Nursing home abuse is one of the most prevalent kinds of abuse in the country, with 1 in 6 people over the age of 60 having experienced some type of abuse or neglect within the last 12 months according to the World Health Organization.
But even those staggering numbers aren’t representative of what’s actually going on behind closed doors. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General suggests that nearly 25% of nursing home abuse instances are not reported at all, making the real number much higher.
Below, we explore why residents of long-term care facilities don’t report incidents of abuse and how you can help a family member who has been hurt or neglected in a nursing home.
Residents Fear Retaliation
When surveying nursing home patients and elder abuse victims, a common reason given for why abuse goes unreported is simple but chilling – they fear retaliation.
Residents are afraid of what might happen at the hands of their caregivers after they report abuse or neglect to the police and may believe that the best course of action is to avoid talking about incidents where patients are harmed. The Long Term Care Community Coalition suggests that the fear of retaliation in nursing homes significantly contributes to:
- Decrease in incident reporting. The fear of retaliation among long-term care residents results in a measurable decrease in reporting, even if that person has not been retaliated against in the past.
- Poor investigation of reported incidents. Staff members also experienced the fear of retaliation by supervisors, leading to poor investigation of incidents that are actually reported.
- Asymmetrical power relationships. Nursing home patients are dependent on staff for their most basic needs, creating a grossly imbalanced power dynamic between staff members and residents.
- Mental and emotional distress. Residents experienced distress when thinking about reporting incidents of abuse or neglect and after actually reporting, before retaliation occurred.
- Learned helplessness. Residents began to exhibit indications of learned helplessness as a result of being in an abusive situation they can’t control.
- Further mistreatment. All of these factors combine to perpetuate even more mistreatment and abuse against nursing home residents.
Understanding How the Fear of Retaliation Impacts Daily Life For Nursing Home Patients
The fear of being retaliated against by someone in charge of helping you with daily tasks like eating, bathing, and dressing is a very real issue.
There’s also a concern that people might not believe the stories of patients who have been abused or who have witnessed abuse. People are more inclined to dismiss their claims as hallucinations or dementia, leaving patients with the possibility of facing the consequences of reporting without ever having affected change.
Nursing home staff members who retaliate against residents for reporting abuse or neglect may:
- Cancel social activities that residents are looking forward to
- Refuse to help patients bathe or dress
- Refuse to allow food or water
- Physically abuse patients
- Verbally abuse and berate patients
- Deny medication
- Isolate residents away from other people
- Take away patients’ basic rights
- Evict patients or ask them to leave
These things can be terrifying for an elderly person whose daily life revolves around what their caregivers will or won’t allow them to have. The threat of being excluded socially or having their basic needs like eating or bathing neglected is often motivation enough for residents who experience abuse or who see it happen to someone else.
Without the ability to defend themselves or leave the situation they’re in, residents often become passive, helpless, and complacent. They may not even tell their family members about incidents of abuse for fear that their loved ones might make a report.
How a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Can Help You
If your loved one has been abused or neglected in a long-term care facility, a nursing home abuse lawyer can help you report the incident to law enforcement and protect your family member from retaliation by facility staff members.
Nursing homes are hesitant to knowingly engage in abusive conduct or cover up incident records with an attorney on board. Plus, your lawyer can communicate directly with the facility on your behalf, so you don’t have to deal with people who hurt your loved one.
At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we understand how difficult it can be for nursing home patients to stand up for themselves and we can help. Contact us today to learn about your rights and how our team can help victims of abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities by calling (978) 744-8000 or (855) 693-9084.