Nursing Facility Neglect in Nursing Homes
A long-term skilled nursing care facility is supposed to be a clean, comfortable, and safe place for its frail and elderly residents. This is not the reality for many senior citizens. Nursing home abuse and neglect is a prevalent but underreported crime. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only 1 in 24 cases of abuse and neglect are reported.
Facility Neglect Is a Growing Concern in Nursing Homes
Neglect is as dangerous as deliberate abuse. In September of 2017, 14 residents in a South Florida nursing home died from extreme heat after Hurricane Irma knocked out power. Twelve deaths were ruled homicides, and the facility remains closed because the staff neglected to act when interior temperatures reached 99 degrees.
Defining Neglect and Abuse in Nursing Homes
It does not take a natural disaster to reveal that nursing home residents are being abused and neglected. In a 2012 survey by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), more than 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted to abusing or neglecting residents. Abuse can be physical, psychological, verbal, sexual, emotional, or financial. It could be caregiver abuse or another resident who is not reported by staff.
The U.S. National Library of Science defines neglect as “the refusal or failure of a caregiver to fulfill his or her obligations or duties including…providing any food, clothing, medicine, shelter, supervision, and medical care and services that a prudent person would deem essential for the well-being of another.”
Common Forms of Neglect
Certified Nursing Aides (CNA) participated in a 2001 study of common forms of neglect in nursing facilities. They mentioned a wide range of disturbing examples, including:
- Ignoring bedridden patients’ needs such as changing, toileting, or offering activities
- Turning off a call light and avoiding a resident’s request
- Not supplying prescribed wound care
- Not giving residents regular baths
- Not offering oral or dental care
- Performing a one-person transfer when a two-person transfer is needed
- Not doing range of motion exercises
- Not keeping residents hydrated
- Keeping residents involuntarily secluded or isolated
Recognizing the Symptoms of Neglect
Here are common signs of neglect of the facility and residents.
- Is dirty, run down, and generally unpleasant.
- Smells of urine, feces, body odor, or garbage.
- Discourages tours or visitors.
- Does not maintain a safe and comfortable environment.
- Lacks activities and opportunities for social engagement.
- Does not provide tasty and nutritious food.
- Appear dangerously underweight or malnourished.
- Look dehydrated (dry or papery looking skin).
- Seem overmedicated or sedated.
- Are unwashed, disheveled, and with soiled clothes or bedding.
- Have unexplained bruises or bumps.
- Suffer from bed sores (pressure points) or skin ulcers.
How to Protect Your Loved One from Nursing Home Neglect
Your best protection from nursing home neglect is to stay involved with your loved one’s care. Sadly, nursing home residents who have little or no family support or social interaction are most at risk of neglect. That is why their symptoms of neglect are unreported.
Residents with regular visitors and family members who consistently talk with nursing home staff are less likely to be the victims of facility abuse. Additionally, you can reduce their risk by:
- Take the time to compare, review, and visit potential nursing facilities.
- Visit as often as possible. If that is not a choice, call on a regular basis.
- Speak with the director of nursing and your loved one’s regular doctors.
- Keep a lookout for inspection reports that are posted on your area’s elder affairs website.
Nursing home neglect violates state and federal laws. Senior citizens do not lose their basic rights when they move in. There are also specific protections to ensure the safety and comfort of nursing home residents.
If You See Something, Say Something!
If you suspect any abuse or neglect, you should take immediate action. The nursing home staff and management could face civil or criminal charges. At the very least, any facility that hides or downplays such actions should be reported to the proper authorities.
- If the situation is life-threatening, call 9-1-1.
- Contact the nursing home administrator in writing with a detailed account of suspected abuse or neglect.
- Call your local Department of Elder Affairs or similar agency.
- Speak with an attorney who handles nursing home abuse cases. For a free and confidential consultation with a nursing home abuse law firm near you, please call (800) 516-4783.
Nursing Facility Neglect Harms the Most Vulnerable
Nursing home residents are often reluctant to report neglect because they fear retaliation by their abuser. Some are physically or cognitively unable to communicate their distress. In a study conducted by the NCEA, seniors with dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other types of cognitive decline are more likely to be neglected. Residents with disabilities who need more hands-on care are also at a higher risk.
Shortages in Available Facilities Worsens Neglect
According to Assisted Living Today, there will be a shortage of 18,000 skilled nursing beds by 2050. Many nursing homes were built in the 1960s using federal aid. The federal government has reduced the budget for building new facilities. As a result, existing nursing homes are often filled to capacity. Nursing homes are often understaffed, leading to a higher risk of neglect.
Options to Traditional Skilled Nursing Facilities
Unfortunately, there are little options for families who must place their aging loved one into a skilled nursing facility. The choices include:
- Adult Family Care Homes (AFCH) are private, licensed residences with a maximum of five people and a live-in owner/operator.
- State Veterans’ Nursing Homes are reserved for veterans with service-related disabilities or who need long-term skilled nursing.