When families put their loved ones into nursing homes they expect that they will receive adequate care for physical, medical, social, and mental needs. These are patients who cannot live independently and need the services of caregivers. Nursing homes have a responsibility and a duty to provide reasonable and adequate care, and when they fail in any area of that care it may be considered neglect.
Neglect in a nursing home may include a number of failures from not providing adequate nutrition to actively ignoring patients who ask for assistance. Neglect can be criminal and it can cause serious consequences, even deaths. Families of loved ones who were neglected can file lawsuits against the individuals and the facilities responsible for failing to provide expected care.
What is Neglect?
Neglect in a nursing home is often considered a kind of abuse, even though it is not an action. As an inaction rather than an action, neglect involves not providing patients with the care they need. The neglect may be unintentional or non-malicious, which is still often considered negligence or even criminal. But, neglect may also be willful and intentional. Caregivers may neglect patients out of incompetence, laziness, or maliciousness.
According to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987, a federal law that includes nursing home reforms and protections for patients, defines nursing home neglect as, “failure to provide goods and services necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness.” This is a broad definition that may include a number of issues and incidents that take place, or fail to take place, in a nursing home.
Examples of Nursing Home Neglect
There are many ways in which neglect can occur in a nursing home. Any failure to provide reasonable, expected care for the well-being of a patient could be considered neglect. It doesn’t matter if the person responsible for care meant to neglect the patient or not; the staff in the nursing home is responsible for knowing what care is needed and providing it. Some examples of nursing home neglect include:
- Failing to provide adequate medical care.
- Failing to provide adequate mental health care.
- Failing to provide adequate dental care.
- Not monitoring a patient’s health conditions.
- Not providing adequate hygiene care, such as bathing, toilet use, and changing clothes.
- Failing to change or clean a patient after incontinence.
- Failing to keep rooms and living areas clean and sanitary.
- Inadequate food, nutrition, or hydration.
- Not providing assistance for mobility.
- Failing to provide security and safety, resulting in falls or other accidents that should have been prevented.
- Not having enough staff to care for patients.
- Failing to help patients when they ask for assistance.
- Turning off or deactivating call lights.
- Inadequate supervision of patients.
- Failing to keep the environment safe.
- Failing to provide activities.
- Not providing any additional therapy that improves well-being, such as physical therapy.
Consequences of Neglect
There are many ways in which patients can be neglected in a nursing home and also many potential consequences of that neglect. These may range in severity from a nutritional deficit to the death of the resident and everything in between. Neglect can lead to physical harm, such as worsening medical conditions, medication reactions, infections, and injuries.
Neglect can also cause mental and emotional consequences. Patients may suffer from depression, fear, or anxiety from lack of good care. They may become isolated socially or become bored and depressed from lack of mobility and activity. When hygiene is neglected, patients may suffer from both physical harm and emotional harm. Neglect can cause physical pain, mental anguish, unnecessary suffering, loneliness, and many other serious consequences.
Nursing Home Neglect and Malpractice
There are some instances in which the neglect in a nursing home may be considered a crime. When neglect is identified as abuse, it is supposed to be reported to police. However, whether neglect is considered criminal or not, individuals and families may seek to file a civil lawsuit citing negligence, malpractice, or liability on the part of an individual, a group of staff members, or an entire nursing home facility.
Any case of malpractice has to prove four points to be successful: that there was a duty to provide care by a medical professional, such as a doctor, nurse, or aide; that the duty of care was not met; that the breach in care caused harm to the patient; and that the harm caused serious damages to the patient.
Medical malpractice is specific to medical care and may cover a number of incidences caused by neglect, such as injuries caused by lack of mobility assistance or infections that result from poor hygiene care. In cases that are not directly related to medical care, negligence may still be proven in a civil lawsuit against the nursing home. These facilities are expected to provide reasonable care for residents, and if it can be proven that they have not, a family may have a successful case.
Examples of Nursing Home Neglect Cases
Patients in nursing homes are particularly vulnerable and likely to have more and more serious consequences from not getting adequate care as compared to many other patients. There are too many examples of cases in which the families of these patients felt they had to file malpractice suits against individuals or nursing care facilities, and in some of these cases the patient ended up dying from lack of care.
One such case resulted in the death of the 74-year-old nursing home patient in Oxnard, California. The family filed a lawsuit against the nursing home claiming that neglect led to issues that ultimately caused the death. The woman suffered from serious pressure sores, infections, and respiratory failure. The family accused the nursing home of failing to provide hygienic care, failing to move the patient in her bed to avoid sores, and failing to provide the woman with enough food and water.
In another terrible case, a nursing home in Indiana was faced with a wrongful death lawsuit after an accident led to the death of a resident. The elderly woman who had previously had one leg amputated was left alone in the shower. She fell, which resulted in a break in her remaining leg. She was left immobile until she died a couple months later. The staff of the nursing home admitted that the fall was unwitnessed. The woman had already experienced several falls from neglect in the facility.
Another terrible case of a patient dying in a nursing home from neglect demonstrates that neglect can be willful and malicious. An elderly man died after struggling to breathe and crying out for help while staff members were caught on tape ignoring him. His family had installed camera in his room and the incident was caught on tape. The staff later tried to cover up their willful negligence but the evidence was there. The family received a settlement.
These examples show both all the ways in which neglect can occur in a nursing home but also how serious the consequences are and that they often end in the death of the resident. These terrible cases still happen in spite of laws designed to protect the most vulnerable patients. It is important that family members of nursing home residents are proactive and willing to take steps to act on behalf of their loved ones. If your loved one suffered from neglect in a nursing home, you may be able to make a successful case against the facility.