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Nursing Home Abuse- A Rising Threat in the United States

by | Jul 31, 2023 | Medical Malpractice


Nursing homes often provide the best of care where we put our faith in looking after our loved ones. But the question is do 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.

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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.

For instance, a 94-year-old man passed away after drinking a cleaning solution at a senior care home. On August 23, he drank an all-purpose cleaning solution, which was considered negligence of the care home. Contra Costa County prosecutors have charged a 54-year-old San Pablo woman with one count of felony elder abuse.

Nursing Home Abuse Statistics in the US

How common is nursing home abuse? These nursing home abuse facts will startle everyone.

  • 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 statistic on nursing home abuse reports that approximately 1 out of every 3 nursing homes in the United States earn citations for abuse.
  • Nursing home abuse stats 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

Forms of abuse in nursing homes may involve so many factors and differ in each case. 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 abuse in nursing homes.

1. Physical Abuse:

Physical abuse in nursing homes 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 for the resident.  In certain cases, physical nursing abuse can be so serious, causing the death of the resident.

2. Psychological Abuse:

Psychological nursing home abuse describes any act like verbal or emotional abuse affecting the mental health of the resident. Commonly reported emotional 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.

5. Spiritual Abuse

When someone manipulates, dominates, or controls another person based on that person’s spiritual convictions, that is referred to as spiritual (or religious) violence.

6. Cultural Abuse

When a person suffers harm as a result of cultural, religious, or traditional practices, it is known as cultural abuse.

7. Negligence

When someone owes a person care, or aid yet fails to do so, this is known as neglect. it will include neglect on the part of the person in charge of taking care of the individual.

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What Causes Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse causes 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.

Recent nursing home abuse cases point out that 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. The consequences of mistreatment in nursing homes 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 on lawsuits related to elder abuse in nursing homes.

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 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 of the regulations.

Legal definitions of abuse include the following.

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

Abuse of the resident can take the nursing home 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 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 in filing 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.

2. 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.

3. Settlement:

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

Compensation for nursing home abuse would cover the following:

  • Medical bills
  • Damages for pain and suffering
  • Other expenses as needed

4. 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.

5. Appeal:

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

Has your loved one encountered nursing home abuse? Collate the medical records and do a thorough medical record review to identify the evidence for the abuse.

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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 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 lawsuits can further be classified into

  • Negligence- where an unintentional behavior of the caregiver injures or harms 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 its 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 Malpractice 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’s 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.

Nursing Home Negligence Lawsuit Against LaSalle Veterans’ Home

27 nursing home negligence lawsuits were filed in March 2022 against the State of Illinois, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and its LaSalle veterans’ facility. The law firm named  Levin & Perconti filed the individual claims owing to the deaths of 26 veterans in November 2020 as a result of COVID-19 or coronavirus-related disorders.

Twenty-six of the twenty-seven veterans named in the lawsuits died. The surviving claimant stated that he did not receive sufficient care and treatment when he was infected with COVID-19.

The relatives of the victims believe that the incident could have been avoided and point to the facility’s and state’s negligence. The LaSalle veterans home lawsuit names the state of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, LaSalle Veterans Home, and many other administrative, medical, and nursing employees at the facility as defendants.

The Illinois Department of Public Health conducted a site visit on Nov. 13, 2020, and discovered inappropriate planning, insufficient staff training, and failure to follow COVID-19 guidelines.

Before filing the claims, the attorneys attempted to settle with the state, but negotiations fell down, resulting in lawsuits. In this nursing home abuse case study, the state is set to pay $60 million in compensation for the veterans’ unfortunate deaths.

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.

LezDo can assist attorneys by offering errorless medical record reviews to boost your claim.

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