Patients in nursing home are often elderly, although they may be younger and disabled. These patients are unable to care for themselves or live independently. They require care and monitoring around the clock, and are dependent on their caregivers. This dependence, and the fact that they are typically physically impaired in some way, makes them especially vulnerable to abuse by caregivers.
Doctors, nurses, orderlies, assistants, and technicians working in nursing homes are expected to provide a certain standard of care for these vulnerable patients, and when they do not it may be considered abuse. That abuse may also be proven to be negligence on the part of the abuser, a supervisor, or the company operating the facility. If you have a loved one in a nursing home that you believe has been abused, it is important to investigate and to take steps to correct the abuse and get justice.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
According to statistics there are approximately 2.5 million people living in nursing homes or similar residential facilities at any point across the U.S. These patients are largely elderly but many are younger but living with a serious disability. Regardless of age, the patients in nursing homes are dependent on the staff to help them eat, dress, bathe, be comfortable, get medical care, take medications, and avoid further injury, pain, or disability. When the right standard of care is not provided it may constitute abuse.
Abuse in a nursing home is any kind of injury that is intentionally inflicted on a resident and may be physical, sexual, mental, emotional, social, or financial. The injury can be any kind of related harm that causes pain, physical injury, mental anguish, financial hardship, or social isolation. This definition includes a big range of actions that a caregiver may take against a resident in a nursing home.
Examples of What May Be Considered Abuse
The broad definition of abuse means that there are many examples of what constitutes abuse of a resident in a nursing home. Abuse may be physical but it can also be verbal or involve a resident’s finances, and it may even be some type of emotional abuse. These are just a few examples of abuse that a resident may suffer from a caregiver:
- Hitting, slapping, shoving, shaking, or other type of physical action.
- Inappropriate use of physical or chemical/medical restraints.
- Handling a resident too roughly.
- Nonconsensual sex or inappropriate touching, indecent exposure.
- Threats and yelling, verbal abuse, and fear tactics.
- Isolation from other residents.
- Harassment or bullying.
- Intentional humiliation.
- Stealing or embezzling money from a resident.
- Withholding medication, treatment, care, or food.
- Withholding other types of care, such as assistance with bathing or dressing.
Abuse and Negligence
Nursing home abuse is not just negligence, it is also often criminal. When there is clear evidence that a staff member at a nursing home has abused residents, that person may be charged with a crime. These offenders should be charged with crimes, but according to studies these kinds of crimes are vastly under-reported. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, twenty eight percent of serious abuse instances in nursing homes are not reported to the police.
It is a requirement under the law that these cases be reported, and too many go unreported. This failure to report may occur for a variety of reasons, but most likely because the nursing home wants to avoid legal actions, settlement costs, and bad press. Individuals who commit the abuse are likely to try to cover up what they did to avoid getting in trouble.
While the act of abuse is clearly criminal, there can also be negligence involved. For instance, the company that is responsible for management of the nursing home, supervisors in the facility, and other individuals who did not directly cause the abuse, may be held liable. A case can be made for negligence or malpractice because supervisors, doctors, and others are supposed to manage staff and provide a standard of care for patients that includes recognizing and doing something about signs of abuse.
Consequences of Nursing Home Abuse
The consequences of being abused in a nursing home can be very serious. In the study that showed more than 25 percent of serious abuse cases never get reported, the victims sustained physical injuries severe enough that they had to go to the emergency room for treatment. There is a significant risk of serious physical injury from abuse and even death in patients who are already physically vulnerable.
Other potential consequences include missed treatments and worsening conditions and symptoms, infections and new illnesses, mental anguish and even mental illnesses like anxiety disorder, trauma disorders, or depression, financial difficulties, social isolation, chronic or acute pain, dehydration, malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, weight loss or gain, and even wandering away from the facility and getting lost. The worst consequence of nursing home abuse is the death of the patient.
Nursing Home Abuse Cases
When nursing home abuse occurs, families may consider filing malpractice and other civil lawsuits, especially when the person responsible goes unpunished in criminal court. There are many examples of malpractice and negligence lawsuits filed against nursing homes and caregivers.
In one case an elderly nursing home resident had many bruises and cuts and had lost weight. His family removed him from the facility after they placed a hidden camera next to his bed. They captured caregivers yelling ethnic slurs and threats at the man and throwing him forcefully into bed. He was denied water and staff took away his call button. The family has since started a lawsuit against the nursing home.
Dementia patients in nursing homes are particularly vulnerable within this already vulnerable group of patients because they are often confused and unsure of what is happening. In one case in which a healthcare aide is being criminally charged, at least three residents of a dementia care facility were physically abused by the woman. She was reported by other staff members, but family of the victims may also choose to file civil suits against her for the harm she caused.
Nursing home residents are among the most vulnerable people who need medical care. They rely on and have to trust the people who care for them, including unskilled staff as well as doctors and nurses. When they are abused, the consequences can be more severe than for other types of patients. Abuse is criminal but negligence can also be involved in nursing home abuse. If you have a loved one who was abused in care, someone should be held accountable. Criminal cases may fail or never come to pass, but you may want to consider filing a malpractice lawsuit against an individual or the facility responsible.