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Abuse in Nursing Homes

Nursing homes are profit-driven businesses and during tough economic times good business practice and quality control can suffer in favor of short-sighted profits, quotas and corner cutting.  Businesses in trouble do not generally announce this, rather, they simply cover their tracks as best as they can.  Cuts in hours and wages have a great impact on employee attitudes, which can easily translate to mistreatment, neglect and even abuse in nursing homes.

Understanding Abuse in Nursing Homes

The elderly are the most vulnerable and the least likely to complain, so unfortunately they are often the targets of abuse in nursing homes.  Our responsibility does not end once we have found a suitable nursing home and helped our loved ones relocate as comfortably as possible.  They are now in the hands of strangers, so we must still keep a vigilant eye and maintain a constant lookout for anything that looks askew.

A recent investigation concluded that employment background checks do not always provide adequate protection against elder mistreatment.  For instance, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) prohibit nursing homes from hiring persons with a prior history of committing abuse in a nursing home setting.  However, those who have been convicted of other forms of abuse, such as child abuse, may still be hired.

Also concerning is the fact that some states require a criminal background check, while others do not.  These checks usually do not uncover convictions in another state.  Furthermore, in some states, non-caregiving staff, such as maintenance workers and others without a direct patient care role, do not undergo criminal background checks even though they may have direct access to patients and patient areas.

Recognize the Red Flags – Know What to Look For

One of the best ways to prevent or stop abuse in nursing homes is to know the red flags that may indicate abuse or neglect.  Physical abuse can range from relatively mild to very extreme and can include assault, battery, and rape. Red flags that may indicate your loved one is being abused include:

  • Unexplained bruising or bleeding
  • Open wounds, bedsores or cuts
  • Ligature marks around throat, mouth, wrists or ankles
  • Burns and abrasions
  • Sudden changes in weight
  • Soiling, poor hygiene, or odor of urine or feces
  • Additional or more serious infections
  • Hair loss
  • Torn, stained or bloody clothing or bedding
  • Overall cleanliness of living quarters

Emotional abuse is more difficult to spot, but this can be even more devastating.  Emotional abuse in nursing homes may include insults, humiliation, threats and frightening the patient. Some red flags that may indicate emotional abuse include:

  • Listlessness or unresponsiveness
  • Infantile or other strange behaviors
  • Physical or emotional withdrawal
  • Depression, or an unwillingness to open up and talk

Neglect sometimes goes hand-in-hand with abuse, but can also be a singular problem. Nursing home neglect may consist of:

  • Withholding nourishment or water
  • Improper medication administration
  • Inadequate assistance with personal hygiene
  • Unclean linens 

Financial exploitation is another type of nursing home abuse that can be devastating for the victim and his or her family. Red flags that may indicate financial exploitation include:

  • Disappearance of personal items
  • Sudden and unusual financial transactions
  • Unusual subscriptions or online orders
  • Checks written out to staff members

What about Sexual Abuse?

While the incidence of sexual abuse appears to be low, it is more likely to occur in a nursing home than in a community setting.  A small survey of sexual abuse incidents among the elderly revealed that 40 out of 42 cases occurred in nursing home facilities.  Sexual abuse made up 4.6% of all cases of nursing home abuse and 5.6% of other long-term care facility abuse in 2001.  A case series of 20 cases revealed that 75% of the abused persons were non-ambulatory and all suffered from cognitive and neurological disorders. 

Perpetrators are usually gerophiles who seek out elderly victims or are male residents of the facility.  However, the sexual aggressor may also be a patient’s own family member.

What to do About Abuse in Nursing Homes

If you notice any signs of abuse or neglect you need to alert authorities immediately.  You also should make sure that your loved one is safe, even if that means moving them to your home, another facility or the hospital.  Before you address your concerns with the facility administrator(s), you may find it helpful to speak with a nursing home abuse lawyer.

Abuse in nursing homes is a serious problem.  But residents have rights, and so do you.  If your loved one is being abused, you may have the option of pursuing financial recovery on behalf of your loved one.  This can help your family ensure your loved one’s care, no matter where they live in the future. 

To find out more about your legal rights and options, contact Nursing Home Abuse Center.  Request a free case evaluation by calling 1-800-516-4783.