While most people wish they could care for their family members throughout their entire lives, for some this isn’t possible due to overloaded schedules, other family responsibilities, or just being stretched too thin. A lot of people opt to place their older loved ones in a nursing home or assisted living facility if they need additional care and support in their daily lives. Unfortunately, the nature of this living situation makes it difficult to keep an eye on our elderly loved ones at all times, and they may be subject to abuse without our knowledge.
If it is discovered that a loved one is being abused or neglected at their nursing facility, how can you seek justice, and what can you do to prevent it from happening again?
What Counts as Abuse in Nursing Homes?
Understanding the different types of abuse nursing home abuse and neglect can help family members and loved ones better recognize warning signs. Common things to look for include:
- Abandonment: People live in nursing homes because they require supervision, medical care, and/or assistance with everyday tasks. Failure to adequately provide this assistance can lead to deteriorating health and emotional damage among neglected residents and is considered abandonment. Signs of abandonment include a messy, unkempt appearance, sudden weight loss, and depression.
- Bedsores: Bedsores are a clear sign that an elderly person is being abused in their assisted living situation as they only appear when someone is left in the same position for a significant amount of time. It is the responsibility of nurses working in such situations to reposition patients to ensure bedsores do not develop.
- Dehydration: Caregivers in nursing homes are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the people they care for are well fed and hydrated. Failure to do so can increase a patient’s risk of pneumonia, immune system issues, and worsened symptoms of dementia. Signs of dehydration include dark urine, low blood pressure, and confusion.
- Emotional changes: Many of the signs of emotional abuse are difficult to see, but they can include changes in behavior and overall health. Nurses might humiliate, threaten, or intentionally isolate someone they are supposed to be caring for, which can have extremely negative effects on them.
- Fraud: In some situations, a nursing home employee may be responsible for billing insurance companies or otherwise handling an elderly person’s finances. If a caregiver steals an elderly patient’s money, they may leave that person with bills they cannot afford. If insurance is involved, the elderly person may be denied coverage due to unlawful billing that was no fault of their own. Signs of fraud include multiple bills for the same service, financial kickbacks for referrals to doctors, lost debit cards, and missing cash.
- Medication issues: Most people living in assisted care facilities take daily medication(s). They rely on staff members to give them their medications, and a staff member can abuse someone by withholding, stealing, or forgetting their medications. Signs of medication issues include persistent symptoms that should be fixed by medication the patient is supposed to take, missing medication, missing prescriptions, and more.
- Physical and sexual: Physical and sexual abuse can happen in assisted living situations, as nurses and caretakers have almost 24/7 access to their patients. Signs of physical and sexual abuse include bloody underwear, bruises on the thighs or genitals, missing teeth, soreness, broken bones.
Catching the Abuse
Common signs that loved ones can look out for when visiting their elderly family members include:
- Unexplained injuries
- Visible injuries, such as bruises or welts
- Signs that they are not taking their medication as prescribed, such as symptoms that should have been resolved by the medication
- Rope marks around their wrists or ankles that show they were restrained
- Caregivers refusing to allow loved ones to be alone with the elderly person
- Unusual behavior from the elderly person, such as being secretive, sudden mood changes, or increased levels of anxiety
- Unexplained sexually transmitted diseases
- Noticing the elderly person’s hygiene has not been taken care of
- Sudden weight loss
- Unexplained withdrawals from their bank accounts
Preventing the Abuse
Preventing elder abuse in nursing homes can be just as difficult, if not more so, than catching abuse. However, there are some actions that family members can take to lower the chances of abuse, such as:
- Visiting more often: Visiting a loved one as often as possible is one of the easiest ways to catch nursing home abuse as quickly as possible. Seeing them face-to-face can give loved ones an idea of their general well-being and can provide the elderly person with an opportunity to come forward about abuse, if possible. Visiting them can help family members take note of their physical appearance and general mood to watch for changes the next time they visit.
- Hiring additional care: Anyone who requires assistance to perform daily tasks needs a care team that is experienced and trustworthy. Creating such a team is one way to help prevent abuse because more people will be involved in the elderly person’s life, meaning there will be more chances for abuse to be caught early. A care team will include people who are in the elderly person’s life on a daily basis as well as family members and legal professionals. A care team can include people such as doctors, lawyers, siblings, adult children, and social workers.
- Adding surveillance cameras: Technology can be incredibly useful in monitoring your elderly loved one’s well-being. Camera doorbells can alert you to exactly who is entering their space, and indoor security systems can give loved ones the chance to review what goes on in their elderly loved one’s room. With permission from the elderly person, this technology can help catch signs of abuse and prevent it from happening again in the future.
How Do You Prove Abuse Took Place?
Once abuse against an elderly person has been caught, their family may decide to pursue legal action.
To prove a nursing home claim, 3 elements must be met: a breach in duty of care, causation, and damages.
Duty of Care
When an elderly person is placed in an assisted living facility or nursing home, the caretakers owe them a duty of care. This duty of care requires caretakers to provide with the same level of care that any other caregiver with similar training would provide. If they fail to do so, due to accidental neglect or malice, they can be held liable for elder abuse.
In nursing home neglect cases, an argument over causation occurs because a lot of residents have preexisting conditions due to their age. Legally, the term causation refers to cause and effect between an action and a result. It is imperative that loved ones have as much evidence as possible because they will need to prove that the injuries incurred were a direct result of caretaker negligence or abuse. The only issues that should be claimed are ones that would not have occurred if abuse did not happen.
If a nursing home abuse claim is successful, it will provide the abused party with compensation relative to the abuse they endured. Claims can be made for both economic and noneconomic damages. Some examples of economic damages, or damages that resulted in loss of money, include medical bills, physical and emotional therapy, the costs to move to a new facility, and any other expense directly caused by the abuse. Noneconomic damages are not necessarily tangible, but include things like emotional distress, diminished quality of life, loss of physical ability, and more.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you have reason to believe that your loved one has been abused by their caretakers, contact Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet & Buckner today. With over 88 years of experience, our law firm will fight tirelessly on your behalf to get your family the compensation you deserve and to bring abusive caretakers to justice. We know these cases are devastating, which is why we listen to our clients with empathy and explain every step of the legal process along the way. Contact us today at (304) 713-2014 or through our online contact form.