Nursing Home Neglect: What You Can Do To Protect Your Loved One

Here’s what you need to know about nursing home neglect. Learn how to spot signs of neglect, and what you can do to protect your loved one. 

Moving a parent or other relative into a nursing home or long-term care facility is never an easy decision. But sometimes there isn’t another good choice. An elder who needs memory care or other specialized health care is often beyond the expertise of loving family members. Nursing homes can be a way for elders to maintain their best quality of life in their later years.

When we move our loved ones into these homes, we trust doctors and caregivers to ensure these older adults get adequate care. It can be a nasty betrayal if we find that our loved ones have been injured in a nursing home. This is particularly so when the injury is due to abusive behavior by facility staff members.

As horrible as elder abuse can be, elder neglect can be just as dangerous. It can also be more difficult to spot. An abused nursing home resident may be able to point to specific incidents or behaviors that caused injuries. Neglect often does not have these clear incidents. Given the increased vulnerability of some elders to neglect, we must be vigilant for signs.

This article will examine the types of elder neglect in United States nursing homes and how to spot it. We’ll also look at claims related to abuse and neglect, as well as different ways to pursue those claims. Though you may think you need to file a lawsuit to solve the problem, that’s not necessarily true. In some cases, though, it will be necessary.

Types of Nursing Home Neglect

Stages of pressure ulcers

A nursing home or assisted living facility is in complete control of an elder’s existence. An uncaring facility has many opportunities to neglect the needs of the people in its care. Here are some common examples of nursing home neglect in United States facilities.

1. Oral/Dental Neglect

Poor personal hygiene in your loved ones may be a red flag for elder neglect and mistreatment. This is often evident in their dental care and cleanliness. Facilities should ensure that residents’ teeth are clean. Any other aspects of dental care should also be tended to. A lack of cleanliness or missing or broken dental appliances are warning signs.

The role of dentists in detecting elder neglect is being increasingly recognized. Dental professionals have a view into a part of the body that may not be as obvious or visible as others. They may also be able to find oral injuries due to physical abuse. If your loved one’s oral hygiene is poor, it may be wise to insist upon a trip to the dentist for a closer look.

2. Bedsores or Other Neglect Due to Lack of Mobility

Bedsores, also known as pressure sores or ulcers, are a painful skin condition. They can develop in people who spend most of their time in bed or a chair. Older adults can be particularly vulnerable to these if they are not able to get up by themselves. Neglectful facility staff may ignore these residents. This can leave them bedridden or immobile for days at a time.

Bedsores can become infected and cause wounds that are potentially life threatening. This is even more of a problem when the elder in question has episodes of incontinence that go uncared for by nursing home staff.

The resultant nonhealing wounds can also develop into a Marjolin’s ulcer. From there, they can become skin cancer. It’s therefore even more important to check on elders with limited mobility to make sure they’re being properly cared for.

3. Dehydration and Malnutrition

Nursing homes must watch residents to ensure that they are drinking enough water and eating enough food. Staff who do not pay attention may neglect these vital needs, causing dehydration and malnutrition.

The effects are serious. Malnutrition can increase the risk of infection. As the elder loses bone and muscle mass, broken bones and other types of injuries also become more common. Lack of water can result in kidney failure, coma, and even death.

An Alternative to Lawsuits: The Ombudsman

Couple arguing and a woman writing notes in her clipboard

The medical care and well-being of our loved ones is the most serious of matters.

When it appears that they’ve been mistreated, then it’s completely understandable that the first impulse we would have is to file a lawsuit. While that may be necessary, there are other options you can try before taking that step.

These methods are collectively known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR encomasses a wide variety of processes, most often mediation and arbitration, that are typically faster and less expensive than a lawsuit.

In the context of nursing home abuse and neglect, there’s an ADR resource that you should carefully examine and consider using: a long-term care ombudsman. Every state has local ombudsman programs in place for addressing allegations of nursing home abuse and neglect.

An ombudsman is a government employee (usually of the county) who acts as a neutral third party between residents, their families and a long-term care facility. The ombudsman will conduct their own investigation of abuse and neglect allegations.

If the allegations are substantiated, the ombudsman will work with local law enforcement and/or Adult Protective Services to fix the problem and hold the nursing home accountable. Even in cases that do not rise to the level of criminal charges, the ombudsman can mediate disputes between a residents’ family and the facility in order to achieve the best outcome for a resident.

Though ombudsman programs are valuable, there will unfortunately be cases that cannot be resolved with ADR. In these situations, litigation will be necessary.

What If You Need to Sue?

Elderly man looking out the window while lying in a hospital bed

First and foremost, if you think you may need to file a lawsuit, you should speak with a qualified elder abuse attorney as soon as possible.

Talking with an abuse and neglect lawyer will help you understand the key legal points of your case and gather evidence that can help you in court later. They will know what medical records to obtain and how best to preserve testimony.

Second, if you are going to sue a long-term care facility, you will probably want to move your loved one elsewhere. This is not just because of the situation that injured your loved one in the first place. A pending lawsuit may make an elder a fresh target for abuse or neglect by ill-intentioned facility staff.

Third, consider how long the process of litigation will take, and compare that with the severity of the injury and the expected result. Keep in mind that, because facilities are in such a close position of trust, judgments against them can be larger because of the addition of punitive damages.

Case Summary: Attack by Another Resident/Negligent Supervision

An 88-year old woman was stalked and struck by a male resident of a nursing home, which had knowledge of the male’s resident’s violent tendencies. The woman broke her hip and suffered further injuries when the male resident kicked her in the head.

Shortly afterwards, the woman was left unattended in her room, then fell and broke her hip again. She became unable to move, stopped eating, and died two months later. The case settled just before trial for $1.9 million.

Case Summary: Resident Dropped While Being Moved

An elderly woman in Iowa was dropped from a Hoyer lift that was being used to move her within the facility. The nursing home maintained that the woman had caused her own injuries. She later died, and a jury awarded her family $500,000.

While these numbers indicate that you can be compensated after one of these horrible injuries, keep in mind that these cases involve a lot of work. You need to have a frank discussion with an elder abuse lawyer about how to collect and organize your evidence in order to get the best possible judgment or settlement out of your loved one’s claim.

Doing the Best for Our Elders

We owe it to our families to keep them safe. Hard-working, elderly people have accomplished much and should be allowed to enjoy their golden years in comfort and peace. If they’re living in a long-term care facility, you should ensure that the facility is doing its best to ensure the maximum quality of life for its residents.

If you or a loved one has experienced injuries due to nursing home neglect, it’s critical that you act as soon as possible. No matter what dispute resolution method you decide to use, a conversation with a qualified personal injury attorney will help protect the elder person’s best interests. Contact an attorney or law firm today for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>

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