If you’re the resident of a nursing home or a loved one is a resident and is the victim of nursing home abuse, suffering physical or psychological abuse, you or your loved one has rights.
Speak with our nursing home abuse lawyers, we’ll schedule a free consultation to discuss your options and how we can help.
Our society’s traditional image of a nursing home was a place where elder people went toward the end of their lives to be treated respectfully by staff who valued and respected the elders and, in fact, probably knew them from living in the community. In the US, we spend a remarkable amount of money—through government programs like Medicare and Medicaid, through private insurance, and in the form of out of-pocket payments—in pursuit of that vision.
The endless stream of media stories about nursing home abuse and neglect, however, clearly indicates that this is too often not the reality for nursing home residents. In fact, report after report from federal and various state agencies indicates serious problems in the way that nursing home residents are treated by the staff of the home and, often, other residents of the home.
Juries and judges understandably tend to be sympathetic to nursing home residents who have been abused, even killed, by those who are charged with caring for them; but this sympathy and compensation are all after the fact and cannot truly make up for the experiences of the victims or the horror of their families.
Unfortunately, the term “nursing home industry” is an accurate description of what awaits far too many people who go into nursing homes today. Many nursing homes are part of large corporations that pay devoted attention to their bottom line. The bottom line approach may be even more extreme if the corporation has expanded by going into debt to fund its purchases of competing homes.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Elder abuse is defined by the (CDC) as “an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult” 60 years or older. The CDC goes on to define separate categories of elder abuse:
- Physical Abuse – Physical abuse involves the use of intentional physical force that causes injury, illness, pain, functional impairment, emotional distress, or death.
- Sexual Abuse – Abusive sexual contact covers an array of forced or unwanted sexual interactions of any kind. If committed against an incapacitated person who is incapable of consenting, the interaction qualifies as sexual abuse.
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse – Emotional or psychological abuse can involve verbal or nonverbal behaviors that inflict mental anguish or pain, fear, or emotional distress. This behavior can include humiliation, threats, isolation, or the exertion of control.
- Neglect – Neglect refers to the failure by caregivers to protect elders in their care from harm or to fail to meet their essential medical care, shelter, activities of daily living, nutrition, hydration, or hygiene needs.
- Financial Abuse or Exploitation – Financial abuse or exploitation is a caregiver’s unauthorized, improper, or illegal use of a nursing home resident’s resources for the benefit of someone other than the resident.
Falls and Broken Bones at Nursing Homes in Maryland
The risk of falling when they are unattended is one of the reasons why elderly people often require nursing home care in the first place. Nursing homes are paid to prevent falls and to provide round-the-clock care to older people.
Falls at nursing homes can be very serious and even fatal. The Mayo Clinic states falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries in older people. A head injury, a broken leg or a hip can prove to be deadly in an older person. Falls are the leading cause of deaths for people over 85. As many as 50 to 75 percent of elderly people suffer a nursing home fall every year in the United States.
Nursing homes have many duties to prevent falls. Caregivers must be aware of a resident’s conditions that might make an injury more likely. Neurological issues, muscle atrophy, vision problems, dizziness and a previous history of falls must be taken into consideration.
Nursing home residents who present an elevated fall risk should be assessed as soon as they arrive at a nursing home. Some residents need at least two people to assist them in and out of bed. Nursing homes often use safety belts, mechanical lifts, and harnesses to mitigate the risk of falling. Some facilities fail to invest in the correct equipment.
Nursing homes may also lack staffing or hire inexperienced people who fail to protect residents from falling and don’t put up bed rails when residents are asleep.
Detecting Signs of Elder Abuse
When you entrust loved ones to nursing home care, you expect that they’ll receive excellent care and satisfy social interactions when you can’t be together, and often this is exactly what happens. Sometimes, however, nursing home residents are abused or neglected, and it’s important to protect your loved ones by remaining alert to this possibility and understanding the warning signs:
- Marked emotional or physical change – If your loved one exhibits a marked emotional or physical change, it could be a sign of abuse or neglect. The natural aging process, however, can also cause such changes, and it’s important to distinguish between aging (and associated diseases) and poor care. Stay in close contact with your loved one, visit often and at irregular times, and question staff when you’re concerned.
- Unanswered questions – If the nursing home staff continually deflects your questions, is evasive, is consistently unable to answer your questions, or won’t discuss your loved one’s care, consider this a warning sign that the care may be less than optimal. The answer, “This is how we do things here,” should be a red flag. High staff turnover rates that never level out is another bad sign.
- Fear and agitation – If your loved one asks not to receive care from a specific staff member (or appears frightened when a specific staff member is near), take this seriously (even if your loved one has cognitive issues). Address this issue with nursing home leadership immediately—mistreatment or neglect may be the cause.
- Chaos reigns – A busy staff that’s sometimes stretched too thin is probably unavoidable, but the nursing home shouldn’t be in constant chaos. If the staff is friendly, open, warm, and works well together while interacting with the residents, that’s a great sign—as is effective leadership in the form of an active and engaged director. Bad staff attitudes and poor information chains that span shift changes, however, can indicate trouble. If call buttons and ringing phones seem to constantly go unanswered, ask yourself why the staff doesn’t have time to pick up the phone.
- Physical signs – If your loved one exhibits physical signs such as dehydration or malnourishment, take these indicators very seriously. Dehydration is a frequent and dangerous symptom of negligent care.
Laws Protecting from Elder Abuse in Maryland
The rights of nursing home residents from elder abuse in Maryland are laid out in section 10.07.09.08 of the Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR). They are extensive and include the right to be free of these abusive practices:
- Physical, verbal, sexual and mental abuse
- Physical or chemical restraints imposed for purposes of discipline or convenience
- Involuntary seclusion
- Nursing home interference, reprisal, discrimination, or coercion when residents exercise their rights
Federal Laws for Nursing Home Abuse
The federal government has a very large club with which to influence nursing homes: certification to receive Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement. The Nursing Home Reform Act is the way the club is used.
That law details a series of rights for the residents of nursing homes that receive federal funds. It also prescribes the standards for the care of residents in important areas including prevention and treatment of bedsores, nutrition, and the use of physical restraints.
Nursing Home Negligence that Fosters Elder Abuse
Staffing policies and practices almost always cause or contribute to abuse. The most obvious staffing failing is simply having too few staff members. That can lead to everything from neglecting residents to failure to prevent abuse by other residents to causing staff frustration that is taken out on residents.
Another common staffing action that leads to abuse is the failure to adequately investigate the background of applicants before hiring them. Putting someone with a history of violence, especially toward residents in other facilities, is unforgivable.
Other common practices that contribute to the abuse of residents include:
- Failing to properly supervise and monitor staff, which causes abusive behavior to go undetected
- Failing to follow up when abuse and neglect are reported which, again, allows the abusive person to continue abusing residents
- Failing to train the staff adequately
Who Is Liable in a Nursing Home Abuse Case?
The nursing facility is the most likely defendant for obvious reasons; that may include a parent corporation of the nursing home. But modern nursing homes often have other people on their premises, employed by other entities, who may well be responsible for the abuse of a resident. Examples include medical personnel employed by others, physical therapists, wound care specialists, and employees of companies that maintain medical equipment.
Filing a Lawsuit or Seeking Legal Help for Abused Elders
Nursing home abuse cases are unique in the amount of emotional upset that families experience, in the impact that abuse has on residents, and in the difficulty of proving that abuse occurred, who committed it, and why the nursing home is responsible. Without a doubt, you should contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney as soon as you suspect that abuse is occurring. The abuse needs to be stopped as soon as possible and the resident placed in a safe and secure environment.
It is also very important to begin collecting the evidence needed to establish liability. Nursing home cases require time and careful preparation. Nursing homes and their lawyers and insurers rarely just admit liability; there are numerous defenses that can be used to avoid, or at least delay, responsibility. And the longer they succeed in delaying the case, the harder it becomes for the family to see it through.
Contact a Seasoned Maryland Elder Abuse Attorney for a Free Consultation
If you suspect that a relative or friend is suffering abuse in a nursing home, call the Maryland personal injury attorney at the Rice, Murtha & Psoras today to arrange a time to discuss what’s going on.
We have the experience to know what to look for and how to avoid the pitfalls that are likely to arise. Our elders deserve to be treated with respect and kindness in their later years. We are here to help, so call now! (410) 694-7291