With an aging population and people living longer due to advancements in medical science, the need for well-staffed and well-run nursing care facilities is at an all-time high. Over one million people currently live in nursing homes throughout the United States, and our senior population is growing every day.
While many nursing homes provide wonderful environments and treatment for seniors who can no longer take care of themselves, others fail to meet the standard of care required by law because of neglect or abuse. Their failures can lead to tragic results.
Neglect vs. Abuse
Nursing home neglect and abuse are often hidden crimes because they can be difficult to recognize. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services defines neglect and abuse as follows:
- Neglect. The failure to provide services to an eligible adult by any person, firm, or corporation with a legal or contractual duty to do so, when such failure presents either an imminent danger to the health, safety, or welfare of the client or a substantial probability that death or serious physical harm would result (192.2400, RSMo).
- Abuse. The infliction of physical, sexual, or emotional injury or harm including financial exploitation by any person, firm, or corporation (192.2400, RSMo).
In other words, neglect is simply negligence or a breach of the duty to provide proper care, while abuse is intentional. Either one might be hard to recognize because it could be covered up by the nursing home staff or because the victim is afraid or unable to complain.
Duty of Care in a Nursing Home
Nursing home operators have a high duty of care to their patients and residents, yet all too often we see evidence of negligence, carelessness, or outright abuse of seniors who deserve to be treated with respect during the twilight of their lives. A 2002 study by the federal government revealed that 97% of nursing homes fail to provide the amount of care suggested by the Department of Health and Human Services and 91% of nursing homes do not have sufficient staff to provide routine care.
It is imperative that facilities be held accountable for violations of nursing home neglect and abuse law. Please note that this law covers not only nursing homes, but also senior care centers, assisted living facilities, and in-home care services.
Signs of Nursing Home Neglect or Abuse
The first step toward holding nursing homes accountable is for loved ones to be vigilant, ask questions, and communicate any concerns about neglect or abuse to the management of the facility. Examples of neglect include:
- Lack of supervision leading to falls or other injuries
- Failure to help a resident maintain personal hygiene
- Not providing sufficient medical care for bed sores, infections, and other issues
- Failure to assist residents who can’t eat on their own
- Not providing sufficient food and water
- Neglecting a resident’s need for social interaction or companionship
- Failure to intervene when a nursing home resident is being mistreated by another resident or staff member
Signs of abuse include:
- Tension between the resident and caregiver
- Broken bones
- Unexplained bruises or cuts
- Bloody undergarments
- Poor hygiene
- Items missing from the resident’s room
- Caregiver refusing visits or phone calls
- Drastic weight loss
- Behavior mimicking dementia
- Evidence of excessive or unnecessary physical restraint
- Evidence of misuse of prescription medication, which can be considered medical malpractice
If the management does not address your concerns satisfactorily, an attorney experienced in nursing home issues can help you escalate your concerns to the next level and take legal action, if necessary, to protect your loved one.