that in another article.
Physical abuse can range from pushing, shoving, rough handling and the like to very violent acts such as sexual abuse, assault and physical restraint. Other types of abuse are force-feeding, overmedication and use of chemical restraints. Sometimes medications are administered that have not been prescribed by a doctor.
While this discussion conjures up visions of the evil caretakers, keep in mind that some of the abuse a resident experiences might be at the hands of another resident. Sometimes disputes flare and one resident targets another for abuse of some sort. Even if another resident is the perpetrator, the nursing home is responsible for maintaining a safe environment for the victim.
Emotional abuse of a nursing home resident can take several forms as well. Verbal abuse, such as threats or insults, sarcastic or degrading remarks, can take an emotional toll on a resident. The resident may be coerced to “not tell” about abuse by threats of withholding food or care. They may be afraid to ask for things for fear of being hit or neglected on purpose.
Emotional abuse may also be more subtle. It may come in the form of manipulation by a staff member to not make waves or create difficulties which results in harm to the resident, such as dehydration or malnourishment. They may be emotionally blackmailed into not reporting other instances of abuse for fear of the same happening to them.
Signs of this type of abuse are more subtle as well. Look for changes in behavior, being fearful or apprehensive. They may be more anxious, have mood swings, develop depression, or become secluded. A resident who is being emotionally abused may revert to infantile behaviors, such as rocking, sucking, chewing or pulling their hair out. The problem is, some of these reactions are also related to being in a nursing home, so it may be difficult to sort out which may be related to abuse.
We sometimes think of financial abuse of the elderly as something that occurs within families, but it can definitely occur in a nursing home setting as well. Financial abuse occurs when someone who is in charge of another’s finances uses that power to their own benefit. It can be writing checks to themselves, transferring property to themselves or taking money or property outright. Sometimes caregivers or other residents worm their way into a resident’s confidence and convince them to give them money, or change their will to benefit the abuser, or put them in charge of their financial affairs by giving them Power of Attorney. This can have catastrophic financial results for the resident. Part of the problem is that these abusers have the apparent legal authority to do these things.
You must watch for such things as bizarre financial transactions, or a change in the power of attorney or will. The problem here is that very often these things go unnoticed for a long period of time, and sometimes it is too late to prevent financial harm.
Signs of Abuse
Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether or not a resident is being abused. They may be unwilling to tell anyone, fearing it could get worse. They may be unable to tell anyone, such as in the cases of dementia or serious medical conditions. Here are some signs to look for:
- Unexplained bruises or bleeding
- Open wounds, bedsores or cuts
- Sudden weight loss or hair loss
- Soiled clothes, smell of urine or feces
- Bloodied clothes or bedding
There are additional signs of abuse that are not so obvious:
- Acting fearful or silent around caretakers
- Sudden financial issues
- Behavior issues
- Disappearance of personal items
- Emotional withdrawal
- Unusual financial transactions
The state of Florida has regulatory control over nursing homes, and works hard to curb neglect, abuse and exploitation. There are a significant number of laws on the books designed to protect those in nursing homes. There is a state Department of Elder Affairs which works with the Department of Children and Families Adult Protective Services to ensure the safety and security of elders in Florida. There is a toll-free hotline to report suspected abuse, as well as an Elder Abuse Prevention program. The website is: elderaffairs.state.fl.us and there are forms and directions for reporting abuse.
Further, Florida statues, Chapter 400 specifically set out the rights of nursing home or other facility residents. These are extensive in nature, and will be the topic of later discussions, but generally, these have to do with the rights of access to the resident, and they to their families, the right to file grievances and review the inspection reports, the right to advocacy groups, the right to privacy in their care, the right to refuse medication, the right to manage their own finances or designate someone to handle the money for them.
What To Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse
Document everything that would be relevant – dates and times and caregivers on duty, specifics of the incident as best you can determine (e.g. bruises, fear, bloody clothes). Include as many details as possible, as detailed accounts are more credible (and usually more quickly investigated) than general complaints. The first place to go is to report your suspicions to the management of the facility. Every nursing home has an Ombudsman, or patient advocate who will help you with this step. Sometimes this resolves the issues, but often you have to take the matter further.
The best approach is to contact an attorney experienced with cases of nursing home abuse. They will know exactly the process to appropriately report and resolve your case. An attorney who is dedicated to preventing nursing home abuse will also ensure that your loved one is compensated for that abuse. No one should have to live with the fear and pain of an abusive situation.