Nursing homes play a crucial role in providing care for our elderly loved ones who may require assistance with daily living or medical needs. However, incidents of harm, whether intentional or due to negligence, can and do occur quite frequently in these facilities. For the purpose of this article, consider nursing homes, elder care facilities, and old people’s homes to be one and the same thing.
Understanding the difference between nursing home abuse and neglect is vital for recognizing and addressing these issues and determining who is at fault, along with the appropriate course of action.
Statistics and studies indicate that nursing home abuse and neglect are more likely to be reported by visiting family members or other concerned individuals rather than the elderly residents themselves. There are several reasons for this pattern:
- Communication Barriers: Elderly residents in nursing homes may face physical or cognitive limitations that make it difficult for them to report abuse or neglect. Conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, or physical disabilities can hinder effective communication.
- Fear of Retaliation: Residents may fear retaliation from staff or other residents if they report abuse or neglect. This fear can prevent them from speaking up about mistreatment.
- Lack of Awareness: Some residents may not recognize or fully comprehend the abuse or neglect they are experiencing, particularly if they have cognitive impairments.
- Isolation: Residents may be socially isolated and lack contact with the outside world. Family members or visitors are often the ones who can observe changes in a resident’s well-being and advocate on their behalf.
- Dependence on Staff: Residents are often highly dependent on nursing home staff for their daily care, creating a power dynamic that can deter them from reporting abuse or neglect.
- Privacy Concerns: Some residents may be hesitant to share personal experiences, especially if they consider them embarrassing or private.
Family members, on the other hand, are often the first to notice signs of abuse or neglect during visits. They may observe changes in the resident’s physical or emotional well-being, unexplained injuries, poor living conditions, or other red flags. This prompts them to take action by reporting their concerns to the appropriate authorities or the nursing home administration, or in some cases, to seek direct legal advice and intervention.
Let’s look at the two most common categories we deal with at our law firm, abuse and neglect:
Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse refers to intentional acts of harm or mistreatment inflicted upon a resident by staff, other residents, or visitors. Such abuse can take various forms, including:
- Physical Abuse: This involves the use of force, restraint, or assault, leading to physical harm, injury, or pain. Examples include hitting, slapping, or improper use of restraints.
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse: Emotional abuse includes actions or words intended to cause fear, distress, or emotional pain. It can take the form of verbal threats, humiliation, isolation, or intimidation.
- Sexual Abuse: Sexual abuse involves non-consensual sexual acts, inappropriate touching, or any form of sexual coercion targeting nursing home residents.
- Financial Abuse: This occurs when staff or others exploit residents financially, such as stealing money or possessions, coercing residents into signing over assets, or committing identity theft.
- Neglect: In some cases, neglect may be intentional, where staff intentionally withhold care or essential services, resulting in harm to the resident.
Nursing Home Neglect
Nursing home neglect differs from abuse in that it typically involves a lack of care, attention, or supervision rather than intentional harm. Neglect can take various forms, including:
- Medical Neglect: This occurs when residents do not receive the necessary medical attention, medications, or treatment they require.
- Basic Needs Neglect: Failure to provide adequate food, water, clothing, or shelter constitutes neglect. Residents may suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, or exposure to extreme temperatures.
- Hygiene Neglect: Neglecting personal hygiene, including bathing, toileting, and changing clothing or bedding, can result in skin problems, infections, and overall deterioration of health.
- Emotional Neglect: Emotional neglect involves ignoring the emotional and psychological needs of residents, leading to depression, social isolation, or worsening mental health conditions.
- Safety Neglect: This occurs when the facility fails to maintain a safe environment, resulting in accidents, falls, or injuries.
When a family member suspects abuse or neglect in a nursing home, taking action is crucial to protect the elderly resident. However, it’s important to recognize that these actions can have both positive and negative consequences for the elderly family member, especially in cases where staff at the facility may be involved in the mistreatment:
Reporting to Nursing Home Staff:
- Consequences for the Elderly: Reporting the concern to nursing home staff is the initial step. If the facility responds appropriately, the consequences can be positive, potentially leading to improved care and safety. However, if the staff is involved in the mistreatment or turns a blind eye to it, the elderly family member may continue to face the risks of abuse or neglect, and there may be negative repercussions in terms of retribution or further neglect.
- Consequences for the Elderly: Seeking help from external authorities, such as the state’s long-term care ombudsman or North Carolina’s Adult Protective Services, can result in an investigation into the nursing home. While this may lead to improvements in care and safety, it can also cause the elderly resident to experience stress, anxiety, or fear, particularly if staff members are implicated in the abuse or neglect.
Seeking Legal Action*:
- Consequences for the Elderly: Pursuing legal action against the nursing home can have both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, it may result in financial compensation for the elderly family member and improvements in facility conditions. However, the legal process can be lengthy, emotionally taxing, and potentially lead to retaliation by staff or the facility.
Relocating the Elderly Family Member:
- Consequences for the Elderly: When severe abuse or neglect is suspected, relocating the elderly resident to a different care setting is a protective measure. While it ensures immediate safety, it can also lead to emotional distress, adjustment challenges, and uncertainty for the elderly family member, especially if they have grown accustomed to their current surroundings.
Advocating for the Resident:
- Consequences for the Elderly: Family members advocating for their loved ones can lead to positive outcomes, such as improved care and attention to their needs. However, staff members who may be involved in the mistreatment could respond negatively to advocacy efforts, potentially resulting in further neglect or retribution.
Emotional Support and Counseling:
- Consequences for the Elderly: Seeking emotional support and counseling for the elderly resident is essential for addressing the trauma of abuse or neglect. While this approach can have positive psychological and emotional consequences, it may take time and professional guidance for the elderly family member to recover from the emotional toll, especially if staff members are implicated in the mistreatment.
In all cases, it’s imperative for family members to prioritize the safety and well-being of the elderly resident. The decision on which course of action to pursue should consider the specific circumstances and severity of the abuse or neglect. Legal action, advocacy, and relocation may be necessary to protect the elderly resident and hold the facility accountable. Nonetheless, it’s vital to be prepared for potential negative consequences while seeking justice and safety for your loved ones in a caring and supportive environment.
*Taking legal action against a nursing home for abuse or neglect typically involves the following process:
- Consultation with an Attorney: The first step is to consult with an experienced elder abuse attorney, based in North Carolina and one who specializes in elder abuse and nursing home negligence. During this consultation, the attorney will assess the details of the case, evaluate the evidence, and discuss the legal options available.
- Investigation: The attorney will initiate or assist in investigating the alleged abuse or neglect. This may include gathering medical records, witness statements, photographic evidence, and any relevant documentation.
- Filing a Lawsuit: If the evidence supports a legal claim, the attorney may file a lawsuit against the nursing home and, if applicable, the individuals responsible for the abuse or neglect.
- Discovery Process: Both parties engage in the discovery process, during which they exchange information and evidence related to the case. This may involve depositions, interrogatories, and document requests.
- Negotiation or Trial: In many cases, legal action leads to negotiations between the parties to reach a settlement. If a fair resolution cannot be reached, the case may proceed to trial, where a judge or jury will decide the outcome.
As for whether a lawyer can intervene to prevent ongoing abuse, attorneys can play a crucial role in stopping ongoing mistreatment:
- Temporary Injunctions: In some cases, attorneys can seek court-ordered injunctions or restraining orders to prevent further harm to the elderly resident while the legal proceedings are ongoing.
- Evidence Preservation: Attorneys can work to preserve evidence and ensure that the nursing home does not tamper with or destroy crucial records or materials that may be used in the case.
- Advocacy and Reporting: Attorneys often collaborate with regulatory authorities and law enforcement to ensure that ongoing abuse is addressed promptly.
- Ongoing Monitoring: Attorneys may work to have the nursing home’s practices and conditions monitored to prevent further abuse or neglect and to ensure that the facility complies with regulations and standards.
The ability of an attorney to intervene and prevent ongoing abuse may depend on the specific circumstances of the case, the legal remedies available, and the cooperation of relevant authorities. It’s essential for family members to act swiftly when abuse or neglect is suspected and to consult with a qualified attorney to assess the best course of action to protect their loved ones.
At Kellum Law Firm, we are dedicated to advocating for the rights and well-being of nursing home residents in North Carolina. If you suspect that a loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, please don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. We are here to provide guidance, support, and the legal representation needed to ensure justice and safety for your family members.
Call us at 1-800-ACCIDENT – “WE’RE WITH YOU ALL THE WAY”