Fighting for the Nursing Home Safety of Your Loved Ones
With nearly 1.4 million people in the U.S. living in nursing homes, the issue of nursing home abuse and neglect of this vulnerable population stands out as increasingly important. It is estimated that about 10 percent of all elders experience abuse, and that around 2.15 million are abused nationwide each year. In nursing homes, roughly 44 percent of patients have reported that they experienced abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that there are more than 20,000 complaints of abuse each year from residents of facilities which provide care in South Carolina and nationwide.
When Victims Remain Silent
In our state alone, tens of thousands of complaints of abuse, gross neglect, and exploitation are submitted each year. Yet experts estimate that only one in 14 incidents of abuse at nursing homes is ever reported to authorities, meaning that the real number of abuse cases is much higher than we think. Why would someone not speak up about such heart-wrenching treatment?
One reason nursing home or retirement home injuries are unreported is that the victims are either physically or verbally intimidated into staying silent. Our elderly may feel powerless to change their situation and don’t want to make the problem worse by incurring the wrath of their caregivers.
A nursing home patient may be simply incapable of telling someone about the abuse. Family members of patients suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or conditions affecting their ability to communicate may complain on the patient’s behalf, but it may take them a while to recognize a pattern of abuse. And when visitors are few and far between, negligent caregivers may take advantage of the elderly person’s isolation and vulnerability.
By health care professionals such as emergency department personnel, who may be unaware of mandatory elder abuse reporting laws. In a chart review done after the fact of 328 nursing home residents who were admitted to an emergency room, it was found that 253 had adequate documentation for treatment. Of those 253, nearly one-fifth (19 percent) experienced an unexplained delay of 24 hours or more in receiving treatment.
By ombudsmen, who may not file a report if the complaint is resolved. In one survey, 36 percent of ombudsmen said they viewed their job role to be resolving complaints with the care facility, not filing complaints if the problems are solved. An additional 4 percent said they would resolve a situation and never file a complaint about the problem.
By nurse aide registries, which may simply fire a CNA or allow them to resign rather than conduct an investigation and report the incident. On top of that, verbal or psychological abuse by aides can be seen as “overreporting”; nearly 40 percent of the directors for state nurses’ aides registries believed that care facilities always reported allegations of neglect and abuse.
By family members, who may fear that their loved one would experience retaliation. In a survey by the Atlanta Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, families and residents said they thought that reporting abuse was futile or that they/their family member might suffer even more abuse. Some also thought that using other channels for resolving things, such as speaking to the nursing home’s administrator, were better than reporting abuse to authorities.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse can be of several types, and some kinds of abuse can be harder to spot than others. But all of these varieties of abuse show some sort of sign.
- Physical abuse. Examples include pinching, hitting, slapping, or handling a patient roughly when changing their clothing or diapers, or when bathing them. Bruising, welts, and other outward signs can indicate physical abuse.
- Sexual abuse. The elderly often do not have the strength or ability to fend off assaults. Such abuse can take many forms, from improper touching (especially when the patient is unclothed), sexual jokes, comments, or gestures, all the way up to rape or attempted rape. Patients often show fear or complain of pain in the genital area.
- Verbal abuse. Verbal abuse demeans the patient and can intimidate or frighten them. Talking down to patients, ordering them to perform humiliating actions, and threatening them are all verbal abuse. The signs of abuse can be similar to sexual abuse, with the patient showing fear, withdrawing, or becoming agitated or aggressive.
- Neglect means the lack of adequate nutrition; not giving medication on time or at all (especially pain medication); failure to provide regular baths, clean clothing and bedding; and uncomfortable facility temperatures (too hot or cold). Neglect covers a wide range of actions that can cause much suffering on the part of the patient or, in extreme cases, even death. Bedsores, lack of cleanliness, dirty clothing or bedding, or complaints from the patient of pain or lack of attention can all indicate neglect.
Top five complaints in S.C. Nursing homes in 2013
- Accidents, Improper Handling 642
- Dignity, Respect-Staff Attitudes 469
- Physical Abuse 419
- Gross Neglect 330
- Abuse, Verbal/Mental 307
Spotting the Signs of Abuse and Neglect
Abuse in nursing homes can take several forms, ranging from persistent bedsores that turn septic and cause significant pain and injury to financial exploitation. If you have a loved one in a South Carolina nursing home, some of the key signs to watch out for include the following:
- Open wounds, cuts, bruises or welts
- Sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Torn clothing
- Broken or missing personal items
- Resident complaints about being slapped or mistreated
- Emotional states of extreme agitation – or unusual withdrawal
- Unusual and new behavior, such as sucking, biting or rocking
- Resident complaints of pain when using the bathroom or pain in their genital areas
- Use of physical restraints – or bruises/marks around legs or arms that suggest the use of restraints
- Poor hygiene
- Unusually pale skin coloring
- Sudden change in medication or dosage, particularly any medication used for sedation
- Temperature extremes at the nursing home
- Nursing home staff that can’t properly explain a resident’s physical condition
- Nursing home staff that discourages family members from visiting with the resident alone
- Residents that wander from the facility because of poor supervision.
South Carolina Nursing Home Care: A Bill of Rights
Nursing home residents in South Carolina have rights which are protected under the federal Nursing Home Reform Law enacted in 1987 in the Social Security Act. Facilities which participate in Medicare or Medicaid must “promote and protect the rights of each resident” and place a strong emphasis on individual dignity and self-determination.
Many nursing home residents and their family members are unaware of their rights under South Carolina law. All assisted living facilities must clearly post a list known as the resident’s bill of rights where all residents can see it. Typically these rights will include:
- Medical rights – to be kept informed of health status and medication for relatives to be kept informed of any change in a loved one’s health status or impending release
- Physical rights – to be free of any physical abuse, sexual abuse, or verbal abuse, including use of physical or chemical restraints for the convenience of the nursing home staff rather than the avoidance of self-injury
- Right to privacy – to receive and send mail, use the telephone, share a room with a spouse and keep personal belongings
- Financial rights – to handle one’s own money or designate an individual to handle finances and to have access to financial records and statements, as well as information about nursing home fees.
Resources for Elders and Their Families
More information on elder abuse can be found at the websites for:
- South Carolina Adult Protective Services. To report abuse or neglect by phone or postal mail, look up your county.
- National Center on Elder Abuse; 1-855-500-3537 (1-855-500-ELDR)
- S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging; 1-202-401-4634
- South Carolina Lt. Governor’s Office on Aging. To call or email the Office on Aging, look up your county.
You can also see the Louthian Law Firm’s Nursing Home FAQs page for answers to your questions.
Best and Worst Nursing Homes in Columbia, SC
When you are looking for a nursing home bed for Mom, Dad, or another loved one, it can be difficult—to say the least—to figure out which place will provide the best and most compassionate care. Is it the nursing home that costs the most? The one with the swankiest lobby? The one that doesn’t have a lot of unpleasant odors? The one where the caregivers smile at you the most? If you have hard data available and do your homework, it can be easier to choose a nursing home. We have provided data and sources for you here that we hope will be of use… read more
Seeking Truth, Securing Justice for Seniors
When someone you love has been hurt, it can feel like nothing will ever be right or fair again. When this happens, the South Carolina nursing home injury lawyers at the Louthian Law Firm can review your legal options and work with you to determine the most appropriate next step.
Many South Carolina assisted living facilities are part of a larger chain, complete with its own legal department. The nursing home’s lawyers may try to dispute abuse and neglect claims, but we have represented victims of neglect or abuse in retirement homes and we understand how to deal with negligent facilities and the nursing home attorneys who represent them. While a lawsuit cannot heal bedsores or restore someone’s health, a South Carolina nursing home abuse claim can help recover the large sums spent on a neglectful or abusive nursing home, as well as medical bills created by that abuse or neglect. You may also be able to hold the abusers accountable for the pain and suffering they caused.
For a free consultation, call our Columbia nursing home injury attorneys today toll free at 1-803-454-1200, or use our online contact form.