Nursing Home Abuse in America
According to the US Census, there is currently a greater number of people living over the age of 65 than in any other time in which the census was taken. Approximately 15% of our current US population is over the age of 65. We are approaching an even larger percentage for this population as our baby boomers continue to reach the age 65 milestone. Americans are living longer, with approximately 6 million Americans currently over the age of 85, and this number is growing as well. All of this has a huge impact on South Carolina. According to an article by Top Retirement, “The Carolinas are a red-hot retirement destination; both North and South Carolina enjoy a very favorable image among baby boomers. As great places to retire, both have become as popular as Florida.”
With an increase in our aging population, there is a direct correlation to an increase in individuals living in nursing home facilities. More than 3 million people in the United States are currently living in nursing homes. In one recent survey with nursing home residents, about 44 percent indicated that they had suffered from abuse, and more than 95 percent indicated that they had been neglected by their caregivers. Federal nursing home regulations state that “the resident has the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.”
What is Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?
First, let’s distinguish the difference between nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect.
- Nursing Home Abuse: Intentional infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, care/service deprivation or punishment that results in physical harm, pain or mental anguish
- Nursing Home Neglect: Failure, intentional or not, to provide a person with the care and services necessary to ensure freedom from harm or pain; a failure to react to a potentially dangerous situation resulting in resident harm or anxiety
An individual can be the victim of either nursing home abuse or neglect or a combination of both. The mistreatment of the elderly is any factor which harms or creates a risk of harm to the elder by a trusted caregiver. While exact numbers of nursing home abuse/neglect are difficult to determine (many cases are unreported or unfounded); we understand that only about 1 out of every 14 cases of elder abuse ever reaches authorities. We do know that women over the age of 65 are most likely to be the victims. We also know that with increasing age, comes increasing vulnerability, and an increase in the likelihood of abuse/neglect.
The impacts of nursing home abuse and neglect are devastating. The abuse victim is placed at a 300 percent greater risk of death when compared to non-abused individuals. Studies have shown that victims of elder abuse suffer from an increase in psychological stress and struggle with negative feelings of self-worth.
The total cost of elder abuse and neglect is enormous. There is a direct impact on the life of the individual as well as his/her family. Additionally, there is an increase in medical costs associated with caring for the victim. The medical costs of caring for violent injuries against the elderly are believed to be more than $5 billion per year.
Examples of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
- Assault and battery
- Lack of care for medical problems
- Prolonged deprivation of food or water
- Rape or other forms of sexual assault or battery
- Unreasonable physical restraint or seclusion
- Use of a medication for any purpose inconsistent with the intended purpose (i.e. pushing medications to force a person to sleep more)
- Emotional Abuse (humiliating or demeaning a resident, habitually blaming, threatening or intimidating him, etc.…)
- Financial Exploitation (stealing a resident’s money or valuables, coercing a resident to cash checks, etc.…)
Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
According to a 2001 study conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives, approximately one in three nursing homes were cited for violations of federal standards that harmed or had the potential to harm a resident. It’s important for all of us to gain a better understanding of nursing home abuse and neglect. Often, healthcare professionals are insufficiently trained on this topic and may not notice the signs. The victim of abuse or neglect may be hesitant to report due to fear. The victim may be unable to report due to cognitive issues (dementia, Alzheimer’s) or other limitations caused by their age and/or physical state.
Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect:
- Falls, fractures, or head injuries
- Emotionally upset or agitated – sudden changes in behavior
- Extreme withdrawal or refusal to communicate – unusual changes in behavior
- Bed Sores
- Rapid weight loss
- Repeat attempts of elopement
- Unsanitary conditions
- Reluctance to interact with nursing home staff
- Injuries in various states of healing or with unknown cause
- Heavily medicated or sedated individual
- Provision of incorrect medication
What to do if you suspect Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
The decision to move your loved one into a nursing home is never easy. When you move a loved one to a nursing home, you expect that they are cared for with respect and that their medical needs are met. Many wonderful nursing homes help us to care for our loved ones as they age, and their medical/supervision needs increase. However, the reality of a nursing home facility is that there are strangers who are given a great deal of authority over your loved one. You cannot possibly be present at all hours to supervise and if the nursing home staff are less than ideal then this can create an unfortunate negative consequence for your loved one. We encourage you to go with your gut, if you suspect anything then stay diligent. You know your loved one best. Also follow these steps if you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect:
- Visit Often: The more often that you are present, the increase in likelihood that you will see warning signs. You can observe your loved ones for any unexplained changes in behavior, and changes in physical health. You will be better able to observe your loved one’s interactions with nursing home staff. You can assess for cleanliness and any sanitary concerns.
- Listen and Observe: Talk to your loved one about his/her care. Ask your loved one how s/he feels about the staff. Be direct and talk to them one-on-one. Do remember that your loved one may be hesitant to make a disclosure, they could be fearful or ashamed of the situation. Start documenting your concerns in detail, even if there is no clear disclosure. Record the location, date, time and people involved. Make certain to have the names of any staff who may have been an eyewitness to your concern.
- Report: Speak up in order to protect your loved one. It is not your job to prove fault. Report your concerns to the authorities and let them investigate within their realm of expertise. In South Carolina, the State Long Term Care Ombudsman (SLTO) investigates reports of abuse or neglect within a nursing home facility. All initial reports should be made to SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) and SLED will forward it to the SLTO. Contact 1-866-200-6066 (24/7). If you have an urgent, immediate concern for your loved one, call 911.
- Seek Legal Representation: Once you have taken the steps to report the suspected abuse/neglect and have done all that you can to protect your loved one, contact a nursing home abuse lawyer right away. A nursing home abuse attorney can help you to receive compensation for any physical or emotional damages that may have occurred. The attorney will investigate the issue, find expert witnesses to testify, investigate the nursing home, and provide experienced legal guidance.
Hire a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney
What do you do when you trust someone to compassionately care for your parents or grandparents only to find out that trust has been misplaced? South Carolina has a Statute of Limitations, meaning a suit must be filed and served in a certain time frame. The best advice is to follow up immediately with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer. At the Law Offices of F. Craig Wilkerson, Jr., our knowledgeable and compassionate team of nursing home abuse and neglect attorneys understand that elder abuse is a societal issue, as well as a very personal one. We are committed to helping you in your pursuit of legal justice. If you suspect abuse or neglect led to your loved one’s injury, sudden decline, unexplained injuries or death, it’s important to contact a nursing home negligence attorney right away so that we can initiate the investigative process and hold the nursing home facility accountable.
If your friend or family member is the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect in South Carolina, contact the Law Offices of F. Craig Wilkerson right away. We can investigate the standard of care at the victim’s nursing home, among other investigative acts. Schedule a free case evaluation or call us at: 803-324-7200.