When our loved ones are victims of Nursing Care Abuse, it can be an emotional and financial hardship.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 10,000 adults turn 65 in the United States every day. As modern medicine makes it possible for Americans to live long past retirement, there is an increasing need for quality long term care facilities.
It is not an easy decision when a family chooses a nursing home to take over the demands of caring for an elderly loved one, a decision that can come back to haunt all parties involved if they witness signs of abuse or neglect. Nursing home and elderly abuse is a serious issue in the United States, often leading to police intervention and lawsuits. Family members should take the signs of abuse and neglect seriously and act as quickly as possible to protect elderly loved ones.
What is Elder or Nursing Home Abuse?
Hundreds of thousands of elderly individuals are abused each year either in nursing home facilities, long term care housing or even at home by trusted caretakers. Many of the abused are vulnerable due to health issues, and end up being taken advantage of or abused by those who are supposed to be helping meet their daily needs.
Recent research has estimated that there are approximately 2,150,000 cases of elderly abuse reported each year. That makes up roughly 9.5% of the entire elderly population. Keep in mind that statistics are referring only to cases that are reported, so there is really no way for sure in telling how many members of our elderly community are being abused each year.
Elder abuse is a broad term that refers to the intentional act of causing harm to an older adult who is vulnerable. It also includes neglect if a caretaker is not meeting their basic needs, or if they are being exploited in any way. Depending on the type of abuse, the affected older person will suffer physically, mentally, emotionally and in some cases financially.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse / Elderly Abuse
Each state has enacted its own version of elder abuse definition and laws, but most recognize the same basic types of abuse that is inflicted onto the elderly. In Pennsylvania, the law defines elder abuse as the abuse – whether it be physical, emotional, or sexual, financial exploitation, neglect or abandonment — of any person who is over the age of 60.
Typical examples of elderly abuse include and are defined as:
- Physical Abuse – Intentionally inflicting pain or injury onto an elderly individual. This could be hitting, bruising or even restraining either with chemicals or by physical means.
- Sexual Abuse – Any non-consensual sexual contact.
- Neglect – This is the failure of the person responsible for providing care to ensure that the individual is receiving food, shelter, health care and basic protection.
- Exploitation – Exploitation of the elderly is illegally taking, misusing or concealing personal funds, property or assets for someone else’s benefit.
- Emotional Abuse – The deliberate infliction of mental pain, anguish or distress on an older person either through verbal or nonverbal acts. Purposefully intimidating, threatening or humiliating the individual are all examples of emotional abuse.
- Abandonment – When the person who has assumed responsibility for the well being of an elderly person knowingly deserts the victim.
- Self Neglect – This is defined as the failure of an individual to perform self care tasks, threatening their own safety and or health.
The physical and emotional symptoms associated with nursing home abuse will vary, but it is important that family members are aware of the signs and report any suspicion of abuse to the authorities immediately.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse / Elderly Abuse Injuries
In Pennsylvania, there are laws in place that make it mandatory that any suspicion of elderly abuse be reported to the authorities as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Aging by employees and/or administrators of the facility in which the individual resides. As the loved one of an older person, you should also be looking for signs during your visits. Abuse is often embarrassing for an older person to admit to, and he or she may be too incapacitated to speak out on his or her own.
When spending time with your elderly loved one, look for injuries and signs of abuse such as:
- Physical Signs of Abuse – Unexplained bruising, marks, burns or blisters where no caretaker is able to offer a plausible explanation for how the physical signs occurred.
- Behavioral Signs – Your loved one may react by withdrawing from activities that normally would be enjoyable, or have an unexplained change in cognitive abilities. Unexplainable fearful reactions with the presence of caretakers.
- Signs of Sexual Abuse – Unexplained STD’s are a common symptom of sexual abuse with the elderly. It may be difficult, but you should also look for signs of bruising around the breasts, genitalia and inside of the thighs.
- Restraint Injuries – Bruising and or cuts around the wrists and ankles could be a sign that the older person is being held in position against their will.
- Signs of Neglect – Bedsores, poor hygiene, lack of medical or dental care, hair or nails that are overgrown and a sudden weight loss are signs that the caretaker is neglecting basic care needs.
- Financial Abuse – Any sudden change in your loved ones finances should be looked into immediately. Watch for unusual bank withdrawals, large checks made out to cash or loss of personal assets.
- Wrongful Death – Under severe circumstances, nursing home abuse can lead to wrongful death. If you have a suspicion that the care administered during your loved ones time in a nursing home was even partially to blame for a wrongful death, then you should bring that to the attention of the appropriate authorities.
Be your loved one’s advocate and trust your instincts if you suspect abuse. It is completely within your right to ask questions and demand to speak with a supervisor if you are not satisfied with the responses. If administrators and other staff members also noticed the signs of abuse you note, and did not report it, then under Pennsylvania law, the staff are too perpetuating a crime against your family member.
Causes of Nursing Home Abuse/Elderly Abuse
No matter what the type, with nursing home abuse there is always some element of control and power over the abused. However, the root cause varies depending on the institution and the individuals involved. Regardless, there is never an excuse for taking advantage of power over an older person who is reliant on others for reliable quality care.
When in a nursing home setting any number of these circumstances could be a contributing factor for elderly abuse:
- The Quality of the Nursing Home – It is critical that you do as much research as possible on any nursing home facility that you are considering. Check carefully for previous allegations of abuse and neglect.
- Inadequate Employee Screening – In an environment where employees are given control over the welfare of others, not checking the background and prior work history thoroughly is dangerous. Individuals with violent pasts or history of abusive behavior should never be permitted access to patients in a nursing home.
- Inexperience – Dealing with the elderly in a clinical environment requires an in depth knowledge of their specialized needs. The hiring of staff members who are not accustomed to this type of work could lead to neglect and even abuse as they struggle with many overwhelming workplace responsibilities.
- Under Staffing – Neglect is overwhelmingly the most common type of elder abuse noted. In a nursing home setting this is often due to not having enough members on staff to handle the amount of patients.
- Lack of Qualifications – There are varying needs of the patients inside of a nursing home, necessitating a staff that has received the right training to handle. For example, a nursing assistant may be qualified to hoist patients and help with feeding duties, but may not have the training required to administer medications. Not only could a lack of staff members qualified for medical assistance cause patients basic health issues, it could lead to wrongful death.
There is an expectation of trust when an elderly person is checked into a nursing home, that his or her well- being will be a top priority. Institutions should be making every effort to meet that expectation of trust by ensuring that all of the members of the staff have the best interest of each patient at heart.
What to do if You’ve Been the Victim or Someone Close to You Has Been the Victim of Nursing Home Abuse/Elderly Abuse
If you are being victimized in a nursing home environment, or suspect that a close relative is, you should follow certain steps to ensure the victim’s health and safety. These include:
- Pay Careful Attention During Your Visits – Look for the above-mentioned signs of abuse, but also take note if any member of the staff is reluctant to leave you and your family member alone together. This is a red flag, and should be reported to the supervisory staff immediately.
- Stay Calm – With the exception of when you or your loved one is in imminent danger, it is important to remain calm when you suspect abuse. Speak with supervisors about your suspicions, while at the same time monitoring the care that is being given to your family member.
- Seek the Help of a Professional – Before making allegations you should enlist the help of a qualified attorney. Experienced Attorneys will help you with handling the police investigation and ensuring that the safety of your loved one is the top priority.
- Alert the Authorities – Contact the local police department where the nursing home is located as well as the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. These departments will then begin an investigation into your allegation of elderly abuse or neglect.
- Make Alternate Living Arrangements for Your Loved One – During the investigation and any subsequent lawsuits, your loved one should be moved to a different facility to avoid any conflict of interest.
- Seek Compensation – If it is determined that abuse has occurred, not only may criminal charges be filed, but you could file a personal injury lawsuit on behalf of your loved one. The compensation you receive could then be used towards providing a better quality nursing home for them to be taken care of in.
Elderly abuse is not something we like to think about, but statistics show that it is a growing problem that needs to be addressed. The elderly population of our nation is growing rapidly, necessitating facilities that are equipped to provide high quality care to large numbers of adults. When you report elderly abuse, you are not just protecting your own loved one, you are protecting thousands by pushing nursing homes to adhere to higher standards in care.