Nursing Home Abuse/Neglect: Is my Loved one a Victim?

Utah’s nursing homes have the capacity for nearly 8,500 residents requiring continuous skilled nursing care. Beyond that, there are many more residents in intermediate care facilities. These residents may not need continuous nursing care, but they need licensed nursing supervision and supportive care.

Problem 1: Many of these residents are not in a position to advocate for themselves.
Problem 2: Skilled staff members are getting harder to come by. Nationally, nearly all nursing homes (98%) said they are having difficulties hiring qualified staff. As a result, 99% of these facilities are asking staff members to work overtime or pick up extra shifts.

This can all make for a perfect storm: overworked staff, overworked supervisors, poor staff-to-resident ratios, and residents who can’t stand up for themselves when care suffers or abuse occurs.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, you may (understandably) worry about all of these challenges. You may wonder if your loved one is being treated capably and kindly and how you would know if they weren’t.

What is nursing home abuse, and what can I do about it?

Nursing home abuse takes place when a person in a position of authority harms a resident or puts them at risk for harm. They may do this intentionally and maliciously, or they may do it carelessly by neglecting the standards of care.

Regardless of the reason for the abuse, your first course of action is to get your loved one to safety. If there is fear of ongoing abuse and/or retribution, you will need to look into getting your loved one into a different facility.

You may have the right to take legal action on your loved one’s behalf. For more violent types of abuse, a criminal lawsuit may be the right avenue. Otherwise, a civil lawsuit can help recover financial damages that can help with recovery and healing. In the tragic event that your loved one died as a result of the abuse, you may have grounds to file a wrongful death lawsuit.

Civil lawsuits are different than criminal lawsuits. While criminal lawsuits usually result in fines and/or imprisonment, civil lawsuits recover financial damages from the offending party. Both types of lawsuits can act as effective deterrents, causing nursing homes to take action and end abuse of any kind at their facility. Talk to our Salt Lake City personal injury attorneys to know which type of lawsuit is appropriate for your case.

What are the different types of nursing home abuse?

Detecting nursing home abuse starts with awareness. For example, did you know that nursing homes have specific standards to adhere to when it comes to your loved one’s medications? And if your loved one is harmed because they neglect those standards, they can be held liable? Or did you know that financial abuse in nursing homes can also be grounds for a lawsuit?

Here’s a closer look at common types of nursing home abuse and signs that it may be happening to your loved one.

1. Neglect.

Neglect is the most common type of elder abuse. It is defined as deliberate disregard for the well-being of a nursing home resident, resulting in harm to that resident.

Nursing home neglect occurs when caregivers:

  • Fail to meet standards of care as defined by regulating organizations
  • Fail to meet a resident’s basic needs (water, food, hygiene, medical treatment)
  • Fail to give medications as prescribed
  • Overmedicate a resident (often in an attempt to make them easier to care for)
  • Fail to safeguard residents from harm caused by other residents

What to watch for with your loved one:

  • Seems scared or confused
  • Seems lonely or depressed
  • Is malnourished or dehydrated (may manifest through weight loss, complaining of hunger or thirst, or overall weakness)
  • Looks dirty or unkempt or smells bad
  • Has bed sores
  • Can’t get the medical attention they need in a timely manner

2. Emotional/psychological abuse.

This occurs when someone insults, humiliates, antagonizes, or threatens a resident.

What to watch for with your loved one:

  • Seems depressed or moody
  • Seems frightened
  • Wants to isolate themselves
  • Tries to hurt others
  • Avoids making eye contact
  • Isn’t eating or sleeping well
  • Exhibits a dip in self-esteem
  • Exhibits tension in their interactions with staff or other residents in the nursing home (withdrawal, submission, anger, etc.)

3. Physical abuse.

Just as the name implies, this involves a staff member inflicting physical harm or pain on a resident.

What to watch for with your loved one:

  • Seems confused or lost
  • Seems lonely or depressed
  • Random bruises or cuts
  • Unusually high rate of infections
  • Hair loss
  • Unexplained burns
  • Unexplained bone fractures or broken bones

4. Sexual abuse.

This occurs when someone has sexual activity with a resident that the resident has not consented to. Perpetrators may be staff members or other residents.

What to watch for with your loved one:

  • Appears confused or lost
  • Appears lonely or depressed
  • Acts agitated, moody, or angry
  • Tests positive for sexually transmitted diseases
  • Bruising or damage to sex-related body parts

5. Financial abuse.

You may have heard of a family member or family acquaintance cozying up to an older person to try to extort money. This can happen in nursing home settings, too, at the hands of conniving staff members, fellow residents, or even those visiting fellow residents. They may feign friendship or positions of authority to take advantage of finances.

What to watch for with your loved one:

  • Unexplained withdrawals from their bank account
  • Financial documents being sent to an alternate address
  • Nursing home personnel (or others) showing an increased interest in your loved one’s financial situation
  • References to financial conversations with someone other than trusted sources
  • Documents or money going missing
  • Strange financial transactions

If you see any of these signs of abuse or neglect, it’s important that you assist your loved one in seeking help (or seek help on their behalf if they cannot do it on their own). You can’t undo the trauma of abuse, but you can take action so that it does not happen again–either to your loved one or anyone else in that facility.

This may include filing a lawsuit to force change at the facility and recovering financial damages to help your loved one with their path to healing. And while wrongful death is an extreme ending for these unfortunate stories, it does occur. With the help of an experienced wrongful death lawyer near you, you can pursue damages to help with financial and emotional recovery.