Discovering a loved one has suffered abuse in their nursing home or assisted living center is a family’s worst nightmare. Abuse can come from staff, but unfortunately, elder abuse also comes from other residents. In fact, resident-on-resident abuse is quite common and very under reported.
In a 2014 study, Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College evaluated 2,100 residents in 10 nursing homes over a month-long period. Researchers discovered that 407 residents faced at least one aggressive incident with another resident. That is one in five, or 20%, of all residents.
What Constitutes Resident-on-Resident Abuse?
Resident-on-resident abuse includes verbal, physical, or emotional altercations as well as inappropriate sexual conduct or even unwelcomed entry into another resident’s room. In rare instances, abuse can even be fatal. Participants in the Cornell study reported the following types of abuse:
- Screaming, yelling, or cursing
- Physical incidents involving kicking, biting, and hitting
- Unwelcomed entry or snooping in another’s room
- Sexual misconduct
- Financial exploitation
Signs of Abuse
Elderly, frail, vulnerable nursing home residents often fear retaliation from their abusers, or they lack the cognitive ability to report abuse. To protect your loved ones, you should know the following common signs of mistreatment:
- Increased anxiety
- Changes in appetite and sleep patterns
- Unexplained bruising, especially around thighs, buttocks, or breasts
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Withdrawal from family visits and social activities
When choosing a nursing home for your loved one, look at state surveys and reviews. Medicare also collects information on nursing homes across the country, so you may want to check out its site for more information.
On top of that, you may want to ask if prospective facilities participate in the SEARCH program. In 2014, researchers began implementing the SEARCH program within nursing homes to avoid abuse. SEARCH stands for Support, Evaluate, Report, Care plan, and Help. This program is a way to train staff on how to better identify and handle resident-to-resident abuse. As initial outcomes hold promise, it’s hopeful that SEARCH will be implemented in nursing homes across the nation, and your loved one could benefit from living in a facility that has those safeguards in place.
Studies show family involvement increases the quality of care received by long-term nursing home residents. Ideally, you should monitor your loved one’s treatment at the home you’ve chosen, and you should do so on a regular basis with the following tips:
- Talk with other residents. Observe their behavior and check their physical well-being. Visit with their families if possible to learn if they have experienced problems with abusive treatment.
- Meet regularly with key personnel such as nurses, aides, social workers, administrators, and doctors.
- Visit frequently, varying the times of the day and evening that you visit.
- Avoid facilities that have restricted access.
- Trust your sense of sight, smell, hearing and touch. Notice if residents are clean, well-fed, and free of bruises or other injuries. If the environment feels peaceful, that’s indicative of a safe and respectful quality of life for the residents.
- Document problems or concerns in writing with lots of details.
What To Do If Your Loved One Faces Abuse
If you suspect abuse or neglect, you should take action. Anyone can make a complaint against a nursing home or an assisted living facility. You can submit both verbal and written complaints to the licensing and certification branch of the state health department, and you can request that the home be inspected to substantiate the complaint. Usually, the government makes a surprise visit to the facility within 10 days of receiving the complaint.
At that point, an investigating inspector collects and evaluates all evidence, including witness statements and facility records. Then, the inspector determines if the complaint is valid or not. If the complaint is substantiated, the investigator notifies the person who made the complaint about the determination. If you are not satisfied with the determination, you can request a formal hearing or a review by an appeals unit.
Always be careful about speaking with the administrators of a facility, as they may be involved with the abuse. Consider reaching out to the local ombudsman and remember that assault is a crime — you can contact the police on another resident if necessary.
Taking Legal Action for Nursing Home Abuse
If you suspect your loved one is a victim of abuse or neglect, you can take private legal action anytime by taking the facility to court. There may be a statute of limitations, meaning that you have to bring your case forward within a certain time period of the abuse occurring. To be on the safe side, you should contact a nursing home abuse lawyer as soon as possible.
They can answer your questions, let you know about your rights, and help to make sure your loved one is in a safe situation. Then, they can offer guidance about how to proceed with legal action. To learn more and to set up a free case evaluation, contact us at Mazow | McCullough, PC today.