Over the next 20 years in the United States, a larger number of people than this country has ever seen will utilize the care of a nursing home or skilled nursing facility.
In fact, the National Center for Health Statistics determined there were 15,600 nursing homes sheltering 1.4 million residents in 2014. Since 2014, the age 65 and older population grew by 1.6 million, increasing the demand for long-term care services.
As the demand on existing resources and the rush to profit from our aging population increases, these facilities will use hurriedly-trained staff and shoddily maintained facilities to seek their profits, at the expense of patient safety. In these facilities, it is common for the people being cared for to be left alone for far too long, to be ignored, or to be dismissed as simply complaining when they discuss serious and sometimes life-threatening issues.
Making the decision to place a loved one that you can no longer care for in a nursing home is difficult and can bring much distress to you and your family. Although you do your best when vetting a nursing home and ensuring the facility and staff will take proper care of your elderly loved one, you simply can’t predict the future. Even a facility that looks like it has more than adequate accommodations and a caring staff may have issues below the surface that lead to the neglect of their patients.
It’s impossible to anticipate many of the situations that occur in nursing homes with even the best reputation, such as dangerous medication errors or the employment of a new caretaker that has a hidden history of abusing patients.
The best course of action is to stay in contact with your loved one and watch for signs of inadequate care. If medication mistakes, lack of supervision or other shortcomings become habitual or lead to dire consequences, you may require the assistance of a nursing home abuse attorney.
Nursing home abuse, or elder abuse, occurs when an individual who is placed in a long-term care facility is not properly cared for. This may be due to various forms of neglect, where the patient simply isn’t getting the time and attention needed from staff, or it may be outright violence towards an elderly individual.
For example, elderly residents may be left on their own for days at a time; may not be protected from falls or other injuries as required by the facility’s and state’s guidelines; or patients are ignored when they complain of an injury, and that injury cascades into a life-threatening situation.
Unfortunately, few facilities are without any instances of abuse in one form or another.
Abuse of the elderly is unfortunately common. Elder abuse statistics estimated by the National Council on Aging suggest that one in 10 Americans over the age of 60 experience some form of elder abuse. Unfortunately, only one in 14 cases are reported.
The National Center on Elder Abuse completed a report on nursing home abuse in 2012. Notable facts from this report include:
Falls are another common occurrence in nursing homes. Often resulting from inadequate supervision or environmental hazards, elderly patients experience falls at the rate of 1.5 falls per nursing home bed-year. Some patients are more vulnerable than others, but this danger is enhanced when care providers do not provide mobility supervision or fail to remove hazards. Even the simple act of attempting a restroom visit without supervision may lead to a disabling fall.
The most common types of reported abuse include physical abuse from care providers and resident-on-resident abuse.
Nursing home abuse typically falls within five main categories:
This list is not exhaustive. Any intention to cause physical harm or failure to provide care can be considered nursing home abuse. If a resident feels threatened or their medical condition deteriorates despite a thorough treatment plan, abuse may be a factor.
Also, do not discount abuse from other residents. Even if care staff is attentive in other areas, there is a chance they will not intervene in cases of resident abuse. These incidents should be addressed as thoroughly as many medical or hygiene needs.
A nursing home or skilled nursing facility must follow both state and federal guidelines for care. This includes the number of medical professionals they have on staff, the number of trained caregivers available for each resident, and the number of hours those caregivers must spend with each patient.
Despite these laws, however, many nursing homes violate them out of what seems to be necessity. They may not be able to hire enough staff to ensure a proper and safe caregiver-to-patient ratio, or there may not be enough well-trained staff to train new hires in proper procedures. Many nursing homes that violate state and federal laws regarding care guidelines look fine on the surface, and families don’t know that something is wrong until it is too late and their loved one is seriously injured or passes away due to abuse or neglect.
Unfortunately, some medical or emotional conditions cause patients to become more vulnerable to different types of abuse and neglect than others. For example, perpetrators often carefully choose their victims to increase their chances of getting away with their actions. Many people who suffer from mental conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s or who have low self-esteem may tolerate abuse and neglect or may not be able to accurately remember or articulate abuse instances in order to make a report.
If your loved one has any of the following in their history, take special care to observe their care circumstances:
Nursing home residents who do not have family regularly involved in their lives are also vulnerable. It is important when you choose a long-term care facility that you do not assume all your loved one’s needs will be met. Visit as frequently as possible not only to support your loved one but to carefully monitor their care and well-being.
The National Institute of Health determined that the mortality rate for elderly citizens was 5.91 deaths per 100 person-years if there was no abuse. Once abuse enters the picture, the mortality rate increases to 13.49 deaths per 100 person-years. If the victim suffers from cognitive or physical impairment, the chance of death increases.
This makes a wrongful death claim against a nursing home a distinct possibility. The stress of mental or emotional use places a toll on vulnerable individuals. Injuries from physical abuse or falls also shorten life.
If there is neglect, death may result from inadequate medicating, hydration or nutrition. Bed sores from not being properly moved at regular intervals may lead to infection and also cause death. This may not be intentional, as many neglect cases arise from nursing homes being crowded and under-staffed. Even in those cases where care providers meant well, the facility can still be held responsible for inadequate care.
There are many indicators that your loved one may be neglected or abused, including but not limited to:
If you notice any of the signs that your loved one may be suffering neglect or abuse in a nursing facility, it is critical that you reach out for help as soon as possible.
Filing a report with a relevant state agency before seeing an attorney helps your potential civil action, should you choose to bring a lawsuit forward later. It establishes any legal violations and could make it easier to settle your case for a fair amount. Many care facilities do not want their violations to go public, so they are less willing to take a claim through trial.
Start with informing the care facility of objectionable conditions, shortcomings in care, or evidence that any type of abuse has occurred. Give the nursing home the opportunity to rectify any non-egregious errors, but closely monitor your loved one during this time to ensure that the nursing home is indeed taking adequate action. If your concerns are not addressed to your satisfaction, take the next step of reporting suspected abuse or neglect to state agencies.
In Massachusetts, nursing home abuse is reported to Health and Human Services. You can make a report by filling out a paper form and submitting it by fax or conventional mail, or you can call their 1-800 number if you prefer to report by telephone. At this time, Massachusetts Health and Human Services does not accept complaints by email.
Once the agency receives your report, it will start investigating the facility for statutory violations. This may include interviews, on-site inspections, and referring any violations to a facility’s accrediting organization. Complaints may be forwarded to other agencies and licensing entities for further review.
The process is similar in New Hampshire. Unlike Massachusetts, however, the agency does not provide a form, but you may contact them through email or via telephone. The state recommends you submit the name or location of the facility, any names of people involved, specific allegations, and whether you filed other complaints with Adult Protective Services, a local official, or the long-term care ombudsman. If you have not reached out to these other entities, the agency may forward your complaint to any of these officials.
Even if you do not have all the information listed above, the agency still recommends you file the report. The follow-up investigation will likely fill any data gaps in your claim.
Keep in mind that these complaints address regulatory violations. This is not a way to receive compensation for any injuries suffered by your loved one or costs incurred by you while addressing the abuse.
If you incurred additional expenses or your loved one suffered immensely or died as a result of abuse or neglect in a long-term facility, you may be entitled to statutory compensation. Damages arising from nursing home abuse may include medical bills, mental health care, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and, in cases of wrongful death, last illness expenses, burial or cremation costs, and loss of companionship.
Common theories advanced in nursing home abuse lawsuits include negligent hiring, medical malpractice, and unsafe premises. If there are regulatory violations, it is easier to show that the home violated standards of care and that lead to the death, injury or distress of your loved one.
Reaching out to an attorney who is experienced in bringing forward nursing home abuse lawsuits is the first step.
If your loved one was injured or has died as the result of elder abuse in a nursing home, contact a nursing home wrongful death lawyer in Salem, Massachusetts as soon as possible. Don’t delay – nursing homes often destroy evidence of any wrongdoing on their part, including falsifying records in order to make the injury or death appear as though it occurred naturally and not due to the nursing home’s negligence or carelessness.
By hiring an attorney right away to work with you, you can help secure crucial evidence in your case before it is hidden or destroyed. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we fight to not only obtain justice for our clients through the courts, but to change the negligent practices of nursing homes to better protect you and the ones you love.
We work hard to see to it that the nursing home responsible for harming your loved one is exposed for their carelessness and negligence and we utilize every legal option available to ensure that the nursing home is forced to adopt better care practices and follow all applicable laws so the same doesn’t happen to another resident and family.
In a nursing home abuse case, it is vitally important that we begin immediately assessing the situation so that we can bring in the proper experts and doctors to discuss your or your loved one’s situation, and be sure to make a positive change.
We represent plaintiffs in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. We offer the compassion and experience necessary to navigate your nursing home abuse claim. Contact our office today to schedule a free case evaluation.