Every year, thousands of elderly Americans are abused in nursing homes and other facilities responsible for their care. But what should family members do if and when they suspect that a member of their family or a friend residing in an elder care facility is being abused? And what signs should they be looking out for if they suspect that the elder care nursing facility is engaging in negligent care?
What Is Elder Abuse?
As elders become frailer, they are less able to stand up for themselves or to realize that they are being treated negligently. They may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous nursing homes and other elder care facilities to take advantage of them. Frequently, nursing home workers do not adequately perform the job assigned to them and, as a result, nursing home residents may be harmed psychologically or physically, and don’t know how to or are afraid to report the abuse.
Types Of Abuse
There are different kinds of elder abuse that are both unlawful and can result in injury and even death. For example,
- Physical Abuse: Physical abuse includes not only physical assaults such as hitting or shoving but also the inappropriate use of drugs, restraints, or confinement;
- Emotional/Psychological Abuses: With emotional or psychological senior abuse, people speak to or treat elderly persons in ways that cause emotional pain or distress. Verbal forms of abuse may include intimidation through yelling or threats, humiliation and ridicule. Nonverbal forms of abuse are ignoring the elderly person, isolating him or her from friends or other family members and activities;
- Caregiver Neglect or Abandonment: Elder neglect or failure to fulfill a caretaking obligation constitutes more than half of all reported cases of elder abuse. It can be intentional or unintentional, based on factors such as ignorance or denial that an elderly patient needs as much care as he or she does;
- Financial Exploitation: Financial exploitation involves the unauthorized use of an elderly person’s funds or property, either by a caregiver or the elder care facility itself. For example, an unscrupulous caregiver might misuse patient’s checks, credit card or bank accounts or trick the person into investing in a phony investment scheme; and
- Healthcare Fraud and Abuse: Examples of healthcare fraud and abuse include charging for healthcare which has not been provided, overcharging or double billing for services, getting kickbacks for referrals or for prescribing certain drugs, over or under medicating, recommending fraudulent remedies for illnesses, or Medicaid fraud. Please see our blog posts regarding Qui-Tam actions for healthcare fraud.
Signs And Symptoms Of Elder Abuse
Symptoms of elder abuse are often not recognized or taken seriously because they may appear to be signs of dementia or the elderly person’s frailty. Often caregivers may explain them away as nothing more than “signs of getting old”. That doesn’t mean that you should dismiss them because the caregiver says so. While one sign may not signal abuse, watch for a number of signs. Here are some general warning signals to look out for if you suspect elderly abuse:
- Frequent arguments between the caregiver and the elderly person;
- Drug overdose emergency or apparent failure to take medication regularly;
- Unexplained bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, or burns;
- Broken eyeglasses or frames;
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, unusual depression;
- Sudden changes in financial situation;
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss;
- Behavior on the part of the caretaker such as belittling and threats;
- Caregiver’s refusal to allow you to see elderly person alone;
- Unsuitable clothing or covering for the weather;
- Unsafe living conditions, such as no heat or running water; faulty electrical wiring, other fire hazards;
- Desertion of the elder at a public place;
- Significant withdrawals from the elder’s bank or investment accounts;
- Items or cash missing from the senior’s household;
- Financial activity the senior couldn’t have done, such as an ATM withdrawal when the account holder is bedridden;
- Evidence of overmedication; and
- Inadequate responses from caregiver to questions about care.
The most important thing is to be alert. If you notice changes in personality or behavior, you should start to question what is going on and contact us to aid you in your investigation.
Can A family Member File A Lawsuit Against A Nursing Home?
Yes, and there are a number of legal theories that a family member can use to support a lawsuit against a nursing home. For example, assault, personal injury, pain and suffering, mental anguish, neglect, failure to provide adequate care, breach of contract, fraud, financial irregularities, or failure to comply with state nursing home statutes.
Lawsuits can result from a wide variety of situations: physical violence, abuse, or neglect; emotional violence, abuse, or neglect; or financial abuses. If the nursing home resident is struck, beaten, pushed, restrained unnecessarily, over or under-medicated; left unattended; deprived of food or water; or otherwise physically mistreated or neglected, there may be grounds for a lawsuit. Emotional abuse can also give rise to lawsuits. For example, if the staff members are angry and yell at the resident or isolate, humiliate, or shame him or her.
Financial abuse, such as misappropriating funds, stealing from the resident, or overcharging can also be a basis for a lawsuit. The nursing home might be liable if it promised to provide accommodations or services it knew it could not provide or did not provide.
Nursing homes that mistreat residents can be liable not only for the amount of actual damages suffered by the resident, but for punitive damages as well. In fact, there have been jury verdicts against nursing homes awarding compensatory and punitive damages in the tens of millions of dollars.
What To Do If You Suspect Abuse
If you suspect elder abuse at a nursing home facility and/or hospital geriatric ward, you or a loved one might have a claim. As such, please contact us soon as possible to discuss your legal options. You will have a limited time to file a lawsuit, so the sooner you seek our advice the better.