Articles Posted in Resident Safety

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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Earlier this month in Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, a young man faced criminal charges for the alleged abuse of a nursing home resident back in October of last year. According to one local news report, the young man was seen holding the door shut while an elderly patient was trying to get out of her room.

Evidently, the young man was also seen dragging the victim by her arms and wrists. According to court documents, the woman had the bruises to prove such abuse occurred.

The alleged abuser’s defense attorney claims that his client, who is 24 years old, was only listening to older, more experienced employees at the time and should not be held criminally responsible for the event. However, the prosecution has subpoenaed the video tape that supposedly caught the entire interaction on film. The videotape, prosecutors claim, clearly shows that he is not merely a loyal employee listening to supervisors, but was engaging in the intentional abuse of the resident.

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Earlier this month in the Bronx, New York, a 77-year-old man died after he was involved in a fight with a nursing aide in a local nursing home. According to a report by one local news source, the two got involved in an intense fight that eventually required witnesses to physically separate the two.

Evidently, the fight broke out when the resident wanted to get out of bed but the aide wasn’t allowing him to do so. At some point during the fracas, the nursing home resident fell on a broken table and was impaled by a piece of metal. He was rushed to a nearby hospital, but he passed away from his injuries just a few hours later.

The nurse—who had been employed with the nursing home for 14 years—told police and reporters that the resident attacked her first. However, that has yet to be verified. For her involvement in the death of the resident, the aide has been charged with criminally negligent homicide, felony assault, and endangering the welfare of an adult. She was released on bail after pleading not guilty to all charges.

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Nursing home abuse is a serious problem across the United States. However, due to the fact that many instances of abuse go unreported, keeping track of the exact number of abused residents is something that is easier said than done.

A recent study released by the Gerontological Society of America suggests that the number of abused nursing home residents may be higher than ever expected, affecting as high as one in five residents. According to the report, the abuse is not only being committed by overworked nursing home employees, but also by fellow residents.

The report suggests that the higher-than-expected rate of abuse is due at least in part to resident-on-resident abuse. This is not to diminish the contribution of employee abuse, since that is still a large part of the problem.

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