Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect FAQ

Nursing home residents are amongst the most vulnerable members of society. While there are many quality nursing homes who give excellent care to their residents, others do not. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about nursing home abuse and neglect:

Q: What exactly qualifies as nursing home abuse and neglect?

A: The exact laws governing the care of nursing home residents vary between states. At a minimum, however, nursing homes are expected to provide all services that are necessary to the safety and health of all residents. This includes shelter, clothing, nourishment, hygiene, safety, adequate supervision, and proper medical care.

Failure to provide any of these necessities is neglect. If the failure to provide these services is deemed intentional, it is abuse. Furthermore, any violation of the resident's rights can be considered abuse. In most places, these rights include freedom from physical, verbal, sexual, or mental abuse. Each resident also has the right to make special dietary requests, engage in social activities and outings, and have visitors and a regular visit from a physician. While a nursing home is a type of medical institution, it also the residents' home and should be treated as such.

Because the nursing home is different than the hospital setting, please be aware that any form of restraint requires excessive documentation and a direct written order from a physician before it is used. Restraints should be used sparingly and only if all other interventions have failed to protect the safety of the resident. Restraints include items such as bedrails, locked wheels on a wheelchair when the resident is unable to undo the locks, lap buddies in wheelchairs, restraining jackets or wrist restraints, or hand mitten restraints. The overuse of restraints, or use without a physician's approval and notification of the resident's contact person is considered abuse in most circumstances.

Q: Why have nursing home abuse and neglect become so common in recent years?

A: Neglect of the elderly and others in nursing homes has been a problem for a long time. In recent years, more attention has been drawn to the issue. Compounding the problem, many nursing homes are trying to house more residents with fewer staff. Many of these staff are inadequately trained, under stress to meet the needs of many residents, and paid a low wage.

Caregiver burnout is a frequent occurrence, even amongst professional caregivers. Caring for those who are mentally impaired, physically dependent for care, and require assistance with activities of daily living can be mentally and physically exhausting. If caregiver burnout is not recognized in staff and appropriate action taken, incidences of abuse and neglect are more likely to occur.

Q: How do nursing homes get away with it?

A: There are a number of factors that allow nursing homes to get away with providing inadequate care. The most common is the fear and hesitancy of residents to report the abuse.

If you are aware of or suspect potential nursing home neglect or abuse, take it seriously. Your willingness to stand up and do something about the problem could make the difference in the quality of life for many people. Report your observations to the nursing home staff or administrator, and the police department, Adult Protective Services, or the State Ombudsman if necessary. All serious cases of abuse or neglect must be reported to a legal governing agency, such as the local police department.

Q: What are the most common causes of nursing home abuse and neglect?

A: There are far too many potential causes of abuse or neglect to list them all here. Among the most commonly reported are:

  • Inadequate staffing. Often, nursing homes fail to maintain adequate staffing throughout the day, often dropping to critical levels during off hours such as the nighttime shift. Elderly patients require assistance in turning over in bed every couple of hours to avoid developing bedsores, and incontinent residents require frequent assistance, even during the night. For these reasons and more, nursing homes require adequate staffing around the clock.
  • Inadequately trained or untrained staff. Nursing homes often fail to adequately train their personnel. All staff that have direct care responsibilities should be certified and formally trained, if not certified or licensed by the state.
  • Lack of accountability. Many nursing home residents receive infrequent visitors. When no one checks up on them regularly, negligence can go on unreported for quite some time.
  • Facilities or equipment that is not adequately maintained. Often, the way the nursing home building and grounds are maintained presents a neglectful situation. Walking surfaces, hand railings, and stairs should all be maintained to a safe level for physically handicapped residents. Ramps, elevators, and other assistive devices should be present and in good working condition.

Q: What legal recourse is there for those who have been abused or neglected in a nursing home?

A: There are three basic avenues that can be used to deal with nursing homes that abuse or neglect their residents. These include:

  • Reporting the abuse or neglect to the appropriate protective service agencies. This will often lead to an investigation. This process can take a lot of time, and the results are often mixed. Nursing homes are often able to rise to the occasion of an inspection without significantly changing the standard of care they offer on a daily basis. Most complaints will trigger an unscheduled health inspection visit, where trained nurses and staff visit with residents, comb through recorded charts, and inspect the facility while interviewing and observing staff on the job.
  • Filing a criminal complaint. If you have reason to believe the law has been broken, you can and should certainly report it to the proper authorities. Don't be afraid to get involved.
  • Filing a lawsuit. Those who have suffered damages, directly or indirectly, may file a lawsuit against the nursing facility. This includes the residents themselves, as well as others who may have a viable claim of damages.

Those who live in nursing homes have the same basic rights as those who live in the community. They are paying nursing home rates to obtain supervision and assistance with activities of daily living such as toileting, dressing, meals, and medication administration. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and should be kept free from harm during their stay at the facility. Failure to comply with these basic human needs is a violation of their rights and is often considered abuse or neglect. You can read more about Nursing Home Resident's Rights at the website.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a problem with a nursing home, contact the lawyers at Sweeney Law Firm to learn your legal rights and see if you have a case. There is no cost or obligation for us to evaluate your case. The Sweeney Law Firm works on a contingency fee basis. There is never a fee unless a recovery is made for you.