Families who make the difficult decision to place an elderly parent or disabled spouse or child into a nursing home expect their loved one to receive sufficient and professional care. Sadly, incidents of sometimes shocking nursing home neglect appear to be on the rise. Worse, the mistreatment of mentally and physically vulnerable patients often escalates to outright abuse.
The problem has become so prevalent that the National Academy of Sciences convened an expert panel to articulate a consensus definition of abuse and neglect of nursing home residents. The group’s work resulted in this description, which focuses particularly on elderly patients: Neglect and abuse are “intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder. This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm.”
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which pays for the majority of nursing home care, considered definitions like this when it issued the following list of rights and protections for residents of long-term care facilities:
- Be free from discrimination
- Be free from abuse and neglect
- Exercise your rights as a U.S. citizen
- Have your representative notified
- Get proper medical care
- Be treated with respect
- Be free from restraints
- Have protections against involuntary transfer or discharge
- Participate in activities
- Spend time with visitors
- Form or participate in resident groups
- Manage your money
- Get information on services and fees
- Get proper privacy, property, and living arrangements
- Make complaints
As a North Carolina plaintiff’s attorney, I have bolded the rights and protections violations that I have seen causing much of the worst harm to nursing home residents. Disrespecting patients, denying them appropriate care, restraining them for the convenience of staff rather a patient’s own safety, and keeping them from speaking or meeting with family members create serious physical, mental and emotional health problems.
Family members who suspect their parent, spouse or child is being neglected by nursing home staff should watch for these common warning signs:
- Pressure sores, which can indicate failures by staff to turn patients who are bedbound;
- Redness, sores or bruising on ankles and wrists, which indicates the use of restraints;
- Bruising on the face, head and legs, which can result from fails;
- Sudden weight loss and emotional withdrawal, which can result from fear of ongoing abuse and neglect;
- New health and behavioral problems, which can result from mismanaging medications; and
- Soiled bedsheets, dirty and torn clothing, and unclean conditions, which can indicate that staff are failing to attend to the patient’s hygiene.
Anyone who spots such potential signs of nursing home neglect has the legal right to report the situation to staff supervisors, a social worker, the facility administrator, and state and federal regulators. When it seems evident that a nursing home resident is in present or ongoing danger of suffering physical harm from assault, a family member or Good Samaritan can also call in the police.
Families can immediately remove and transfer neglected or abused patients, and they also have the right to file lawsuits against negligent caregivers, managers and supervisors, and the owner of the long-term care facility where the negligent or abusive staff worked. Working with a dedicated North Carolina nursing home neglect attorney will help the family hold the individuals who mistreated their loved one accountable and also protect other patients from harm.