Nursing homes often provide the best of care where we put our faith in looking after our loved ones. But the question is whether they always provide the safe environments we expect? Disappointingly, no. Nursing home abuse is getting into an epidemic status in the United States these days.

What is considered nursing home abuse?

Nursing home abuse is when a resident of a nursing home suffers physical, psychological, or financial harm due to any negligence or intentional acts of the caregivers.

Statistics of Nursing Home Abuse in the US

  • As per National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), in 2050, the population aged 65 and over is projected to be 83.7 million.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that 27 million individuals will be in nursing homes, in-home treatment, or some form of long-term care service by 2050.
  • CDC also reports that 1.3 million people lived in nursing homes in the US in the year 2015.
  • Another report says, approximately 1 out of every 3 nursing homes in the United States earn citations for abuse.
  • Studies indicate that 24% of Americans die each year in a nursing home.
  • In 2013, the National Center for Victims of Violence (NCVC) discovered that almost 10,000 nursing home patients filed abuse complaints.

The detailed data is as follows:

  • 4% – Physical abuse
  • 1% – Resident-on-resident abuse (physical or sexual)
  • 4% – Psychological abuse
  • 3% – Gross neglect
  • 9% – Sexual abuse
  • 9% – Financial exploitation

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse may be presented in many forms. In some cases, it may be found overlapping too. Nursing home abuse need not always involve the caregiver. It can also be from another resident of the nursing home.

Let’s now have a look at the different types of nursing home abuse.

1. Physical Abuse:

Physical nursing home abuse refers to any act by the caregiver causing physical harm to the nursing home resident. The vulnerable group subjected to this type of abuse are elderly people with dementia, physical illness, and disabilities.

The most common form of physical abuse includes kicking, scratching, slapping, pinching, pushing, shaking, beating, etc. Physical abuse may also include acts like deprivation of food or water resulting in health issues to the resident.  In certain cases, physical nursing abuse can be so serious causing the death of the resident.

2. Psychological Abuse:

A psychological nursing home abuse describes any act like verbal or emotional abuse affecting the mental health of the resident. Commonly reported psychological abuse in nursing homes includes yelling, threatening, isolating, and humiliating. It is to be noted that psychological abuse indirectly affects the physical well-being of the resident.

3. Sexual Abuse:

Sexual abuse is another commonly reported abuse in nursing homes. Non-consensual sexual contact with a resident can be described as sexual abuse. Residents with mental illness or conditions like Alzheimer’s disease are easily targeted in sexual abuse.

4. Financial Abuse:

There are cases where the residents are abused by either the caregivers or the co-residents for their financial needs. It is called financial nursing home abuse. Stealing money or property, signature forging, forcing the resident to sign a will etc. comes under financial nursing home abuse.

What Causes Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse can include factors such as the caregivers’ mental health and the institution’s policies.

Some nursing homes might be understaffed or overcrowded with residents, placing caregivers under stress. As per the American Association for Justice, 90 % of nursing homes have inadequate staff to care for their residents. This may impose work pressure on the caregivers leading to physical or emotional abuse of the residents.

Poor corporate policies can lead to the hiring of caregivers with no previous experience or sufficient training. Nursing homes that are only interested in making a profit can neglect the residents’ well-being, which can lead to abuse.

Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

The following are the commonly observed Nursing home abuse signs which may be a result of any type of abuse.

  • Bedsores
  • Hair loss and tooth loss
  • Dehydration and malnutrition
  • Sedation
  • Falls and head injuries
  • Signs of emotional trauma
  • Behavioral changes
  • Fractures
  • Unexplained body injuries and infections
  • Elopement
  • Sudden death
  • Fear to speak in the presence of nursing home personnel

Consequences of Nursing Home Abuse

Residents may experience different consequences of abuse when they are victimized by nursing homes. They can be categorized as follows.

  1. Physical Consequences– This may include sleep deprivation, physical pain, infections, and susceptibility to illness leading to an increased need for medical care.
  2. Psychological Consequences– Psychological effects of nursing home abuse in residents may include depression, isolation, eating disorders, excessive fear, and distress.
  3. Financial Consequences– Financial consequences of nursing home abuse not only affect the financial status of the victim but also creates an impact on society. According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), at least $36.5 billion is spent each year for nursing home elder abuse-related lawsuits.

Nursing Home Abuse Law in the US

 Nursing home abuse policies in the United States differ from one state to the next. It is established by the state, local, and federal governments and ensures that the nursing facilities offer high-quality care to their residents. Nursing homes in the US can opt for either federal Medicare or Medicaid funding. To receive this funding, nursing homes should comply with federal nursing home regulations. However, State laws act independently in the regulations.

Legal definitions of abuse include the following

  • The intention of the offender to commit the harmful act
  • Resulting harm to the victim
  • Harm that is physical, psychological, sexual, or financial

Abuse of the resident can take the nursing home into the risk of investigation by the adult protective services, a civil lawsuit or even criminal charges.

Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit

Nursing home abuse can be reported to the local law enforcement agencies or Adult Protective Services (APS) agency. State attorney General’s offices may also prosecute nursing home allegations and file criminal or civil lawsuits if necessary.

To file a nursing home abuse lawsuit, the individual should consult a nursing home abuse Attorney. The plaintiff would either be the victim of abuse or his family members. Nursing home abuse Attorneys represent the plaintiffs to file the lawsuit against the defendant who would either be the caregiver or the nursing home administrator. The phases in a nursing home neglect lawsuit are as follows.

    1. Filing the lawsuit after initial evaluation:

The nursing home abuse lawyer would file the lawsuit with all the necessary information about the claimant’s injuries and the involvement of the caregiver/nursing home in the incident.

    1. Pretrial Investigation / Discovery process:

Both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s attorneys gather facts to justify their respective claims. During the pretrial investigation, relevant evidence is obtained such as the claimant’s medical records, witness statements, expert views, and so on.

    1. Settlement:

If the defendant is ready to pay the plaintiff, compensation for the abuse, then the lawsuit would move towards a settlement on mutual agreement. A study says, only 8% of the nursing home abuse cases reach the trial stage.

Compensation for nursing home abuse would cover:

  • Medical bills
  • Damages for pain and suffering
  • Other expenses as needed
  1. Trial:

If no settlement is reached outside of court, the case will go to trial. At this point, both the defendant and the complainant present their cases, along with the evidence they have gathered.

  1. Appeal:

If either party does not agree with the jury verdict, they may choose to appeal the decision in the appellate court.

To get a better understanding of how nursing home abuse law works in the US, let me take you to the types of nursing home abuse lawsuits.

Nursing home abuse lawsuits can be categorized into two.

1. Tort Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits:

This lawsuit is valid where nursing home neglect causes residents’ health conditions to slip below the norm. Tort lawsuit can further be classified in to

  • Negligence- where an unintentional behavior of the caregiver injures or harm the resident
  • Intentional tort- It is applicable when the abuse results from a deliberate intention of the caregiver to harm the resident.

2. Breach of Contract Lawsuits:

Any action that violates the agreement between a nursing home occupant, the employee and the institution is considered a breach of contract. A nursing home can be held liable if it is proved that the abuse indicates a breach of contract.

Civil vs Criminal Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits

A civil nursing home abuse lawsuit focuses on compensation, establishing that the nursing home is responsible for his damage. It typically applies to either a shortage of standard facilities in the nursing home or a violation of duty on the part of the caregiver or other staff.

Some states provide criminal penalties for nursing home abuses involving felonies and misdemeanors. In a criminal nursing home abuse lawsuit, the burden of both proof and punishment would be high.

Variables Influencing a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit

Certain factors affect the success probability and duration of a nursing home abuse lawsuit, both directly and indirectly.

1. Statute of limitations:

The statute of limitations is the period within which an individual has to file a nursing home abuse lawsuit. After this period, there is no scope to file a lawsuit.

2. Finding an expert:

Before filing a lawsuit, the Attorney would appoint a medical expert to review the claimant’s medical record. The expert would analyze whether or not medical negligence is involved. This procedure can be time-intensive at times, impacting the whole lawsuit.

This issue can be tackled when the process is offshored to medical record review companies which would result in an accurate medical record review in less time.

3. Pretrial Investigation:

This process depends on the number of defendants, the complexity of the case, and communication between the plaintiff and the defendant Attorneys.

4. The disbursement Process:

The financial disbursement process will be dictated by the complexity of the lawsuit, the number of claimants involved, and other considerations.

 Final Thoughts

 I hope you now have a clearer sense of the gravity of nursing home abuse in the United States. As you know, these litigations often involve individuals with pre-existing diseases and age-related medical problems. The defendant’s Attorney would claim that the injury or harm is related to the pre-existing condition of the claimant. This would impose a challenge on the plaintiff’s Attorney to deny it and establish that the harm was triggered by the caregivers’ incompetence. In this scenario, medical record summaries of the victims would significantly facilitate the settlement of the lawsuit. An expert Attorney who can provide supporting evidence from the medical chart can aid the victim in securing a better payout.