One in Five: Patient-on-Patient Nursing Home Violence

When you group a lot of people together in close quarters, some with dementia, some in pain, and some who have lost the ability to communicate easily, it’s not surprising that arguing, shoving, grabbing, and even hitting might happen occasionally. But did you realize that one in five nursing home patients have been involved in patient-on-patient violence?

A five-year study, presented in late 2014 at the Gerontological Society of America’s annual meeting, reported that 19.8 percent of the nursing home patients they studied had been either a victim or a perpetrator of patient-on-patient violence within the previous month. Violence was defined to include verbal, physical, and sexual abuse.

One of the researchers for the study, Dr. Karl Pillemer, commented in an interview, “We were shocked by how extensive this was. It’s a feature of nursing home life, something that occurs daily, that staff and residents almost take for granted.”

With around 1.4 million people in nursing homes, abuse may be occurring on a grand scale.

The Study’s Details

Lead study author Dr. Mark S. Lachs, professor at the Weill Cornell Medical College at Cornell University, followed 2,011 nursing home residents in New York State between 2009 and 2013. Of the people studied, the percentages of those involved in at least one incidence of abuse were:

  • Verbal abuse: 9.1 percent
  • Physical abuse: 5.2 percent
  • Other abuse (physical threats, invasion of privacy, and so on): 5.3 percent
  • Sexual abuse: 0.6 percent.

Because only reported cases were used in the findings, the study’s authors strongly suspect the actual numbers of abusive situations are higher.

Real-Life Patient-on-Patient Abuse

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living has found that approximately five million U.S. seniors become victims of neglect, abuse, or exploitation every year, both in and out of nursing homes. What’s even worse is that some experts think that up to 23 cases are unreported for every abuse case that is reported.

Here are descriptions of some real-life cases of patient-on-patient abuse in nursing homes:

  • September, 2017, Massachusetts: A 58-year-old nursing home patient suffering from both dementia and brain damage allegedly bludgeoned his 86-year-old roommate to death as the older man lay in bed.
  • August, 2017, North Carolina: An 89-year-old patient died after a 50-year-old resident beat him severely.
  • 2015/2016 (date and location not revealed): Government investigators, in their review of nursing home abuse, found one elderly woman who was heavily bruised and allegedly sexually assaulted by a male resident of the home. Even worse, the nursing home destroyed evidence and did not report the assault to authorities.

The August 2017 Alert from HHS OIG

The elderly woman listed above who experienced significant trauma was only one of 134 cases that prompted the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General (HHS OIG) to issue an alert calling for immediate changes. Federal inspectors found that more than one-quarter of all serious abuse cases during 2015 and 2016 that they uncovered had not been reported to the police or to Medicare, as required by law. In nearly all of the severe cases, the abuse was sexual.

The HHS OIG investigation into nursing home abuse is ongoing.

What is Causing Widespread Abuse?

A number of factors appear to be at play when it comes to patient-on-patient abuse. One troubling trend is that under-65 persons suffering from dementia, brain injury, brain disease, or other mental illnesses are ending up in nursing homes. Abuse often arises from the younger, stronger patients who attack the older, frailer ones, sometimes killing them. The director of the National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center, Amity Overall-Laib, said regarding patient arguments and abuse, “Facilities are admitting residents that they simply don’t know how to meet their needs, especially younger residents who have mental health issues. That’s an underlying root cause.”

What is sometimes called “combativeness” in nursing homes can arise from or be exacerbated by a number of other factors:

  • Communication difficulties
  • Speech or language difficulties
  • Territorial issues (entering a patient’s room or touching their belongings without permission)
  • Issues with roommates (disagreement about room temperature, television volume, lighting, windows)
  • Jealousy
  • Ethnicity, race, or religious affiliation
  • Psychological or mental impairment (mental illness, dementia).

Patient-on-Patient Abuse Risk Factors

While altercations can arise from various conflicts or mental impairments, some patients, simply put, are bullies. They will find persons weaker than themselves to abuse. If you have a loved one in a nursing home, learn to recognize the signs of abuse.

Nursing homes can also provide the conditions that make it easier for patient-on-patient abuse to occur. Some of the risk factors to be on the alert for include:

  • Conflicts between residents that fester and remain unresolved
  • Crowded conditions with little personal space
  • Too many residents and not enough staff
  • Inattentive staff, or staff who appear not to care about patient conflicts.

Patient-on-Patient Abuse and Nursing Home Negligence

Sometimes patient-on-patient abuse is ignored for fear of bad publicity or public embarrassment. However, if patient-on-patient abuse is occurring in a nursing home, and it goes unreported or is not prevented when it could have been, negligence could be the cause, providing grounds for a suit.

It can be considered the responsibility of the nursing home to perform certain actions:

  • Identify potentially dangerous patients
  • Keep potentially dangerous patients separated from others
  • Monitor potentially dangerous patients sufficiently
  • Train staff so that they can adequately handle potentially dangerous patients
  • Provide sufficient numbers of staff
  • Supervise staff adequately
  • Report abuse according to the requirements of law.

If the nursing home does not provide adequate care and protection to a resident, and harm ensues, negligence could be considered the reason for the harm.

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 and nursing homes are part of a larger chain, complete with their own legal department. The nursing home’s lawyers may try to dispute abuse and negligence claims, but we have represented nursing home victims. We understand how to deal with negligent facilities and the nursing home attorneys who represent them. While a lawsuit cannot restore someone’s health, a claim can help recover the large sums spent on a negligent or abusive nursing home, as well as the medical bills created by that abuse or negligence. You may also be able to hold them accountable as well 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.