Nursing Home Abuse Handbook

What is Nursing Home Abuse

Due to the influx of more elderly people from the Baby Boomer generation and the improvements in medicine that help keep people alive longer, more elderly individuals are in nursing homes than ever before. Unfortunately, this increase in nursing home patients also increases the likelihood that these patients may experience nursing home abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse says that it is impossible to know how many people truly suffer from abuse at the hands of their caregivers. However, it says that in the most recent major study, approximately 10 percent of respondents said that they had been abused.  

When a loved one is being abused, there are steps that you can take to protect him or her. The information in this handbook can help you identify abuse and take the steps necessary to protect your loved one.

Types of Abuse

Unfortunately, there are many types of abuse and mistreatment of elderly individuals. Abuse may take on one or more of the following forms:

Physical Abuse
Physical abuse is the non-accidental use of physical force that can result in pain, bodily injury or impairment.

It may include acts like the following:
·Hitting the patient
·Using an item to hit the patient
·Pushing the patient
·Pinching the patient
·Shaking the patient
·Burning the patient
·Overmedicating the patient
·Force-feeding the patient
·Misusing physical restraints
·Confining the patient
·Imposing physical punishment on the patient

Physical abuse is usually the easiest form of nursing home abuse to spot due to physical manifestations. However, patients often do not report it or cover it up because they are afraid of the consequences.

Common signs of physical abuse include:
·Unexplained physical injuries, including broken bones, bruises, welts, black eyes, sprains, cuts, lacerations or open wounds
·Restraint marks around the wrists and ankles
·Open wounds
·Multiple untreated injuries
·Broken glasses
·Laboratory results that show overmedicating or under-medicating
·Patient’s reports of abuse
·Sudden request to spend more time with family
·Sudden change in the patient’s behavior
·Isolation of the patient by caregiver

Sexual Abuse
Due to their vulnerability, elderly individuals are sometimes sexual targets. Sexual abuse is any type of non-consensual sexual contact. This definition expands to patients who do not have the capacity to give consent due to physical or mental health limitations.

Sexual abuse includes:
·Unwanted touching
·Coerced nudity
·Taking unwanted sexually explicit photographs
·Showing the elderly individual sexually-explicit
images or video
·Sexual assault or battery

Common signs of sexual abuse include:
·Bruising around the private areas
·Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
·Vaginal or anal bleeding
·Torn or bloody clothing

Emotional Abuse
A caregiver may also emotionally abuse the patient by treating him or her in a manner that results in emotional pain, anguish or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts.

Examples of emotional abuse include:
·Making threats against the patient
·Yelling at the patient
·Humiliating or ridiculing the patient
·Insulting the patient
·Harassing the patient
·Infantilizing the patient
·Isolating the patient
·Ignoring the patient

Signs of emotional abuse include:
·Patient is emotionally upset or agitated
·Sudden change in personality, including being withdrawn and non-communicative
·Regressive behaviors, such as rocking, sucking or biting
·Patient is not permitted to interact with other patients during social activities

Financial Abuse
Financial abuse is the unauthorized use of an elderly individual’s funds, assets or property.

Some examples of financial abuse include:
·Cashing unauthorized checks
·Misusing the patient’s credit cards
·Stealing money, property or checks
·Forging the patient’s signature
·Coercing or tricking the patient to sign a legal document such as power of attorney, a contract or a will
·Stealing the patient’s identity
·Improperly using conservatorship or guardianship

Signs that financial abuse is occurring include:
·Unexplained withdrawals
·Unexplained transfers to someone outside the family
·Missing possessions
·Other sudden changes in bank account practices
·Significant change in credit
·Bills going unpaid or an account overdrafting when these problems did not previously occur
·An additional name on a patient’s bank account
·Forged signatures on legal documents
·Abrupt changes in a will or other legal documents

Healthcare Abuse
Another form of elder abuse is healthcare abuse. This occurs when a nurse, doctor, care provider or other such individual commits any of the following acts:
·Charging for healthcare but not providing it
·Getting financial incentives to prescribe certain drugs and doing so when not necessary
·Overcharging for healthcare services
·Overmedicating the patient
·Making medical recommendations based on financial incentives
·Medicaid fraud

Signs of healthcare abuse include:
·Duplicate billings
·Lab reports of overmedication
·Inadequate care to the patient despite paying all medical bills in full
·Overcrowding in the nursing home
·High staff turnover rate
·Lack of proper training
·Low wages for caregivers
·Inadequate responses to healthcare questions

While neglect is different than abuse, it creates liability on the part of the nursing home. Neglect is the failure to provide the care necessary to the patient as required by his or her duties. This can include failing to provide the patient with necessities such as food, water, clean clothing, habitable conditions, medicine and personal safety.

Some examples of nursing home neglect and signs of neglect include:
·Bed sores
·Weight loss
·Unsuitable clothing for the weather
·Poor personal hygiene
·Failure to provide treatment for health problems
·No running water, improper wiring, fire hazards or no heat
·Dirty living conditions, including soiled bedding, smell of feces or urine, bed bugs, fleas or lice

Nursing home abuse and neglect are very serious matters and any reports from the patient regarding abuse should be taken seriously. Signs of nursing home abuse and neglect are often dismissed as signs of dementia or of the patient’s frail nature. However, the rate of nursing abuse is alarming. Taking such reports seriously is the first step to helping stop future abuse.

Legal Claims

Nursing home abuse and neglect lawsuits may be based on intentional acts or unintentional acts in the case of neglect.

Legal claims may arise in the following situations:
·Patient falls and suffers physical injury
·Patient has untreated bed sores and pressure ulcers
·Patient was dehydrated or malnourished
·Patient was physically or sexually assaulted by caregiver
·Patient did not receive proper medical care from staff or nursing home
·Patient is over sedated
·Mistakes are made in patient’s medication
·Property theft
·Development of STDs or urinary tract infection
·Lack of supervision
·Wrongful death

Basis for Legal Claims

The primary basis for a legal claim against the nursing home is the duty that it has to ensure adequate care of the elderly patient. This duty arises out of the contractual relationship and by virtue of the fact that the nursing home is receiving payment in exchange for providing such care.  Additionally, there are state and federal laws that regulate the level of care that nursing homes must provide.

If the nursing home receives payments through Medicare, it has a duty to ensure that:
·Patients are free of accident hazards as much as possible
·Patients receive adequate supervision and devices geared to prevent accidents

The basis for liability can arise out of a number of different scenarios, but some of the most common behaviors in which civil liability may arise are:

Negligent Hiring
Nursing homes must perform due diligence when hiring someone who will be in close proximity to a vulnerable population such as the elderly. Negligent hiring occurs when an employer fails to check into an employee’s credentials or background and that employee later turns out to neglect or abuse the patient. Negligent training allegations are similar but focus more on the lack of providing necessary training to the employee after he or she was hired.

Negligent Supervision
Some nursing home abuse allegations arise from a claim that the nursing home did not hire enough staff or properly supervise staff, which contributed to the patient’s injury.

Failing to Keep the Premises Safe
The nursing home has the duty to keep the home safe from any known hazards. Additionally, it has the duty to inspect the premises to uncover any unknown dangers and to quickly repairing these hazards. This can include the duty to prevent slips and falls, as well as prevent a scenario in which one patient can be a danger to another.

Failing to Maintain a Healthy Environment
Nursing homes may also be liable if the patient suffers from not living in a clean and sanitary home.

Failing to Provide Adequate Medical Treatment
Nursing homes do more than monitor a patient. They are also tasked with administering medication and medical treatment to patients. When this care falls below the accepted standard of care, a claim of medical malpractice may arise.

Evidence in Nursing Home Abuse Cases

One of the problems in nursing home abuse cases is that the victim is often a vulnerable or impressionable individual. He or she may be suffering from physical and mental conditions that impair his or her ability to remember and communicate.

While the patient’s account is one important form of evidence, there are other objective forms of evidence that may help substantiate the case, such as:
·Medical reports – Medical records may show an ongoing history of physical signs of abuse or neglect.
·History of abuse – The nursing home may have been previously cited or sued due to abusing or neglecting other patients.
·Pictures of abuse – The patient, family or medical providers may have photographed the injuries.
·Medical testimony – A treating doctor or evaluating doctor may testify or provide testimony during a deposition that the patient’s injuries are consistent with abuse.
·Surveillance footage – Abuse may be captured by surveillance in the nursing home itself, from a neighboring camera when the patient was in a public outing or in a bank camera if financial abuse was committed.
·Accounts by other patients – Another patient may have observed the patient’s abuse or the routine practice of abuse in the home.
·Accounts by relatives – Loved ones may have observed the abuse or noticed some of the signs of abuse listed above.
·Financial and legal documents – If the patient was being financially abused, financial documents and legal documents may show evidence of this with forged signatures or the addition of a caregiver’s name who should not be listed on the document.
·Admissions – A nursing home employee may have admitted to the abuse or seeing another person commit abuse.

Damages in Nursing Home Abuse Cases  

Whether the abuse occurred on a recurrent basis or it was the result of one egregious incident that resulted in injuries, the victim has a right to damages. In the event that the patient died as a result of the abhorrent acts of the nursing home, the victim’s family may be entitled to compensation through the pursuit of a wrongful death claim. The rules regarding who can file a wrongful death claim vary by each state. Some states require that the personal representative of the estate file the wrongful death case on behalf of the loved ones. The spouse and dependent children are usually allowed to benefit from such a case.

Potential damages in a personal injury lawsuit include:
·Medical expenses
·Rehabilitation expenses
·Funeral expenses
·Violations of the patient’s dignity
·Pain and suffering
·Punitive damages

Contact a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer

If you have an elderly loved one who has been abused or neglected in a nursing home where you believed he or she would receive proper care, it is important that you discuss your case with a nursing home abuse lawyer. Nursing home abuse cases are one form of personal injury cases. 

Look for a lawyer who has experience in this area of the law so that he or she is familiar with typical claims, the evidentiary burden and the standard of care that the nursing home is required to provide. Statutes of limitations limit how much time you have to act and still be able to recover. 

Filing a lawsuit can help you recover financial compensation. Additionally, a lawsuit can help bring awareness to abuse or neglect that is occurring in order to prevent other elderly patients from having to suffer the same treatment.


Know Your Rights!

Articles About Nursing Home Abuse

  • Nursing Homes to Pay $1.25 Million for Providing Substandard Care
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  • Arbitration Agreements: Nursing Homes May Soon Be Allowed to Force Seniors to Sign
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  • When Is a Nursing Home Liable for Injuries or Death in Virginia?
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  • Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuits in Illinois
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  • Nursing Home Duties in Illinois
    Nursing homes are required to provide quality care to nursing home residents. Duties may be outlined by state law, laws governing care required to receive payment from insurance companies or in the contract between the nursing home and the resident. If the nursing home violates its duties to the resident, it is possible that the nursing home resident may have the right to file a lawsuit against a negligent nursing home.
  • Six Nursing Homes in Connecticut Fined for Abuse and Neglect of Residents
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  • Introduction to Elder Abuse and Negligence in Florida
    In Florida, elder abuse and neglect is quite common, so it’s important to recognize the common signs.
  • Elder Care Abuse and Neglect – Should I Hire a Lawyer?
    Every year, elderly individuals are abused, neglected or exploited. In many cases, this abuse is inflicted by a caregiver, which may be a professional caregiver or a family caregiver. Since older individuals are more vulnerable due to possible isolation, cognitive impairment and being frail, abusers often take advantage of these characteristics to cause harm to them.
  • Recognizing Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect
    Individuals who are in a nursing home are supposed to receive quality medical treatment from trained professionals. However, individuals are injured every year in nursing home due to neglect or intentional abuse. Recognizing the warning signs can help a person protect his or her loved one.
  • What Are My Options if my Parent Was Injured in a Nursing Home?
    Nursing home injuries are common in the United States with over half a million cases being reported each year where at least one elder person has been abused.

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