According to NursingHomeAbuseGuide.org, more than 40% of nursing home residents have reported abuse with approximately 2 million cases documented in the United States each year. Data provided by the National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) states 29% of nursing home abuse is physical, 21% psychological, and 14% relates to gross misconduct. Furthermore, nursing home residents with a disability are far more likely to experience abuse in a care setting. One recent study found that 68% of disabled women had reported experiencing abuse in the last 12 months.
These are worrying statistics for elders, their families, and for the industry that exists to provide care for them. What can families do to better protect their vulnerable relatives, and what are the legal steps that can be taken when a care provider fails to meet their duty of care?
Here we explore the answers to these and other related questions around this topic.
Defining neglect in elder care environments
Neglect in nursing homes has been a concern in many countries for years. The prevalence of neglect can vary based on region, the specific facility, inadequate training, and regulatory oversight. While most nursing homes provide excellent care for their residents, reports and investigations have highlighted cases where residents do not receive adequate attention and medical care, or their basic needs are not met in some way.
Examples of neglect include failure to provide adequate food, hydration, hygiene, medical care, shelter, or necessary assistive devices. It can also encompass emotional neglect, like isolation or failure to engage residents in social or recreational activities.
Factors that contribute to neglect
Negligence and neglectful behaviour in care environment is not always wilful. In most cases, residents of nursing facilities are likely to experience neglect due to systemic failures rather than malicious behaviour on the part of one or more staff members. Systemic issues that can result in nursing home neglect include:
- Staffing Issues - Understaffing or inadequately trained staff can lead to neglect. Caregivers who are overwhelmed, undertrained, or not given adequate resources might not be able to provide the level of care residents need.
- Financial Constraints - Some facilities might cut corners to save money, leading to subpar care.
- Lack of Oversight - Facilities that aren't regularly inspected or don't have strict regulations can have more instances of neglect.
- Management Issues - Poor management can lead to issues like understaffing, inadequate training, or a lack of essential resources.
Systemic failures are, however, no excuse for negligent treatment of elders. If systemic failings have directly caused injury to an elder in care, it is still very much possible to bring legal proceedings against the organisation responsible.
Types of negligence that can form the basis of a personal injury claim
Any failure to provide the standard of care that a reasonable person or facility would provide under similar circumstances can form the basis of a personal injury claim.
Some examples of negligent practice include the following:
- Failing to assist with personal hygiene.
- Not providing clean clothing or bedding.
- Failing to move bed-bound patients periodically to prevent bedsores.
- Not ensuring residents receive adequate nutrition and hydration.
- Failing to provide necessary medical aids, such as glasses, dentures, or hearing aids.
- Failing to administer medications correctly or on time.
- Not monitoring or treating chronic conditions appropriately.
- Ignoring or downplaying residents' complaints about health issues.
- Failing to prevent or treat infections.
- Lack of prompt attention to injuries or sudden illnesses.
Emotional or Psychological Neglect
- Ignoring residents or isolating them from social interactions.
- Verbal abuse or belittling.
- Failing to provide activities or stimuli for cognitive and emotional well-being.
- Not addressing signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.
Basic Needs Neglect
- Failing to provide adequate food or water.
- Not ensuring a safe and clean environment.
- Not addressing necessary repairs, such as broken equipment or unsafe furniture.
Personal Property Neglect
- Losing or damaging residents' personal belongings.
- Failing to return clothing or other items after cleaning.
- Theft or unauthorized use of a resident's property or money.
- Failing to assist residents with mobility or transfers, leading to falls or injuries.
- Not providing necessary mobility aids, such as walkers or wheelchairs.
- Leaving residents bed-bound without justification.
- Not having enough staff members to adequately care for residents.
- Lack of necessary training or continuing education for staff.
Improper Use of Restraints
- Using physical restraints (like bed rails or straps) or chemical restraints (like sedative medications) without a valid medical reason or without informed consent.
- Allowing residents to wander off the premises (especially dangerous for residents with dementia).
- Not monitoring residents during potentially risky activities, like bathing.
How can families ensure their elderly relatives are treated appropriately?
Children of nursing home residents are likely to feel a great deal of guilt if materialises that their elderly relative has been treated inappropriately. If you are concerned that your relative is not getting the right care, there are various things you can do. This includes regular visits at irregular times, active communication with caregivers, nurses, and the facility’s management, regularly checking the health and hygiene of your family member, keeping accurate records and documentation of everything your relative experiences.
Of course, it’s simply not possible to foresee negligence in a nursing environment. If you are convinced that your relative has experienced neglect or abuse that has had a significant impact on their well-being, then you should consult with a lawyer.
How do I go about bringing a personal injury claim?
The legal basis for a claim often rests on the principles of negligence in personal injury law or breach of contract if there's a clear violation of the agreement between the nursing home and the resident. The recommended first step towards ascertaining if you have a case will involve consulting with a personal injury specialist, ideally one that has experience in nursing home claims.
A lawyer specializing in nursing home negligence will help you to gather evidence, liaise with medical experts to substantiate claims, negotiate with the nursing home and their insurer, and represent you in court if necessary. This expertise increases the likelihood of a successful resolution, whether through settlement or litigation.