Maryland Nursing Home Lawyer Blog

One of the basic duties of a nursing home is that it cares for people who can no longer care for themselves. While some residents are in nursing homes because they can no longer physically manage their day-to-day routine, many others are in nursing homes due to a wide array of mental health issues and other diseases that affect the brain, such as Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia.

doll-1259137These residents are especially susceptible to all kinds of abuse, since they lack a lucid understanding of the events around them as well as an ability to explain to others what they are feeling. Sadly, this susceptibility to abuse is often taken advantage of by cruel or sadistic nursing home staff who torment the residents.

This kind of psychological abuse is troubling for the obvious reason that it is clearly a violation of the nursing home’s duty to protect and care for the resident. However, it is also alarming because abuse rarely stops at the psychological level. In other words, if an abusive nursing home employee is willing to engage in psychological abuse, there is little stopping them from engaging in physical or sexual abuse as well.

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While it is unimaginable to most people, sexual abuse in nursing homes is more than just a vague possibility. It’s a real threat in nursing homes across the country. With the advent of modern medicine, people are living longer lives. And with the cultural shift of both spouses working and thus being unable to care for an aging loved one, more and more people are ending up at nursing homes.

wheelchair-1430696Of course, any kind of abuse that occurs behind the walls of a nursing home is disturbing, whether it be emotional, psychological, physical, or sexual. However, sexual abuse is particularly upsetting. It may come as a surprise, however, that nursing home staff are not the only ones engaging in the abuse. With that said, the fact that the abuse does not occur at the hands of a staff member does not absolve the nursing home staff and its administration from liability if such abuse does occur. This is because nursing homes have an affirmative duty to reasonably protect their residents, even if the threat comes from another resident.

Resident-On-Resident Abuse in Nursing Homes

Earlier this week in Washington, one nursing home director lost his license for failing to recognize and react to sexual abuse that was occurring in his nursing home. According to one local news report, there were several instances of abuse that nursing home staff saw and reported to the higher ups, and nothing was done.

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While most of us would rather not think about it, the unfortunate reality is that nursing home abuse and neglect are two very real problems that plague the nursing home industry across the United States. While nursing homes and the employees that work there are required by law to treat those in their care with the utmost dignity and respect, the reality of what goes on behind closed doors often doesn’t match the ideal that the law imposes.

a-morning-at-the-hospital-1-1440095By almost every account, nursing home abuse and neglect figures are not accurately reflected by almost any study. This is because there is a gross lack of reporting when it comes to these problems. This is for several reasons, including:

  • A resident’s inability to effectively communicate what is happening to them, due to a medical condition;
  • A resident’s failure to tell loved ones what is happening to them because they fear for their own safety or are embarrassed to do so;
  • A resident’s complaints of abuse or neglect falling on unsympathetic or skeptical ears; and
  • A lack of hard, physical evidence documenting the abuse or neglect.

However, the fact remains that nursing home abuse occurs every day across the State of Maryland, and often with no one knowing about it besides the resident and the abusive employee.

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When someone places their loved one in a nursing home, they expect that the employees at the facility will put the health and safety of their loved one first. However, this is not always the case. Nursing home employees are often over-worked and end up working long hours without breaks. Nurses are human, and sometimes they snap, lashing out in an abusive manner at the very residents they are supposed to be caring for.

shredding-day-1192430To make matters worse, when this abuse does happen, the nursing home administration often acts to cover up any evidence of the alleged neglect or abuse in hopes of keeping the incident under the radar. Administration tries to cover up the evidence because if the authorities do find out, the home can be fined thousands of dollars. Additionally, if the loved ones of the resident affected by the abuse or neglect find out, they can file a civil suit for monetary damages against the nursing home employees and administration, potentially resulting in a substantial payout by the nursing home.

Proving a case against a nursing home employee or administration can be difficult enough, even without the home’s administration hiding or destroying evidence. This is because discovering competent and admissible evidence of abuse or neglect is often difficult. For example, residents often have few people to go to when reporting the abuse, and their claims may not always fall on listening ears. However, the reality is that nursing home abuse and neglect are very real problems.

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When most people hear the phrase “nursing home abuse,” images are often conjured of an elderly patient in a dark room being attended by a physically abusive nursing home employee. To be sure, this behavior does occur in nursing homes across Maryland, but that level of conduct far exceeds the lower boundaries of what is considered nursing home abuse under the law.

video-camera-1507516Nursing homes have a duty to care for and provide adequate care to those whom they accept into their care. When this duty is violated, nursing home management as well as the individual employee or employees engaging in the abuse may be held liable in a civil court of law.

Nursing home abuse can occur any time a nursing home employee violates the rights or dignities of a patient. While this certainly includes physical abuse, it extends far past it. For example, emotional abuse, financial abuse, psychological abuse, and invasion of a resident’s privacy can also be grounds for a nursing home abuse lawsuit.

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Earlier this month, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in a case that involved allegations of nursing home negligence that were filed after the applicable statute of limitations outlined in the Federal Tort Claims Act. In the case, Hawver v. United States, the plaintiff may be given the opportunity to show the court that equitable factors justified the late filing of the case.

like-sands-through-the-hourglass-1187568The Facts of the Case

Briefly, the relevant facts of Hawver v. United States are as follows. Hawver claimed that a federally run nursing facility was responsible for the death of her mother, based on the negligent care they provided while she was in the facility’s care. Hawver filed her case in federal district court, invoking the court’s subject matter jurisdiction. This is important because federal courts cannot hear every case between two parties. There must be a question of federal law, the case must involve a federal agency or employee, or the case must arise between parties from two different states and have a certain minimum amount in controversy. Here, the plaintiff was filing suit in federal court based on the fact that the nursing facility was federally qualified.

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Nursing homes are charged with caring for elderly loved ones when a family cannot take up the task. Most nursing homes, as well as the nurses and other people whom they employ, care deeply about the residents in their facility and will do whatever they can to ensure a safe and pleasant stay. However, nursing homes are businesses, and because of that there is often a tension between what is best for the resident and what is best for the bottom line. This is nowhere more evident that in the context of staffing.

samaritan-1246021Nursing homes are very labor-intensive to run. The very nature of the business is to care for people with varying needs and often substantial ones. While there are no laws governing staff-to-resident ratios, it is fair to assume that the lower the ratio, the less individual attention each resident is getting. In some cases, the ratio gets so low that there are not enough nurses to care for the patients in the home. It is under these circumstances that nursing home abuse or neglect is most likely to occur.

Nurses are human, and like all other humans they are capable of getting frustrated and upset, especially when they are overworked. Even a nurse with the best of intentions can lose her temper with a resident if she has no assistance and has been on her feet for the past 10 hours. It is for this reason that nursing home management, in addition to the individual nurses, need to be held liable when an injury does occur.

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When someone places a loved one in a nursing home, they do so because they cannot provide their loved one with the care needed to make their life as complete as possible. Indeed, the expectation is that the employees of the nursing home will be able to do a better job than family members because they are trained professionals who are experienced in caring for the elderly. However, the reality is that sometimes nursing home employees act out of frustration or anger and hurt those they are charged with caring for.

old-woman-1435247When a nursing home resident is harmed at the hands of a nurse or other employee of a nursing home, several options are available for the abused resident and their family. If the resident is competent to bring claims against the facility themselves, they can do so. In the event that the resident has passed away, a family member of the victim may have standing to file a wrongful death action against the allegedly responsible parties.

One Family Files Suit Against a Nursing Home, Seeking $4 Million

Earlier this month, a family in Virginia filed suit against the nursing home that was charged with caring for their loved one. According to one local news report, the staff members who were caring for the elderly incapacitated woman pulled the bed sheets out from underneath her, causing her to fall to the floor.

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Earlier this month in New Hampshire, the Department of Public Health fined four local nursing homes for failing to comply with various rules and regulations relating to patient safety. According to one local news source, the allegations ranged in seriousness from minor infractions to serious allegations of abuse.

old-man-1622499For example, one nursing home was found to have leaking sinks, dirty lifts, pain peeling off the wall, broken bed rails, and water dripping from the ceiling. Inspectors also noted an incident in which a resident was found to have a fairly serious abrasion that inspectors believe was caused by the home’s use of a lift without the proper padding. In response to that resident’s request for help, one nursing home employee failed to respond for one hour and 15 minutes. That employee was subsequently fired for neglecting the resident.

Another example of a lapse in care occurred at another nursing home and involved a verbally abusive resident who was not properly monitored. Evidently, the resident stated that “I can hit anyone I want to” and punched another resident. The aggressive resident was taken to the emergency room for evaluation, and the doctor told the staff that they should check on the man every 15 minutes. However, citing the unavailability of staff, the nursing home failed to comply with this recommendation.

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Earlier this week, a New Jersey news source published an article documenting an investigative report that looked into allegations of abuse and neglect in area nursing homes. The results were published in a recent article.

wheelchair-1178247The article documents several upsetting instances of abuse and neglect, as well as a theme of frustration and lack of care and consideration on the part of management. One woman interviewed in the article, a former nurse, claimed that she was unofficially forced out after she blew the whistle on other employees who were engaging in abusive and neglectful conduct.

One example she relayed was an 85-year-old resident who had been at the nursing home for four years. The nurse reported seeing another nurse at the facility tie the elderly woman to a wheelchair to keep her from moving. She was able to capture an image and provided that to reporters, who confronted several nursing home employees, asking how often this happens. Not surprisingly, everyone denied that such conduct ever occurs and refused to speak to anyone after they were shown an image proving it happened at the facility.

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