Articles Posted in Nursing Home Negligence

There are many reasons that Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect might go unnoticed for a significant period of time. Often, the victims themselves are vulnerable or even disabled, making it hard for them to report or explain what is happening to them. In some cases, they may not even be able to understand it themselves. Sometimes, their loved ones visiting might suspect that something is wrong, but with some nursing homes limiting and restricting visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic loved ones may be unable to check-in, and abuse and neglect may continue to fly under the radar. Precisely because this abuse and neglect can fly under the radar for so long, it can be shocking and heartbreaking once family members do discover it. Family members of an abused nursing home resident may find themselves wondering—what do I do now?

For example, take a recent account of a nursing home where multiple residents were found neglected or otherwise harmed. According to a news article, one of the incidents happened in March of 2020. A resident in the home was found to have a bruised face, with a huge gash on her forehead and a lump “the size of a golf ball,” according to her daughter. Police were called to the home to investigate and were concerned about possible abuse happening in the facility. A subsequent investigation found that between 2019 and 2020 there were 272 calls to 911 from the home, with a range of concerning incidents. For example, firefighters once found an injured resident alone lying on the floor and asking for help. When they asked why no one was helping, the woman in charge laughed. In another instance, a patient’s ventilator was not working correctly. Firefighters who responded found that none of the electrical outlets were working in the room. These are just some of the concerning instances that can happen in Maryland nursing homes and sometimes go unnoticed by authorities or loved ones.

When residents’ families discover this abuse or neglect, they often wonder what to do next to protect their loved ones, stop the harm, and hold the nursing home accountable. In the case of the nursing home above, police were called in to investigate. While calling the police can be an important step to take in these circumstances, it is important to remember that criminal charges, while they can hold the nursing home accountable for their harm, do little to actually help those most harmed by the facility’s actions. That’s why many families decide to also file a personal injury lawsuit. These lawsuits have the goal of helping those injured. While they cannot undo the damage that has been done, they can ensure that the victim and their family are given the financial compensation they deserve for their pain and suffering, their medical bills, and other related expenses.

Establishing causation in a Maryland nursing home case can be difficult, particularly because residents are often sick when they enter the home. With residents that were already sick, it can be difficult to prove that the nursing home’s neglect or abuse caused the resident’s injuries or death or accelerated them. Additionally, residents also may be unable to testify because they lack competency or have already passed.

A plaintiff in a nursing home negligence case in Maryland must prove that the nursing home’s negligent act or failure to act was both a cause-in-fact of the resident’s injuries and a legally cognizable cause. Proving the cause-in-fact means showing that but-for the nursing home’s negligent conduct, the resident’s injuries would not have resulted. In cases where more than one factor may have caused the resident’s injuries or death, Maryland courts use the substantial factor test. Under this test, a court will consider whether the nursing home’s conduct was a substantial factor causing the plaintiff’s injuries.

Proving that the defendant’s conduct was a legally cognizable cause means demonstrating that the defendant’s conduct was sufficiently related to the injuries that the defendant should be held liable. Courts may consider whether the resulting injuries were a foreseeable consequence of the defendant’s conduct and whether holding the defendant liable would be fair under the circumstances. A plaintiff must prove causation (and other elements of the claim) under the preponderance of the evidence standard, which requires showing that it is more probable than not that the defendant’s negligent act caused the plaintiff’s injuries. It is insufficient that it is a mere possibility that the defendant’s conduct caused the resident’s injuries.

After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many families were prevented from visiting their loved ones living in Maryland nursing homes. Visits often serve as a time when families can spend time with their loved ones, and also observe their loved one’s condition in-person. Some advocates claim that there has been a surge in reports of neglect among nursing home residents. Federal data reflects that almost 30 percent of nursing homes report staff shortages now across the United States. Nineteen percent of nursing homes in Maryland report a shortage of nurses and/or aides.

Federal regulations established through the creation of Medicare and Medicaid allow federal oversight of many nursing homes. Even before the pandemic, in surveys conducted from January 2019 through March 2020, 39% of facilities had incidents with suspected or alleged reports of abuse, neglect, or misappropriation of property. Yet, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) actually suspended survey activities last March except in some circumstances. More recent guidance allows for survey activities to resume if the state has progressed in its reopening plan or at the state’s discretion. Nursing homes have a responsibility to care for their residents, keep residents safe from harm, and prevent abuse and neglect. Claims can be filed against facilities in cases where nursing homes or staff members have abused or neglected a resident.

Local Group Calls for Reform of Nursing Homes

It’s hard to believe that Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect occurs. When individuals place their families in a nursing home, they expect that the home and the staff will take care of them, look after them, and keep them safe. Families place loved ones in a facility to be cared for because their aging family member can no longer care for themselves. That is one of the reasons the reality of Maryland nursing home abuse and neglect is so tragic, and it can be difficult for individuals to wrap their minds around.

A recent tragic example of nursing home abuse was reported last month, concerning a 91-year-old disabled woman. According to a local news report, the incident occurred late at night and into the early morning, when one staff member put the resident on the toilet inside of her apartment at 8:20 PM. The staff member instructed another caregiver to put the resident to bed once she was finished. But the caregiver never did. Instead, the resident was left on the toilet. She was not found until more than six hours had passed, around 2:45 AM, at which point she was on the floor. The whole ordeal was captured on video by a camera that her daughter had placed in her room. In the video, the woman could be heard moaning, crying, and repeatedly saying, “help me.” To add insult to injury, the two employees were caught on video surveillance cameras in a dining room, taking selfies for over an hour, according to an arrest report.

In addition, the resident’s daughter told investigators that this was not the first time her mother was left on the floor of her apartment. Once before, her mother had been left for five hours—a concerning pattern.

Nursing home residents may feel as though they have lost the ability to make decisions for themselves and that they have no rights when they enter a facility. This may be particularly true during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many nursing homes have limited the movement of residents and while many facilities struggle to meet resident needs. However, all Maryland nursing home residents have rights and legal protections, even during a pandemic.

Maryland’s Office of Health Care Quality monitors the quality of care in the state’s health care facilities. Under Maryland law, suspected abuse of assisted living residents must be reported to the Office of Health Care Quality. Reports of abuse can be made at 877-402-8219. Maryland’s Department of Health Long Term Care Unit investigates complaints of abuse and assists with the prosecution of abusers.

Under the Code of Maryland Regulation 10.07.09.08, Maryland nursing home residents are afforded some of the following basic rights.

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Although there has been significant attention given to the risk and prevalence of COVID-19 in nursing homes throughout the pandemic, the pandemic may be the cause other detrimental circumstances suffered by Maryland nursing home residents. According to one news source, advocates say that workers in nursing homes that are overburdened because of the pandemic have not been able to properly care for residents and that many are suffering as a result. Advocates say that there has been a surge of reports of neglect, including residents being left in dirty diapers until their skin peeled off and others with bedsores that cut to the bone. In addition, some residents’ mental health has significantly declined because of their prolonged isolation, which some believed led to their death. One expert estimated that for every two COVID-19 victims in nursing homes, another died prematurely due to other causes.

The numbers suggest that other residents who were lucky enough not to contract COVID-19, were also impacted—as staff attended to infected residents or because staff members were absent because they were infected themselves. A 75-year-old man became so malnourished and dehydrated that his weight dropped to 98 pounds. There were signs of an untreated urinary infection, poor hygiene, and that he was not getting the help he needed to eat. His son claims that the nursing home abandoned his father. An 83-year-old woman in another nursing home died from dehydration, according to her daughter. As COVID-19 spread throughout her facility, while she did not contract COVID-19 herself, staff members failed to ensure she was drinking enough fluids. Federal data reveals that almost 1 in 4 nursing homes report staff shortages now in 20 states.

The Rights of Maryland Nursing Home Residents

A Maryland nursing home resident has the right to be free from abuse and neglect and live in a safe facility. A Maryland nursing home claim can be filed in cases where nursing homes or their staff have abused or neglected a resident. Some potential signs of abuse and neglect are bedsores, unexplained injuries, insufficient funds, and fear of certain persons. Signs of neglect may include poor personal hygiene, lack of mobility, unexplained injuries, unsanitary living conditions and inadequate security, physical symptoms from lack of nutrition, and psychological issues, including anger, resentment, and depression.

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Abuse and neglect can, unfortunately, run rampant in Maryland nursing homes, putting residents in danger of serious injuries, illness, or even death. Oftentimes, incidents of abuse and neglect may go unnoticed or unreported, and residents or families of residents may have no idea of the extent of the problem. If, for example, 20 residents are all being abused or neglected in subtle ways not recognized by their families, family members may think their loved ones are in a safe facility and well taken care of when in reality they are not. Even if individual family members realize that their loved one is being harmed, they may assume that it is an isolated incident, or chalk it up to an accident. This is one of the key reasons that nursing home abuse and neglect in Maryland nursing homes can go on for so long and cause so much harm.

According to a recent news report, a group of about 15 people gathered outside a nursing home decided to speak out against the alleged abuse and neglect that their loved ones suffered during their time at the facility. The group believes that the situation is a crisis. For example, one woman’s father claims he was punched by a nursing home staff member. His family also found multiple bruises going up and down his body, which suggested that he was carelessly slung into a wheelchair. In addition, family members believe that residents are not being fed properly. One woman told reporters that her father lost almost 50 pounds, and that she believed “they are not feeding these people. They are starving them.” Another woman reports that her 76-year-old mother, who uses a wheelchair, has had three major falls in just seven months, including one where she broke her femur.

As explained above, it can be difficult for families to uncover nursing home abuse and neglect. But when they uncover these tragic and alarming instances, state law allows them to hold the nursing home accountable through a Maryland personal injury lawsuit. These lawsuits can be incredibly valuable for victims of abuse and neglect and for their families. If successful, they can result in large monetary amounts awarded to the plaintiffs to cover the harm that was caused, including for medical expenses, pain and suffering, or even funeral and burial costs if the resident dies.

Many Maryland families will one day make the decision to place a loved one into a nursing home, if they have not already. As the population ages, nursing homes are becoming more and more necessary for individuals who can no longer care for themselves and need assistance in their daily activities. While many residents may have pleasant experiences in their nursing homes, the tragic fact is that nursing home abuse and neglect are still common occurrences in Maryland and nationwide. In fact, one survey of nursing home residents showed that up to 44% of them had been abused at some point, and almost 95% had witnessed someone else be neglected. Despite its prevalence, this abuse and neglect might sometimes fly under the radar, especially when the resident victims are ill, confused, and unable to report it themselves.

Thus, unfortunately, the onus may be on family members to identify abuse or neglect in nursing homes. In some situations, the signs will be subtle, or easily written off as something else. Still, family members should, when visiting their loved ones in Maryland nursing homes, pay close attention to some “red flags” that may indicate abuse or neglect.

Some of the signs are situational—what are the living conditions like? Unsanitary conditions in the residence may be a sign of general neglect. Other signs have to do with resident behavior. Does the resident act oddly when staff members are around? Do they have sudden unusual behaviors, such as a fear of being touched or extreme irritability? Lastly, the physical condition of the resident can shed some light on the situation. Unexplained bruises, cuts, or other injuries should definitely raise concern, as should poor hygiene, sudden weight loss, falls, fractures, or infections.

When Maryland families move a loved one into a Maryland nursing home, they are entrusting the home and the staff to take care of their loved one, to keep them safe, healthy, and comfortable. Tragically, however, nursing home neglect is a significant problem in nursing homes across the country, and Maryland is no exception.

Nursing home neglect can take many forms. Perhaps staff members fail to check up on a sick resident every hour, as they are supposed to, and as a result, the resident suffers alone with no one realizing. Neglect can also be medical neglect—failing to take medical concerns seriously, or administer medication on time. Sometimes neglect can simply be leaving the resident alone when they are in dangerous circumstances.

For a tragic example of neglect, take a recent nursing home death where a 90-year-old woman was found dead outside her nursing home one morning. According to a local news article covering the incident, the resident allegedly got into an argument with a staff member at the nursing home one night and walked outside to get some space. The next morning, she was found dead on a bench on the property. Temperatures that night dropped to around 26 degrees, and it is suspected that the resident froze to death. The resident’s family was not even contacted by the nursing home—they found out of the death only through the local coroner’s office.

When someone is unable to care for themselves, they will often end up staying in some sort of residential institution, such as a nursing home or a rehabilitation center. These facilities are supposed to care for individuals and make their lives easier. Maryland law imposes a duty on these facilities to care for their residents, and if residents suffer abuse or neglect, such as neglecting medical needs or causing psychological harm, they can hold the institution liable in a civil negligence suit.

One of the most common types of lawsuits filed against a nursing home is a medical malpractice claim, particularly for failing to transport a patient to the hospital when they clearly needed to be treated by a professional. In a recent opinion, a state supreme court considered one of these cases, affirming a jury verdict awarding over $2.2 million dollars to the plaintiff.

According to the court’s written opinion, the seventy-six-year-old plaintiff began experiencing significant knee pain in her right knee, causing her to undergo surgery in early 2014. To recover from the surgery, the plaintiff was transported to a rehabilitation center. While in the center, the plaintiff continued to experience excruciating pain and then began showing signs of confusion in mid-March of 2014. The notes taken by nursing assistants caring for her indicated her confusion, which got worse throughout the night, an elevated heart rate, massive bruising on her leg, and that her right foot curled inward and appeared to be limp. According to the notes, the plaintiff told the nursing assistants that she was in the worst pain of her life, asking them to shoot her to end her misery.

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