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Common Questions About Nursing Home Abuse

elderly woman in nursing home

A nursing home is expected to be a place where our elderly loved ones can receive personalized attention, care and any medical treatment they require in their later years of life. If you suspect a relative is being abused in a nursing home, you may be wondering what to do. Read some frequently asked questions and answers about nursing home abuse.

Nursing Home Abuse FAQs

How do I know if my relative is being abused?

Discovering a relative is being abused in the nursing home entrusted with his or her care can leave the family feeling heartbroken and betrayed. In cases where nursing home abuse is suspected, some of the obvious signs can include:

  • Bruising
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of proper hygiene
  • Bedsores or open wounds
  • Grogginess, as from overmedication
  • Sudden weight change for no apparent reason
  • Torn or stained sheets and clothing
  • Unexplained hair loss

Unresponsive or listless behavior, emotional or physical withdrawal, the unexplained disappearance of personal items and unusual financial transactions are less obvious signs, but cannot be ignored.

Overmedicating patients, limiting interaction with visitors and other residents, and acts of intimidation (yelling, slapping, threats, etc.) are actions some nursing home staff have been known to use to “keep patients quiet.” While it is true patients with dementia are often difficult, the solution is professional training for the nursing home’s staff. Patients should not be kept in a medicated state to the point where they cannot walk, eat or participate in life.

How long will it take to get a settlement, and what could be expected in compensation?

As each personal injury case is unique, the length of time to settle a case varies. The injuries suffered will have a significant impact on the value of the damages pursued. The timeframe will also be impacted by whether the compensation is sought through an out-of-court settlement, or whether the case should be taken to civil court for resolution.

In many cases, victims of nursing home abuse will be eligible to seek economic and non-economic damages as compensation for the physical and emotional suffering they have been forced to endure. Some instances of nursing home abuse may warrant the pursuit of punitive damages (monies awarded as punishment).

What should I do if I suspect my loved one is being abused?

If you suspect your loved one is being abused, you can improve your chances of getting justice for your loved one if you can provide evidence of specific instances of nursing home abuse. Document your suspicions through the following actions:

  • Photographing any injuries, such as cuts, bruises, bed sores or lacerations.
  • Taking pictures of soiled bedding, filthy living conditions or an overall lack of proper hygiene.
  • Gathering documentation to show evidence of missing personal items.
  • Obtain banking records or financial statements that show any unauthorized transactions.

Relatives and loved ones also have a responsibility to notify the authorities as soon as they become aware nursing home abuse or elder mistreatment is taking place. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) has various help lines, hotlines and referral sources which can be used to report abuse.

Keep in mind your loved one may not be the only individual suffering, so reporting the abuse could help other elderly persons who are dealing with the same problems. Once your suspicions are documented, and the authorities have been notified, seek legal representation from a skilled nursing home abuse attorney.

Is nursing home abuse common?

Nursing home abuse is far more common than most people realize. According to ABC News, a study from the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee has revealed that 30 percent of nursing homes in the U.S. were cited for abuse over a two-year period of time. Out of 5,283 facilities, an estimated 9,000 instances of abuse were reported.

If you have a relative or loved one in a nursing home, it is very possible that the nursing home has already been cited for abuse or neglect. Medicare.gov recommends you use their “Nursing home checklist” when visiting nursing homes to find a suitable facility for your loved one.

What are my legal options if a loved one is suffering abuse or neglect at a nursing home?

Nursing home residents have certain rights in long term care facilities, which are protected by the South Carolina Long Term Care Ombudsman Program and the federal Older Americans Act. If your loved one’s rights have been violated in a nursing home, and has been the victim of abuse or neglect, your legal options include:

  • Reporting the abuse or neglect to the authorities;
  • Contacting the Charleston Agency on Aging to get assistance advocating for your loved one’s rights;
  • Hiring an experienced attorney to help you file a claim to pursue financial compensation for injuries and losses;
  • Filing a lawsuit with the help of an attorney to pursue damages on your loved one’s behalf.

In cases of criminal activities (theft, assault, battery), criminal charges are appropriate, and your report to the authorities will be an important part of the criminal justice process.

What is needed to prove a case of nursing home abuse or neglect?

To prove a case of nursing home abuse or neglect, you first must be able to prove negligence or intent to harm by the individual or facility entrusted with your loved one’s care. If you have evidence of shows negligent hiring, inadequate training, lack of proper employee screening, breach of obligations, medication errors or evidence of any criminal activity was responsible for the abuse or neglect, the responsible party is likely to be held liable for what happened. A skilled nursing home abuse lawyer can help you with the investigation into the facts.

Proving nursing home abuse, elder mistreatment or neglect requires you provide evidence showing:

  • The nursing home owed your relative or loved one a duty of care,
  • The nursing home breached the duty of care, and
  • Your relative or loved one suffered harm as a direct result.

Additional documentation may be required in cases when the abuse was intentionally caused by a member of the nursing home staff.

What should I look for in a good nursing home or assisted living facility?

In addition to the Medicare.gov “Nursing Home Checklist,” a guide for what to look for in a nursing home or assisted living facility, it is recommended you evaluate the points that are most important to you with regard to the care of your loved one, such as:

  • Proper licensing from state and local agencies
  • The quality of life provided by the facility
  • Privacy and respect
  • The availability of personal care services
  • A certain level of freedom
  • Professional quality of care
  • Very little history of abuse or neglect
  • Adequate number of qualified, certified staff
  • Sufficient security
  • Preventive care measures
  • Arrangement with nearby hospital
  • High level of resident satisfaction

How can I prevent nursing home abuse or neglect?

Being able to prevent harm in nursing home starts with you being aware of the common signs and types of nursing home abuse. Nursing home abuse can be:

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal or emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical, emotional or medical neglect
  • Exploitation, also referred to as personal property abuse

Some of the actions you can take to prevent this type of abuse or neglect include:

  • Making regularly scheduled – and unscheduled – and visits to see your loved one.
  • Talking to your loved one about his or her health and well-being.
  • Finding out if your relative is getting along with everyone or is having problems.
  • Keeping your eyes open for signs of neglect or mistreatment.
  • Closely monitoring your loved one’s bank accounts and other assets.
  • Keeping valuables locked away or safely secured off-site.
  • Reporting any instances of suspected abuse at once.

Why is it important to hire a law firm specializing in protecting victims of nursing home abuse or neglect?

In instances when nursing home abuse, neglect or elder mistreatment is suspected, it is important to hire a law firm that focuses on protecting the rights of victims. These lawyers are well-versed on the laws protecting residents’ rights, and can take action to fight for the rights of victims and their families. By hiring an experienced nursing home abuse attorney, you will gain a dedicated advocate for justice.

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