Articles Posted in Resident-on-Resident Abuse

Claims of Maryland nursing home abuse often focus on abuse by staff members—but abuse by fellow residents occurs as well. Residents may be charged and convicted of crimes in some cases, but the facility may be liable for its role in the abuse as well.

Residents in Maryland nursing homes deserve to be treated with dignity and respect and to live in a safe environment. This means that nursing home facilities must have proper policies and procedures in place and adequate staffing to reasonably protect residents. Although a facility cannot ensure the safety of every one of its residents, some incidents are avoidable if proper measures are taken. A facility may be liable, for example, if a staff member failed to do routine checks or failed to protect other residents from a known violent resident.

A study conducted by the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care found that almost twenty percent of residents in the study experienced resident-on-resident abuse. The study also found that resident-on-resident abuse often occurs and escalates specifically because staff members are absent. Residents involved in resident-on-resident abuse were more likely to be younger, less cognitively impaired, less physically impaired, display disturbing behaviors, live in a dementia special care unit, and white. The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center recommends adopting a person-centered approach to prevent resident-to-resident abuse incidents, by identifying and documenting incidents and developing individual strategies.

One form of Maryland nursing home abuse that has recently begun to get a significant amount of attention is resident-on-resident abuse. The physical and mental conditions of residents at the time they are admitted into a nursing home vary. Because of this, some residents are better able to care for themselves, and they may seem to need less attention or supervision. Of course, there are also many residents who are incapable of self-care and require the near-constant assistance of nursing home staff members.

It is in this environment that resident-on-resident abuse is common. In fact, some experts estimate that one in five nursing home residents are victims of resident-on-resident abuse. This figure may be an underestimate because many victims of nursing home abuse are unable to report what they have endured, or choose not to report their abuse due to embarrassment or out of fear of not being believed.

Nursing homes have a duty to provide for the safety of residents, including protecting them from a threat of harm from another resident. When resident-on-resident abuse is reported, it must be taken seriously by nursing home administration. The alleged offender should immediately be separated from other residents, and the nursing home should contact the police. However, too often, nursing home staff members attempt to handle these matters internally, perhaps because they are skeptical of the accusations or they do not want the allegations to be made public. In such instances, it is not uncommon for the offending resident to continue to engage in abusive behavior. Depending on the situation, nursing homes may be liable for a resident’s injuries, even if the facility reports the abuse promptly.

Maryland nursing home residents, like all nursing home residents, deserve to live in a safe place. Although elder rights groups report that there is insufficient research on resident-on-resident abuse in nursing homes, they have found it is prevalent and warrants societal concern. Indeed, a recent study by the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care found that around 20 percent of residents experienced resident-on-resident abuse. The study also found that the residents most likely to be involved in resident-on-resident abuse are often cognitively and physically impaired, and in many cases, they also have dementia.

In addition, elder abuse often goes unreported. According to the Office of Inspector General in the Department of Health and Human Services, over a quarter of serious cases of nursing home abuse are not reported to the police. This is true even though state and federal laws require that nursing home management report serious cases of abuse to the police.

Some believe that the rise in resident-on-resident abuse is due to an increase in nursing home residents suffering from dementia and the lack of staff equipped to handle those challenges. The Consumer Voice’s study found that resident-on-resident abuse often occurs as a single instance and then escalates because staff are not present to stop it.

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Over the past decade, instances of resident-on-resident abuse in nursing homes have greatly increased. One of the most common forms of unwelcome resident-on-resident contact is sexual abuse. When a resident suffers sexual abuse while at a nursing home facility, various legal issues may arise.

Determining Who Is Responsible in Cases of Resident-on-Resident Sexual Abuse

There are two very important issues that must be determined early in a personal injury lawsuit alleging resident-on-resident sexual abuse. The first is whether the abuse was permitted to occur based on a lack of supervision at the nursing home. If so, the nursing home may be responsible under the legal theory of negligence. Generally speaking, nursing homes have a duty to care for and protect residents from certain harms, sexual abuse included. When a nursing home fails to provide a resident with adequate protection, the nursing home may be liable as a result.

The second important issue that must be resolved is whether a valid arbitration agreement has been signed by the resident or a member of the resident’s family. In many cases, nursing homes will claim that any case arising out of the care they provided to a resident must be settled through arbitration. Most often, arbitration clauses – which waive a party’s right to use the court system and require the case to be submitted to an arbitration panel – are in the nursing home pre-admission contract.

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When most people hear the term “nursing home abuse,” images of a callous, bitter nursing home employee come to mind. However, over the past several years, a new kind of nursing home abuse has been on the rise:  resident-on-resident abuse.

Most nursing homes care for a large number of patients, each with different medical needs. While some residents suffer from dementia or severe physical limitations and require constant supervision and care, other residents are in better health and are able to maintain some level of independence. This creates a situation in which one resident may bully, harm, or take advantage of another resident. Indeed, recent studies show that 90% of those who commit nursing home abuse are known to the resident.

A Nursing Home’s Duty to Protect Residents

When a nursing home takes in a patient, the home assumes a duty to that resident as well as the resident’s loved ones. Of course, the nursing home is responsible to provide a certain level of care to the resident. However, a nursing home’s duty to its patients does not end there. Nursing homes must also act to affirmatively protect residents in certain situations.

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According to a recent news report, an 84-year-old nursing home resident will not face criminal charges after an 82-year-old woman has died following a violent beating inflicted by the man. The attack occurred on a morning in late August of this year, after the woman mistakenly wandered into the man’s bedroom in the dementia unit of a New York nursing facility. The assailant violently attacked the woman, who died after suffering a broken neck, broken ribs, a broken nose, and several facial fractures. The county attorney’s office declined to press charges against the man, finding that he suffered from dementia and lacked the mental capacity to stand trial for the crime.

Civil Liability for Violence Committed by Nursing Home Residents

Although the resident will not be charged for his role in the violent death of his fellow resident, the deceased woman’s family may be entitled to compensation for the loss of their loved one. The prosecutor’s decision not to press criminal charges against the perpetrator would not prevent a wrongful death claim from being brought against the man in civil court, although his mental state would still be relevant in a potential claim. In addition to the perpetrator, the nursing home facility and staff could face civil liability for the woman’s death through a nursing home abuse or neglect lawsuit.

Nursing homes have a responsibility to maintain a reasonably safe environment for their residents, which may include a duty to protect residents from acts of violence by other residents. Residents with psychological or mental health issues should be diagnosed and adequately supervised to protect the safety of themselves and other residents. Some residents may need assistance returning to their rooms. Although not every random act of violence may be preventable, nursing home attendants should be available to respond quickly in the event of any emergency or injury, whether accidental or intentional.

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It used to be that when the term “nursing home abuse” was mentioned, the mostly likely culprit engaging in the abuse was a staff member of the nursing home. However, according to a recent news report, that may be changing. Evidently, the Annals of Internal Medicine recently commissioned a study of 10 New York nursing homes to see the rates at which residents are engaging in abusive behaviors among themselves. The results were shocking.

According to the study, about 20% of all nursing home residents reported that they suffered some kind of abuse caused by another resident. Most of the abuse was verbal, consisting of threats, swearing, or belittling, but there was a significant amount of physical and sexual abuse that was found. In fact, according to the report, 5% of nursing home residents reported suffering physical abuse, and 0.6% reported being sexually abused by another resident.

The study notes that the lesser forms of abuse are precursors to the more serious types of abuse, and it is imperative that nursing home staff intervene before the pattern of abuse between two given patients escalates. The study also found that residents suffering from dementia or those who were placed in a facility with a high patient-to-staff ratio were more likely to be victimized by another resident.

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Nursing home neglect and abuse have always been a concern to families who are considering placing a loved one in a nursing home. Until the recent past, most of these concerns were focused on the staff members who were charged with caring for nursing home residents. However, more recently, there has been an increase in the instances of resident-on-resident abuse in nursing homes across the country, including here in Maryland.

Resident-On-Resident Abuse and Who Is Responsible

The recent trend of resident-on-resident abuse is certainly alarming, and it gives rise to the question of who can be held responsible when such abuse occurs. Often, the abusive resident may not have the mental faculties to completely understand what they are doing, and even if they do possess a wrongful intent, they often do not have the ability to make the victim whole again.

This concern has led some to look to others, most notably nursing home administration, for answers. Those who run a nursing home have a duty to ensure the safety of their residents in most situations. While there are some unforeseeable events that may not give rise to nursing home liability, courts have held that nursing home administration does have a duty to protect against resident-on-resident abuse. Thus, when a resident is abused by another resident, there may be a civil cause of action against the nursing home that failed to provide the necessary supervision over one or both of the parties involved.

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Earlier this month, a report was released by a team of researchers at Weil Cornell Medical Center in New York City, looking into the surge in resident-on-resident abuse in nursing homes. According to one news source that reported on the newly released study, abuse between nursing home residents is becoming more and more common, and it occasionally results in serious injury and even in death.

The study surveyed about 2,000 nursing home residents across 10 nursing homes in the New York area, looking for instances of inappropriate, hostile, or disruptive behavior. The following statistics were reported:

  • Roughly six percent of residents were involved in an altercation involving hitting, kicking, or biting;
  • Sixteen percent of residents experienced some form of yelling, screaming, or cursing;
  • About two percent experienced unwanted sexual contact or had another resident expose their genitals; and
  • Nearly 10 percent of residents reported having another resident invade their personal space.

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Earlier this month in a Washington courthouse, charges were filed against a nursing home based on allegations that the home’s employees failed to prevent the sexual abuse of a resident. According to one local news source, the lawsuit claims that the plaintiff’s sister was sexually abused by another resident, which led to substantial weight loss and ultimately a premature death.

Evidently, the plaintiff’s sister was a dementia patient in the nursing home, was bed-bound, and could barely speak. Another male resident engaged in sexual conduct with the woman on numerous occasions, and the nursing home staff allegedly did nothing to prevent it. Nor did they report the abuse to the woman’s family. In fact, one nursing supervisor allegedly told the State investigatory body that the male resident had a right to pleasure that could not be denied, “including sexual satisfaction and intimacy needs.”

Shortly after the abuse began, the woman started to lose weight quickly, and she passed away not long afterward. An investigation by the State of Washington into the nursing home’s practices resulted in a $6,000 fine being issued. The home was also required to rewrite nursing home policies and provide additional training to nurses. The plaintiffs claim that the home should be punished more harshly for the incompetence and negligence of its staff.

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