Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

Finding a nursing home can be a daunting task when you are considering who you will trust to take care of your loved one. Many people are in long-term care facilities and most families believe that their loved one will be well taken care of. Some nursing home residents do receive the love and care that they require. However, all too often a gap exists between the legal standards and the reality of nursing home performance. Poor enforcement and inadequate penalties compound the problem.

Nearly two million Americans live in long-term care facilities, and abuse and neglect against the elderly are national concerns. Federal nursing home regulations state: “the resident has the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.” These regulations define nursing home abuse and neglect as:

  • Abuse: an intentional infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, care/service deprivation or punishment that results in physical harm, pain or mental anguish
  • Neglect: a failure, intentional or not, to provide a person with the care and services necessary to ensure freedom from harm or pain; a failure to react to a potentially dangerous situation resulting in resident harm or anxiety

Nursing homes are supposed to protect residents from harm. Entering a nursing home shouldn’t include leaving behind your basic human rights. However, consider the following. Over 90% of all nursing homes have been cited for at least one deficiency. More than one-third of all nursing homes experience some form of resident abuse, including malnutrition, physical abuse, psychological distress, exploitation, neglect and sexual abuse. Approximately 90% of the abusers are known (staff, residents, or family members). It is suspected that of all abuse cases, only 20% are actually reported, making the number of actual abuse cases significantly higher than reported. Over 50% of nursing home residents don’t have family or close friends, so there is no one to check on them or to make sure that they are being cared for.

There are many different types of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect and it can present itself in many forms. Types of Abuse and Neglect include: assault and battery, lack of care for existing medical problems, prolonged or continual deprivation of food and water, rape or other forms of sexual assault or battery, unreasonable physical restraint or seclusion, and the use of physical or chemical restraint or psychotropic medication for a purpose not authorized by a physician. There are several signs to look for to assist with determining if abuse or neglect is occurring.

  • Mental or Verbal: agitation, hesitancy, depression, withdrawal, fear, sudden behavior changes, unusual behavior patterns, emotionally upset, withdrawn, unwillingness to communicate, disorientation, confusion, instances of wandering, wanting to be isolated from others, unjustified isolation, reluctance to speak in staff members’ presence, rude, humiliating, or derogatory comments by staff, specific complaints by residents.
  • Physical: wounds, cuts, falls, fractures, head injuries, abrasions, burns, bruises, welts, swelling, broken bones (especially a fractured hip), sudden, inexplicable weight loss or weight gain, malnutrition, dehydration, unexplained/hidden injuries, or unwarranted restraints (either physical or chemical), bed injuries, asphyxiation, infections, bed sores or pressure ulcers, unexplained or unexpected death of the resident, Specific complaint by the resident.
  • Other Warning Signs:
    • Unsanitary and unclean conditions Unusual or sudden changes in behavior (fear of being touched, sucking, biting, rocking)
    • Injuries requiring emergency treatment or hospitalization
    • Any injury or death occurring during or shortly after an episode of wandering (including outside the facility)
    • Heavy medication or sedation
    • One resident injures another resident
    • Resident is frequently ill, and the illnesses are not promptly reported to the physician and family
    • Disappearance of personal items
    • Sudden and unusual financial transactions

There are many reasons that elderly residents in facilities suffer nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect. Nursing home workers are too often low-paid, overworked, and poorly trained. Sometimes the problem occurs when a nursing home owner tries to cut corners by skimping on staff or training. But, sometimes the worst cases of nursing home abuse and neglect happen at facilities that on the outside seem clean, professional, and well run. Often, management is aware that a problem exists. In some cases, the resident is unable or unwilling to complain for fear of retaliation.

If you notice any of these signs of abuse or neglect, you may have questions on what course of action to take. If you arrive at a facility to visit a resident during regular visiting hours and the staff refuses or delays access – or a staff member refuses to leave the room during your visit – these may be signs that they are hiding something. It is important to begin by registering your concerns with the management. Please remember that just because your loved one is displaying possible signs of abuse doesn’t mean someone directly abused them. It could be one of many signs of nursing home neglect. However, if you are not satisfied with the outcome or explanation, you have the legal right to file a complaint to the appropriate agency, and well as contact a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer.

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