Nursing Facility Neglect
A long-term skilled nursing 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, however. Sadly, many are subject to abuse and neglect at the hands of those who are tasked with caring for them.
Nursing facility neglect is a prevalent but underreported crime. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only 1 in 24 cases of abuse and neglect are reported.
Nursing Facility Neglect Is a Growing Concern
Neglect is as dangerous as deliberate abuse. In September 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.
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 Types of Nursing Facility 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
- Failing to give 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 Signs of Neglect
Here are some of the more common signs of neglect:
- 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 Facility Neglect
Your best method of protecting residents from nursing facility neglect is to stay involved with your loved one’s care. Sadly, 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 so often unreported.
Residents with regular visitors and family members who consistently talk with nursing facility staff are less likely to be the victims of 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 facility 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 facility staff and management could face criminal charges or civil penalties. At the very least, any facility that hides or downplays such actions should be reported to the proper authorities.
You can report your suspicions of nursing facility neglect or abuse by:
- If the situation is life-threatening, call 9-1-1.
- Contact the nursing facility 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, call Nursing Home Abuse Center at 1-866-548-9636.
Nursing Facility Neglect Harms the Most Vulnerable
Nursing facility 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 suffer neglect. Residents with disabilities who need more hands-on care are also at a higher risk.
Options to Traditional Skilled Nursing Facilities
Unfortunately, there are few options for families who must place their aging loved one into a skilled nursing facility. The choices include:
- Adult Family Care Homes (AFCH) – These are private, licensed residences with a maximum of five people and a live-in owner/operator.
- State Veterans’ Nursing Homes – These are reserved for veterans with service-related disabilities or who need long-term skilled nursing.
These options are not suitable for every family. Often, the best option is a nursing facility that has the staff and resources necessary to care for individuals who are healing from injuries or need specialized care.