According to the CDC, almost two million Americans currently live in a nursing home; over the next four decades, this number is expected to rise as a larger percentage of the population reaches the age of 65 or older. The federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 requires that every nursing home facility deliver a minimum standard of care to all residents. Unfortunately, neglect and abuse are rampant within elderly care facilities of our nation, with one out of every ten residents directly reporting an incident of abuse. Ninety percent of residents report witnessing an act of neglect, and one third of the country's 16,000 facilities were cited for one or more violations of the Nursing Home Reform Act between the years 1999 and 2001. Despite the fact that the number of neglect and/or abuse incidents are believed to be grossly underreported, personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed by family members on behalf of their loved ones have increased significantly in recent years.
Physical abuse in a nursing home can present itself in numerous forms, yet because the elderly population is prone to injury and illness, it can be difficult to distinguish true incidents of abuse from accidents. The reluctance of nursing home staff members to leave you alone with a resident you love or a story line that doesn't quite add up may lead you to suspect abuse, particularly if any of the following signs are also present:
While reports of outright elderly abuse are shocking, more subtle forms of emotional abuse and/or neglect are far more common. Something as simple as caregivers ignoring requests and needs of nursing home residents may begin as emotional neglect but can have physical consequences such as bed sores which may develop into open, infected wounds resulting in death for weaker members of society. Acts of verbal abuse such as yelling at or threatening residents have been acknowledged by half of all CNA caregivers; the resulting emotional pain may be enough to send nursing home residents into a state of depression, particularly if they feel powerless to share their story due to fear of retribution from nursing home staff members.
Another common form of nursing home abuse occurs when residents are financially exploited by one or more of their caregivers. Because many residents of nursing homes require assistance opening or reading mail or completing financial tasks, caregivers often have access to their personal and financial information, making identity theft and/or the transfer of money from one account to another too tempting for some to resist. Some residents are coerced into making changes in their life insurance policies, wills, powers of attorney or beyond. As a family member, it is important to keep track of your loved one's finances, if at all possible, to monitor for any unexpected changes in financial documents, unexplained credit card charges or the outright disappearance of property or money. Healthcare fraud should be suspected if any unusual or unexpected treatments have been billed to your loved one, as caregivers within many nursing homes have been caught charging for services which were never performed or were unnecessary.
The list of personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits related to nursing home neglect or abuse continues to mount throughout the nation. A few all too common circumstances involved with some of these lawsuits from recent years include:
Depending on severity of nursing home abuse or neglect suspected, it may be necessary to contact both your local law enforcement agency and a highly qualified attorney. Although the majority of neglect cases will not involve criminal charges, acts of physical, sexual, or financial abuse may warrant an investigation. A professional attorney will help you determine if there is a legitimate personal injury or wrongful death case, and will walk you through the entire process from start to finish.