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Nursing Abuse

nursing abuse

Abuse in nursing homes and assisted living facilities is unfortunately common. When physical challenges and mental conditions make activities of daily living (ADLs) challenging, many older individuals move to nursing homes. 

Nursing home residents, under federal law, have the right to be free from all types of physical, mental, verbal, and sexual abuse. Facilities are required to have policies and procedures to both prohibit and prevent abuse, and report, investigate, and handle allegations of abuse or neglect.

Justice for Survivors and Families 

Financial compensation may be available for survivors of nursing home abuse, neglect, and substandard care. Unfortunately, getting justice can be challenging. An experienced nursing home abuse lawyer can help you hold nursing homes accountable for negligence and abuse, and obtain compensation for medical care, pain and suffering, and wrongful death. 

Common Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) states that between 10 percent and 16% of elderly adults experience abuse, but cautions that these numbers are likely inaccurate with so many events unreported. For each incident of abuse reported to authorities, an estimated nearly 24 additional cases are not reported. Examples of physical abuse in nursing homes include: 

  • Physical Injuries: Physical abuse at nursing homes can come from employees and staff members, and other residents. Regardless of who causes the abuse, nursing homes are responsible for keeping residents safe. Abrasions, bruises, lacerations, welts, rope marks, cuts, and other trauma are all potential signs of physical abuse. Falling injuries, such as fractures of hips or wrists, and head trauma, may result from physical abuse, or negligence, such as refusal to help someone get out of bed. 
  • Bed Sores: Bedsores are considered highly preventable. These painful pressure ulcers develop when an area of the body is put under pressure for an extended period of time, resulting in blood supply to an area being cut off. Common areas for bedsores include the tailbone/buttocks area, back of the legs and knees, shoulder blades, back of the head, and heels of the feet. People who are bedridden or have mobility issues, or who are unconscious or unable to sense pain are most at risk for bedsores. If left untreated, bedsores can lead to infection and may be life-threatening. 
  • Malnutrition and Weight Loss: Weight loss in elderly adults can have a number of causes including loneliness and depression, and poor oral health and dental problems which make eating difficult. Malnutrition should never occur because a nursing home fails to attend to patients’ dietary needs. Both malnutrition and dehydration can contribute to a decline in physical health and cognitive function. Adults living in nursing homes should be fed well-balanced, nourishing meals. 
  • Sexual Abuse: Elderly adults are a common target of sexual predators. Like other types of abuse in nursing homes, sexual abuse is often unnoticed, unreported, and under investigated. Abuse can include inappropriate/unwanted touching and groping, sexual intercourse, performing unnecessary “medical care” to genitalia, breasts, or buttocks, or taking photos or recording videos without consent. 

Common Mental Abuse in Nursing Homes 

Mental abuse includes psychological abuse and emotional abuse. Like other types of abuse, it can come from nursing home staff, as well as other residents. Abuse can be verbal or non-verbal. 

  • Verbal Abuse: Includes shouting, threatening, humiliating, shaming, mocking, insulting, accusing, and blaming. Verbal abuse is easier to observe and detect than non-verbal because it can be observed and witnessed. 
  • Nonverbal Abuse: Vulnerable adults may experience non-verbal abuse, including isolation from other residents, ignoring requests for assistance, and treating the patient as if they were a child. 

Understanding Institutional Risk Factors 

Working in a nursing home can be physically and emotionally demanding. Nursing homes are often understaffed, and staff members are often overworked and unsupported by management. This can result in exhaustion, frustration and ultimately, burnout. Understaffing often contributes directly to high staff turnover, as overwhelmed and unhappy employees are more likely to quit. 

When nursing homes have limited administrative oversight and careless hiring practices, nursing home residents may be vulnerable to abuse. Family members visiting loved ones in nursing homes should always pay close attention to conditions at facilities when visiting their loved ones. Any suspected abuse should be reported promptly, as failure to report can lead to death. 

How to Look Up Prior Reports of Abuse At a Facility

If you are helping a family member or loved one find a care facility, do your homework. Review ratings and inspection information at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid’s Nursing Home Compare website. Every facility has an overall rating based on three factors: health inspections, staffing, and quality measures. It is also possible to see the number of complaints in the past 3 years that resulted in a citation. 

Example rating from Centers for Medicare & Medicaid’s Nursing Home Compare website. 

Keep in mind that abuse and neglect is often not observed and therefore, not reported. Anyone observing suspected abuse or neglect should report it. 

How to Report Nursing Home Abuse 

If you suspect abuse, neglect, or inadequate care in a nursing home, report it. Anyone may file a report of suspected abuse or neglect. Two ways you can 

  • Long-Term Care Ombudsman: Under 1972’s Older Americans Act, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico have a long-term care ombudsman program to resolve nursing home problems. Visit theconsumervoice.org to find the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in your state. 

Of course, if a loved one is suffering a life-threatening emergency, contact local law enforcement by calling 911. 

Compensation for Victims of Abuse 

Without legal support and advocacy, seniors and their loved ones may face injustice. Abuse and neglect in nursing homes can have devastating effects on victims and their loved ones. If you or a loved one suffers abuse, neglect, or other maltreatment in a nursing home, you have the right to pursue compensation. Money may be available for medical bills, pain and suffering, and other damages. Understanding your rights is the first step to making important decisions about your case.