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Caregiver Abuse in Nursing Homes

caregiver abuse

Caregiver abuse in nursing homes is a violation of a senior citizen’s right to a safe, secure, and comfortable environment.  A 2016 survey from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation revealed that 21 percent of nursing facilities were reported for physically harming residents or jeopardizing their safety.  Caregiver abuse and neglect can take many forms, including physical, mental, sexual, verbal or financial.

Abuse by Nursing Home Caregivers Is a Vastly Unreported Crime

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that only 1 in 24 cases of abuse and neglect are reported. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Nursing home residents are elderly, frail, and usually in poor health. Their physical and mental condition forces them to rely entirely on caregivers. Victims are often too frightened of the consequences to report their abuser.
  • Many elder abuse victims have severe physical or cognitive disabilities. Patients with dementia may forget an episode of abuse or neglect. A stroke victim might be unable to speak.
  • Some nursing home residents have little or no family contact. Isolated seniors or those with little or no family contact may feel there is no one who cares about their situation.

Why Caregivers Abuse or Neglect their Patients

Many nurses and aides choose to work with the elderly.  They find it challenging but rewarding.  In addition, nursing facilities are supposed to carefully screen applicants.  So, what could make some caregivers turn on their aging patients?

Nothing excuses the deliberate abuse or neglect of senior citizens.  They are among the most vulnerable members of society and deserve compassion, respect and dignity.  However, there are conditions that can increase the risk of caregiver abuse.

Workplace Issues That Can Lead to Caregiver Abuse or Neglect Include:

  • Staffing shortages
  • Underpaid staff
  • Working multiple shifts (overtime)
  • Poor or insufficient training
  • Inadequate supervision and accountability

Underpaid Staff Who Carry a Large Responsibility

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA) and other aides have the most daily interaction with nursing home residents.  CNAs feed, groom, lift or move patients, and in some cases, dispense medications and check vital signs.  The median hourly pay for CNAs is $13.23, according to 2017 Bureau of Labor statistics.

Multiple Shifts for Overtime Pay

Chronic understaffing forces nursing facilities to require overtime.  Consistently working long hours or working without a day off increases the risk for abuse or neglect.

Poor or Inadequate Training

Many nursing facilities do not offer added training beyond the minimum needed by law.  This lack of additional or ongoing employee education can result in staff being unprepared for stressful or unusual situations.

Insufficient Supervision and Accountability

Registered Nurses (RN) are the highest-level caregiver needed in a nursing home.  In addition to their nursing duties, they supervise other nurses, assistants and aides.  However, a report in U.S. News reveals that a single RN routinely oversees as many as 43 patients.  This can lead to gaps in supervision and allow for potentially deadly errors in care.

Individual Caregiver Issues in Abuse or Neglect Situations Include:

  • Job stress and burnout
  • Personal issues such as divorce, family illness or death, or financial troubles
  • Poor personal physical or mental health and illness
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Personal history of abuse or being involved in an abusive relationship
  • Issues of hostility, negativity, and aggression
  • Lack of proper social and problem-solving skills

Some Nursing Home Residents Are at a Higher Risk for Caregiver Abuse

An abusive caregiver is likely to target a victim who is unable to speak out.  A 2009 study by the National Council on Elder Affairs (NCEA) revealed that 50 percent of residents with dementia were abused or neglected.  Other risk factors include:

  • Lack of social or family support
  • Residents who need help with Activities of Daily Living (ADL)
  • Limited income or resources
  • Being a minority
  • Having disabilities

How to Protect Nursing Home Residents from Caregiver Abuse

The best way to shield a loved one from an abusive caregiver is to remain involved and active.  Nursing home residents who have regular visitors, phone calls, and outings are more visible to staff.  This makes them less likely targets when compared to a bedridden resident with little family interaction.  If you live far from your elderly loved one, arrange for a friend or even a nursing home abuse lawyer to drop in for a visit.

Know the Signs of Caregiver Abuse or Neglect

Nursing home abuse is unfortunately a severely underreported crime.  That is why it is crucial to recognize the typical signs of abuse or neglect.

Indicators of Physical or Sexual Abuse and Neglect:

  • Unexplained bruises, fractures, or bumps
  • Sudden weight loss and other signs of malnutrition
  • Body odor, greasy hair, and unkempt appearance
  • Bruises on the breasts, genitals, or anus
  • Indications of restraint use 

Signs of Mental or Emotional Abuse and Neglect:

  • Depression or anxiety not caused by known health issues or medication
  • Reluctance to speak in front of caregiver
  • Fearful or cowering behavior
  • Unexplained social isolation
  • Acts of violence against others or self

You Can Help Protect Your Loved One from Caregiver Abuse

Nursing home abuse by caregivers is a nationwide concern.  If you believe your loved one might be suffering abuse or neglect and you would like a free, no-obligation consultation with a nursing home abuse law firm, please call 1-866-548-9636.