There is an inherent power balance between residents and staff in nursing homes. Staff members are in charge of feeding, treating, and caring for residents, often making residents fully or largely reliant on staff members. That imbalance can result in a hesitation to report or take action when abuses are occurring. Additionally, many residents may have trouble directly or clearly communicating their experiences. As a result, it often falls to visitors and loved ones to advocate for them when things go wrong. It is extremely important to take a resident seriously if they disclose or report instances of nursing home neglect or abuse.
A recent survey by the Long Term Care Community Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, examined 100 complaints by nursing home residents across the country. One of the biggest issues, the report found, was that residents rely so much on staff members, that any perceived issues could be met with retaliation, big or small. For many residents, staff members provide daily basic care, including assistance using the restroom, showering, and getting changed. The power imbalance is extreme, making individuals in nursing homes uniquely vulnerable to abuse. The survey even documented instances of staff members threatening family members of residents if they reported issues to the state or ombudsman association. Residents interviewed for the survey told investigators “they were afraid to voice concerns ‘because it backfires on you,’ as ‘staff became aggressive.’”
Compounding many of the existing issues is the lack of funding for nursing care facilities. The survey acknowledges that many nursing home staff members are “underpaid and undervalued.” The report suggests staff education as one of the methods to combat abuse within nursing homes. The survey stated: “What we already knew but learned again in horrific detail during COVID was that care in nursing homes is unacceptable . . . let’s understand the phenomenon. Let’s name it, let’s teach, how to prevent it, how to anticipate the way it feels to families and older people and the staff.”