Sometimes we think that lawyers only give legal advice. While attorneys who counsel injury victims and handle personal injury cases certainly should be trained legal advisors, we also are pretty good about giving common sense life advice that can help you and your family stay safe.
Nowhere is that kind of advice as important as it is when it comes to nursing homes, and avoiding nursing home abuse and neglect. As much as we pride ourselves in handling nursing home abuse cases, we would much prefer that you be able to take steps to avoid any type of abuse from happening in the first place.
Nursing Home Abuse
We have written previously about the duties that nursing homes have under Florida law to safeguard and protect your loves ones when they are admitted. Those duties stem from the significant imbalance of power between the home and the resident.
Often, residents are elderly, infirm, and may function at varying levels. Some residents may be conscious and active and able to care for their own affairs, but others may be completely infirm, unconscious, and totally at the mercy of the nursing home’s staff and medical providers.
The family of a resident is also at the mercy of the home; even the most diligent of families can not be at their loved one’s bedside 24/7. They must rely on the home to care for their loved one the same way that they would, with the same diligence, care, and attention. They may never know what actually happens when they are not around.
In many cases, nursing home residents are not injured because the home is affirmatively trying to injure them, but are simply neglected; a nursing home may have insufficient staff or improperly trained staff to handle patient needs. Although things have gotten better in recent years, we still are not far away from the time that, for example, the nursing home cook in an understaffed facility would do double duty as a nurse to help the medical staff attend to patients.
Being Observant is the First Step
There are steps that you can take as family members to try to avoid your loved one from being a victim of abuse or neglect. They are not foolproof, and you can never guarantee what will or will not happen, but certainly, giving your loved one a better chance at getting the best care and treatment is worth the effort.
Visit, visit visit: This sounds obvious. Most families would visit their loved one in the home anyway, without a lawyer suggesting to do it. But homes notice which patients have families that are always going in and out. Visiting does not mean you have to stay for hours every time you are there—even a quick drop in provides the “face time” necessary to let the staff know that your relative has people that are watching over him or her.
Visit at Varying or Odd Hours: Vary your visiting schedule. This is to avoid staff from anticipating your visit, and taking measures to make things seem better than they may be. Much like the school “pop quiz,” which was given at random times, your varied appearance times will always keep staff on notice that they need to take proper safety and attention measures at all times—not just when they anticipate you showing up.
Get to Know the Staff: Nursing home staff are not your enemy. They should be your friends. Develop relationships with them. Ask them how their day was. Bring them cookies (seriously). Staff members are human beings, and the fact is that they may put more care and attention into, or take the extra effort with, those residents whom they personally like or whose families that they want to make happy.
Another benefit of maintaining personal relationships with staff is candor. If a nurse is upset at how the home is being operated, or has a safety concern, he or she is much more likely to share it with you if you have a relationship. If he or she sees something amiss, it is more likely that information is shared with family members that are considered friends.
Observe: You do not need to be a nursing home administrator to see the difference between a well run and poorly run home. Take a walk down the hallways. Walk into the cafeteria or rehabilitation room if you can. What do you see? Are the staff talking to themselves complaining about their lives? Is there paperwork everywhere? Do the other residents look taken care of? Are all areas clean—not just waiting rooms, but public restrooms, elevators, or meeting rooms? Is the person at nursing station answering so many phone calls that she can not possibly pay attention to anything else?
Listen and Observe Your Relative: Even residents that are infirm or who have limited communication abilities can tell a story. Look on their bodies for bed sores, or other injuries like bruises that do not have an explanation. Check their weight and hygiene. Are their personal objects like pictures, cell phones, books, etc., accessible to them?
Being in a home can naturally be difficult for residents, but make sure your relative’s demeanor is not getting worse. Depression can be an indication of abuse or neglect, even at the hands of other residents. Any unexpected changes in health, finances, appearance, or attitude, should be noted and attended to.
If you have a loved one who you suspect is being abused or neglected while in a nursing home or resident facility, do not wait to get help. Contact attorneys who handle these difficult and sensitive cases. The attorneys at Brill & Rinaldi are available for a free consultation to discuss your case.