Articles Posted in Nursing Home Abuse

With the holidays fully upon us, many families are making plans to gather to celebrate the season. For those of us with loved ones in nursing homes, it also is likely you are planning a visit for the holidays. These visits are important both for family bonding and catching up, but also as an opportunity to ensure that our seniors are remaining safe, well taken care of, and looked after by the staff in nursing homes.

Unfortunately, even during a joyous and cheery holiday period, nursing home abuse continues to be a major issue—and Maryland residents are no stranger to these challenges. Regardless of the season, nursing home abuse affects thousands of families in each year. With as many as five million seniors affected by elder abuse every year, it is crucial that holiday visits are rich in family time, but also in ensuring that your loved ones are not experiencing any type of abuse at the hands of other residents, family members, or nursing home staff.

Being proactive during nursing home visits can sometimes be challenging, especially if you do not know what exactly to look for. It is crucial to understand who is at risk and who the common perpetrators of abuse are.

Under Maryland, law nurses may be liable for medical malpractice if they fail to do what a reasonable nurse would do in a similarly situated circumstance, and a patient suffers harm as a result of that negligence. Many people think of medical malpractice claims in the context of a physician error; however, nursing is a critical part of a patient’s care, and deviance from appropriate care can have disastrous and deadly consequences. In most cases, these claims would fall under the nurses’ medical insurance coverage, the physician’s insurance, or the hospital’s medical malpractice coverage.

There are many different errors or a combination of mistakes that can result in a patient’s injuries. However, the leading causes involve medication errors and failure to monitor. While a physician holds the primary responsibility for prescribing a medication, nurses must ensure that they properly administer medications. This is critically important in hospital settings where nurses often use a dispensing cabinet to retrieve the medication. While these cabinets have many safeguards, the nature of a busy hospital often leads to nurses bypassing some of these protections. In these cases, nurses may run the risk of retrieving the wrong medication or dosage. Administering the wrong medication, too much medication, or the failure to administer medication can have deadly consequences on vulnerable patients. Furthermore, nurses may be liable if they fail to assess, monitor, and communicate a patient’s medical condition. Appropriate documentation and communication to the health team are critical to a patient’s well-being.

While the vast majority of nursing mistakes are because of negligence or accidents, some cases involve recklessness or the intent to cause harm. The New York Times recently reported that a nurse was convicted of capital murder for injecting air into four patients recovering from surgery. According to prosecutors, the nurse harmed at least 11 patients by engaging in this dangerous conduct; two of the patients later died. In support of their case, prosecutors presented telephone recordings where the nurse told his wife that he injected the air to prolong the stay of the patients so that he could accrue over time. However, he explained that he did not intend for the patients to die. In addition to criminal charges, the nurse and hospital may face civil charges from the families who received negligent and reckless treatment under his care.

When we send our loved ones to a nursing home, we expect them to be given the attention and quality care they deserve. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, however, many nursing homes have had to shut their doors to visitors as elderly residents have presented as high-risk for catching the virus, leaving abuse and neglect often concealed behind closed doors. As a result of outbreaks and quarantines, many facilities also became short-staffed—and many elderly residents suffered as a result.

According to a recent news report, a nursing home was fined $27,739 after elderly residents were neglected following staffing shortages. Based on a report released by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the nursing home left residents with bedsores in their waste for up to eight hours at a time. In addition, the nursing home failed to protect residents from emotional and physical harm, abuse, and mental anguish. With more than 100 cases of COVID-19—including 37 staffers—reported at the nursing home during an outbreak earlier this year, the facility became even more short-staffed than ever before, with no registered nurses or supervising staff available to keep an eye on residents. At one point, there was only one certified nursing assistant per 53 residents, which prevented vital sign monitoring every few hours for significantly ill residents.

Unfortunately, Maryland is no stranger to similar elder abuse and neglect and staffing challenges in its nursing homes. In addition, many elderly Maryland nursing home residents have been subject to different kinds of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse.

With each passing year, more states are enacting laws that allow for the installation of cameras in nursing homes and other similar long-term care facilities. After all, sending our loved ones to nursing homes is never an easy endeavor. When we put our loved one’s care in the hands of strangers, it can often be challenging to feel at ease when abuse or neglect could be taking place behind closed doors. To proponents of allowing cameras in nursing home facilities, allowing cameras ensures increased accountability and safety from abuse and neglect for our loved ones.

According to a recent news report, other states are continuing to consider enacting laws that would allow cameras to be placed in their loved ones’ rooms in nursing homes. Proponents argue that such laws could go a long way in building a record and substantiating claims of abuse or neglect, instead of relying on staff who may fear repercussions as a result of reporting. Cameras could also be beneficial for nursing home staff to refute false claims. Although cameras will likely not solve all existing problems for elderly residents, proponents argue it could be a step in the right direction to increase transparency, accountability, and safety in these long-term care facilities.

In light of COVID-19, many nursing homes have had to close their doors to visitors because of public health and social distancing protocols. Because elderly residents of nursing homes remain a highly at-risk group in the midst of the global pandemic, many suspect that the ongoing pandemic increased the frequency of abuse or neglect taking place behind closed doors as in-person visits became restricted or limited.

For older individuals living with dementia, taking antipsychotic drugs nearly doubles their chance of death from heart problems, infections, and other serious ailments. But for years, nursing homes have used these drugs to control their patients who have dementia. Because of the increased risks to patients treated with antipsychotic medications, the government requires nursing homes to report the number of residents who are taking antipsychotics. However, the government does not keep a public record of residents who are prescribed antipsychotics if they are living with schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, or Hungtington’s disease. As a result, the New York Times reports that some doctors at nursing homes are diagnosing residents with one of these three diseases and then prescribing these patients with antipsychotics in order to avoid the requirement that they include these patients in their reported number of antipsychotic drug use. Nursing homes engaged in this practice have the goal of making their facility look more appealing to the public. Because of this practice, it has become harder to get an accurate portrayal of the rate of antipsychotic drug use on residents in nursing homes

If a nursing home has a high rate of antipsychotic drug use, the government may give the facility a lower “quality of resident care” rating, which in turn would have negative financial consequences for the nursing home. The rating system was designed by Medicare to help patients and families evaluate various facilities. Because antipsychotics have been approved for treating patients with schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome, or Huntington’s disease, antipsychotic prescriptions in these instances are not included in a facility’s public tracking. As a result, some nursing home facilities have used this as a loophole to hide the true number of residents who are on antipsychotic medications. According to Medicare data, since 2012 the number of residents diagnosed with schizophrenia has increased 70 percent.

Medicare’s website reports that less than 15 percent of nursing home residents are on antipsychotics, but because of the loophole, this number does not accurately include patients who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is suspected that some understaffed nursing homes are using antipsychotic drugs to more easily subdue patients so that these facilities do not have to hire additional staff.

For years, policymakers have known about the pervasive presence and impact of nursing home abuse in America. Recently, a bipartisan federal investigation revealed that lacking care for seniors has been disproportionately clustered within less than five percent of the nation’s nursing home facilities.

According to a recent article, poor nursing home care has been clustered among facilities listed under the Special Focus Facility (SFF) program. Facilities listed under the SFF program include the country’s worst-performing institutions, which “substantially fail” to meet basic care standards required by the federal government. Some commentators have noted that SFF nursing homes are considered “repeat offenders” who have a “pattern of neglecting and harming vulnerable residents.” Until recently, landing on the SFF list was shameful—but without proper enforcement or rehabilitation mechanisms in place, many facilities have not been held accountable.

To combat the issue, however, policymakers are stepping up to the plate. Legislative action from Congress could improve and expand quality care in nursing homes not just in Maryland but across the country. A new bill known as the Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2021 proposes to expand the list of monitored facilities, increase resources for facilities that are underperforming, and establish an independent Advisory Council to inform federal agencies how to provide the best care possible and evaluate nursing home facilities.

Placing a loved one in a Maryland nursing home is not an easy decision. However, it is a choice that thousands of Maryland families must make each year. While most nursing homes truly care about the health and wellbeing of residents, that simply isn’t always the case.

According to a recent news report, a state health department report reveals that one nursing home engaged in repeated physical and verbal abuse of residents. Evidently, the nursing home is believed to have abused at least five residents. One instance cited in the report is based on the facility’s failure to provide medication to an elderly resident. Another incident documents the facility’s failure to follow up on allegations of neglect and abuse, allowing the employee suspected of wrongdoing to remain on the job.

Nursing homes not only have a duty to ensure residents are free from abuse, but also to continuously investigate all claims of wrongdoing. For example, if a staff member is alleged to have neglected or assaulted a resident, nursing home management must investigate the matter. Similarly, if one resident acts aggressively towards other residents, management must take affirmative steps to protect other residents.

The abuse and neglect of older adults and vulnerable individuals in nursing homes is a growing concern for many families whose loved ones require medical care at these facilities. While some types of abuse may be evident to outsiders, Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect goes undiscovered in many situations. In these cases, the victims may suffer long-term abuse resulting in serious consequences such as death.

Maryland has certain mandatory reporting laws in place that require medical providers, police officers, and human service workers to report suspected cases of elder abuse. In cases where the reporter is a staff member of a hospital or public health facility, they must report the situation to the organization’s head. Although the law requires mandatory reporting, others who suspect abuse should also report their concerns. Despite the laws, many people fail to report abuse for fear of retaliation or retribution.

In addition to physical abuse, older adults and vulnerable individuals are more likely to face exploitation and neglect in these facilities. Further, older adults who reside in these institutions may turn to self-neglect and self-harm after experiencing this type of abuse. Staff and family members should look for signs of abuse when interacting with nursing home residents, especially on residents who cannot communicate effectively.

According to recent statistics from the National Institutes of Health, sepsis and septic shock claimed more lives than lung cancer, breast cancer, and heart attacks. Sepsis tends to affect older adults, especially those who are experiencing ulcers and active infections. While some cases of sepsis are unavoidable, many results from Maryland nursing home abuse or negligence.

Sepsis poses a significant threat to nursing home residents, as many residents suffer from the comorbidities associated with this medical condition. This life-threatening condition occurs when the body is fighting off a fungal, bacterial, or viral infection. The body responds by releasing chemicals into the bloodstream. While this natural mechanism can successfully fight off infections, it can also cause vulnerable individuals to experience a sudden chemical imbalance. This imbalance can result in sepsis or septic shock. If medical providers fail to treat sepsis immediately, the condition can cause permanent organ damage and death.

While anyone can experience sepsis, nursing home residents often carry risk factors associated with fatal sepsis. The highest risk individuals include older adults, pregnant women, and infants. Further, those with weakened immune systems, chronic health conditions, and open wounds and sores are at an increased risk of developing sepsis. Older adults, especially those receiving care at a nursing home, often have more than one of these risk factors. In addition, situational factors such as pneumonia, bladder infections, blood infections, intensive care patients, and nursing home residents on antibiotics are often at risk for sepsis.

Making the decision to send your loved ones to a nursing home can often be an incredibly challenging process. Beyond finding the right place, there’s also the fear that they won’t be treated well—or worse, that they could experience abuse or neglect. During the pandemic, when many of us have been separated or unable to visit our loved ones in nursing homes because of health concerns, our worries are only amplified. Thus, when abuse and neglect of our seniors takes place, those who are responsible can be held accountable through a personal injury lawsuit.

According to a recent news report, a jarring case of elder abuse is raising awareness for the frequency of potential neglect taking place during the pandemic. After a local elderly woman fell in her home and broke her femur in late 2020, she was transferred to a nursing facility. Her son, who was unable to visit her for some time because of COVID-19 restrictions, said that his mother was “in deplorable condition” when he finally saw her. In the two months that she was at the facility, she was abused, lost weight, and developed a multitude of health problems. The woman’s tongue was black, she had missing teeth, and her toes were orange. Her bedding, her son recalled, was soiled and still wet. Local authorities report that the incident is an active police investigation.

To truly play a proactive role in understanding, preventing, and addressing elder abuse and neglect, knowing common signs or clues of abuse and neglect is crucial. Abuse can take various forms, including physical abuse, physical neglect, psychological abuse, or financial neglect and exploitation.

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