Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers: Fighting for the 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.
How Common is Nursing Home Abuse?
Elder abuse is a cruelty so abhorrent that it is almost unfathomable. It’s difficult to imagine someone cruel enough to physically assault a senior citizen, especially when the assaulter is a healthcare provider and the victim is a nursing home resident. In theory, nursing homes exist to provide for the wellbeing of those who most need it. Unfortunately, in practice, these facilities don’t just fall short of that objective, they often do the exact opposite and cause significant physical or emotional harm to those they’re supposed to be caring for. The abuse and neglect of nursing home residents is far more common that most people would like to believe. Before we look at what we know and what we don’t know about nursing home abuse, let’s look at some facts about nursing home care in the United States… read more
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?
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). Nursing home 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.
CAUSES OF NURSING HOME ABUSE AND NEGLECT
Low Standards of Facility – A poorly run facility is sometimes the root cause of abuse and neglect to residents. While several factors might stem from mismanagement, those in charge should be held accountable if they don’t create and enforce adequate standards.
Negligent Staff Members – Even if a facility is well-managed, individual employees can cause great harm to residents if they are violent, cruel or simply careless and neglectful.
DAMAGES IN A NURSING HOME LAWSUIT
Medical expenses will likely constitute a significant amount of the economic damages sought in a nursing home abuse case. The care that is required to treat residents for the harm they’ve suffered can be extremely costly. A resident might require doctor visits, hospitalization, therapy, surgery, medications and several other expensive services.
Damages might also come in the form non-economic or punitive damages. Non-economic damages are related to suffering and pain caused by a nursing home’s negligence. Punitive damages are essentially a penalty given to the facility for their wrongdoing. Depending on the circumstances of a case, these damages can be significant.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR A NURSING HOME RESIDENT’S MISTREATMENT?
The facility’s management bears a significant amount of responsibility for the abuse or neglect that has occurred in their nursing home. A failure to ensure the health and safety to the best of their ability could make them liable for the damages a resident has experienced.
The staff members who either committed, permitted or failed to notice the abuse or neglect might also carry responsibility for the harm a resident has suffered. If another resident was the one committing the abuse, they might be held accountable for the injuries they’ve inflicted.
DOCUMENTING EVIDENCE OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT
If your loved one has been mistreated while staying in a nursing home and you want to begin documenting the abuse or neglect, you should consider keeping notes that detail what abuses have occurred and when you believe they might have happened. If your loved one has visible signs of neglect or abuse, you can take pictures of their injuries or the conditions of the facility.
As soon as you’ve determined the abuse and neglect is real and you are considering legal options, contact a nursing home abuse attorney as soon as possible. An experienced attorney will know how to gather evidence that demonstrates the extent of the damages your loved one has suffered.
BENEFITS OF HIRING A NURSING HOME ABUSE ATTORNEY
A nursing home abuse attorney knows what it takes to build a successful case. They’ve seen these abuses before and, in some cases, might even be familiar with the facility where your loved one resides. They collect information, correspond with the nursing home and their lawyers, handle the paperwork required when filing a lawsuit and keep you informed about the progress being made in your case. Hiring a skilled nursing home abuse attorney helps ensure that you will achieve a settlement that truly reflects the damages you or a loved one has faced.
PAYMENT FOR ATTORNEY
Payment for attorneys can vary from one firm to another. At the Louthian Law Firm, we work on a contingency fee basis, which means we will only be paid if we win your case. Our consultations are also free, so you won’t incur any losses by simply speaking with us about your legal options.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT NURSING HOME ABUSE CASES
What do I do if I’m unsure that my loved one has been neglected or abused?
It’s best to act in the best interest of your loved one and be proactive. Look for signs of abuse, speak with your loved one, if possible, and don’t be afraid to make complaints to the facility’s employees or management. Once you believe that your loved one has been mistreated and experienced harm from a negligent staff, contact a legal professional for assistance.
What information do I need to bring to my free consultation?
Bring any evidence that you have gathered, including documents, pictures or any notes you have taken.
How long do these cases take to resolve?
The time frame for a nursing home abuse case varies widely from one case to another. In some circumstances, the matter can be resolved quickly, potentially in a matter of weeks. In others, the process is much longer. However, you can still act to remove your loved one from the facility promptly, while the case progresses.
Why is an elderly resident afraid to speak up about the abuse or neglect they’ve experienced?
The unfortunate reality is that residents who have been mistreated could be afraid to speak up. They might worry about repercussions from their abusers, whether they be staff or other residents. In some cases, they might be unable to articulate their experience. This is particularly true of nursing home patients with conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s.
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)
- SC 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 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.
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 nursing home abuse attorneys today toll free at 1-803-454-1200, or use our online contact form.