Articles Posted in Resident Safety

While nursing homes are charged with the duty to care for each of their many residents, the reality is that not all nursing homes take that duty to heart. In fact, almost all nursing homes are for-profit enterprises that, at the end of the day, must account for the costs of labor, supplies, and other expenses. Such an influence may incentivize nursing home management to cut corners in relation to the quality of care they provide the residents in their care.

This may be nowhere more true than in the case of intellectually disabled nursing home residents, who for one reason or another suffer from nursing home abuse and neglect at higher rates than non-intellectually disabled residents. Indeed, according to one news article reporting on the plight of intellectually disabled nursing home residents, several states are currently facing lawsuits based on the inadequate services provided to these individuals.

Evidently, a federal judge in San Antonio, Texas recently granted class-action status to a group of nearly 4,000 intellectually disabled nursing home residents across the state. The allegations in that case are that the State of Texas has done little if anything to secure a safe place for these individuals, often placing them in homes that are patently unequipped to handle the residents’ needs.

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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.

These 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 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.

By 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 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.

Nursing 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, a study was released by the New England Journal of Medicine analyzing the frequency with which nursing home residents have suffered from abuse at the hands of their caretakers. The result was that one in 10 older Americans suffer abuse of one kind or another. According to a national news source that reported on the study, the actual statistics may be significantly higher than those that were reported because of reporting problems inherent in the nursing home context.

The report indicates that the “young old” are the most likely to be abused, since they are the ones who are most often living with a spouse or adult child:  the two groups who are found to engage in abuse most frequently. However, the report also notes that nursing home abuse is much more prevalent than many realize or are willing to acknowledge.

Physical Abuse in Nursing Homes

Perhaps one reason why the instances of in-home abuse are so high is the fact that the abuse statistics include financial abuse. Removing financial abuse from the equation, the ratio of abuse occurring in a loved one’s home and in a nursing home drastically decreases. This is because the most common type of abuse in nursing homes is physical abuse.

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Earlier this week, researchers in Michigan released their discoveries in a recent study seeking out the common causes of nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect. According to the study, the working conditions for the employees of the nursing home have a big effect on the quality of care that residents are provided.

The study concludes that worker safety and happiness are directly related to resident safety and happiness. In fact, the article relies on the premise that, for the most part, individual nursing home employees are not bad people, but they are sometimes left in frustrating situations or those in which it is nearly impossible to provide the proper level of care. Chief among the problems that can lead to an abusive or neglectful situation is understaffing. In fact, it is believed that many of the most skilled and dedicated nurses leave the private nursing home sector due to frustrations related to understaffing.

Another factor, according to the study, is the quality and level of training that the employees receive prior to being allowed to work on their own. The more training that employees receive prior to being let out on their own, the lower the instances of abuse or neglect.

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When a nursing home accepts a patient, they take on certain responsibilities. Indeed, according to the Nursing Home Reform Law that went into effect in 1987, nursing homes are required to provide patients with several rights, many of which may not be known to the general public. Of course, the duties that come to mind first are providing adequate medical care and keeping the resident reasonably safe from abuse. However, nursing homes are required to provide residents additional rights. One recent news article explains a few more of nursing home residents’ rights.

The Rights of Nursing Home Residents

  • Right to Make Complaints:  Nursing home residents should never feel as though they will be “punished” for making a complaint about the quality of care or about a specific staff member.
  • Right to Dignity and Respect:  Nursing home residents retain their dignity upon admission to a nursing home. This means that staff should respect a resident’s wishes regarding their own schedule, meal plan, and activities.

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With the advent of the internet, it has become easier than ever to review our experiences with the various companies and institutions we do business with on a day-to-day basis. In fact, some suggest that the higher prevalence of peer reviews in an industry, the better the overall quality across the industry, since business owners know they will likely be held accountable by their unsatisfied customers. Nursing homes, apparently, are no exception.

The federal government has been ranking nursing homes for years. However, despite the availability of the information, many people fail to check nursing-home rankings before checking in, or sending a loved one to stay there. A recent article by Newsweek explains that nursing home rankings may be a fairly accurate way of assessing the level of care provided at a facility.

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Earlier this month in Ilion, New York, the top management and owners of a nursing home facility were criminally charged for their role in an alleged cover-up involving serious instances of alleged patient abuse. According to one local news source, the charges all stem from alleged errors that occurred back in May 2013.

The first incident involved a “serious medical error” that went unnoticed and untreated for several days. The second incident involved a resident who suffers from dementia engaging in unlawful sexual contact with another nursing home resident in the home’s cafeteria.

After the Attorney General’s office was notified of the alleged lapses in care, it initiated an investigation into the home. During the investigation, it is alleged that one of the part-owners of the company was eavesdropping on a conversation between investigators and a nursing home employee. It is also alleged that other management-level employees destroyed digital evidence in violation of the law.

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A recent online article by the Huffington Post explains that elder abuse is everyone’s problem because the people who are directly affected by it don’t have the means or ability to create any meaningful reform of the system that perpetuates the abuse. Throughout the article, several interesting and startling points are made about nursing-home abuse. Perhaps most startling is that fact that, although rare elsewhere, sexual abuse of the elderly is most common at nursing home facilities.

Some one in ten elderly people are suspected to have at one time suffered some kind of abuse. The most common type of abuse is financial in nature, and it is most commonly committed by a loved one who is close to the victim. However, sexual abuse of elders is a frightening occurrence that may not be as rare as we think—or hope.

Due to several factors, those who are inclined to prey on the helpless are often drawn toward the elderly. One reason is that many elderly victims have no one they can report the abuse to, assuming they are even physically well enough to communicate with others at all. Another reason is that caring for the elderly can be an especially stressful task. Job frustration undoubtedly plays a role in many cases of elder abuse. None of these reasons, however, are a valid excuse for the kinds of abuse that occur each day in nursing homes across Maryland.

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