A Not-So-Silent Epidemic: Nursing Home Abuse
It’s every family’s worst nightmare: they entrust their loved one’s care to a nursing home, and their loved one is ignored and mistreated. That’s exactly what happened to a family in Georgia when their 89-year-old father, grandfather, and World War II veteran was captured on video being laughed at when he called for help at his northeast Atlanta nursing home. The man died as nurses failed to take life-saving measures before paramedics arrived (Fox42).
It’s enough to make your blood boil.
Let’s face it—nursing homes are garnering such a bad reputation that most families are scared to entrust their loved ones to them. However, many families can’t provide the necessary around-the-clock care at home. While not every case is as offensive as the one above, the high occurrence of abuse and neglect in United States nursing homes needs to be dealt with.
How Common Really Is Nursing Home Abuse?
It’s a lot more common than we’d all like to think. Over the years, varying studies have shown that up to one-third of nursing home residents have experienced abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that the prevalence of elder abuse, including physical, psychological, verbal, and sexual abuse, is consistently at least 10%. Data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies show that reports of elder abuse in nursing homes are increasing.
This number is high, and it becomes even more concerning when you learn that nursing home abuse is underreported. Victims are either scared to report, don’t know how or to whom to report, or are not in the right state of mind to understand or communicate the abuse. The New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study found that for every case known to programs and agencies, 24 more went unreported.
Is This a Problem in Illinois, Too?
As much as we’d like to say that Illinois is an exception to this horrific trend, we can’t. Recently, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner checked himself into a state-run veterans’ home in central Illinois where 13 veterans died over three years due to a deadly Legionnaires’ outbreak. For the governor, the condition of these state-run homes is one of the most daunting crises his administration faces.
And government representatives like Governor Rauner (especially Governor Rauner) aren’t free of criticism when it comes to the nursing home abuse issue, either. Here is a taste from Ryan Smith’s Chicago Reader article regarding Rauner: “The accusations that you let [private equity firm] GTCR play vampire to 200 nursing homes around the country—plundering them and causing care to deteriorate and residents to die—that was just your opponents playing politics, right?”
Governor Rauner’s questionable motivation isn’t the only example of a government roadblock to preventing nursing home abuse. In December 2017, the Trump administration eased nursing home fines, meaning that regulators will be discouraged from levying fines in some situations, even when violations have resulted in a resident’s death. This policy just might hurt regulators’ ability to enforce nursing home regulations and prevent abuse across the country.
What Can You Do?
Despite all of this negativity, it’s important to remember that nursing home patients still have a very important advocate—you. Watching out for common dangers that nursing home residents face is the first step in protecting them, so when you venture into a nursing home, look for:
- Lack of safety systems: Nursing homes should come equipped with safety systems including help or alert buttons, security, and possibly camera/video surveillance. Beds and bathrooms should have help buttons or pull strings so that residents can receive prompt attention when necessary. (Many devastating falls occur in bathrooms.) Security and video surveillance systems ensure that residents do not wander off, and that their care is being properly administered. When someone’s watching, people tend to behave better.
- Facility dangers: Sometimes, not maintaining basic infrastructure of a nursing home facility can result in danger to its residents. Poor lighting in living areas, obstructed walkways, chairs without armrests, and carpets and floor coverings in poor condition all make it more likely for residents to injure themselves.
- Medical errors: When there is one nurse managing many medications for many residents, mistakes can and will occur. A top-quality facility should have a systematic procedure in place for administering medication with little to no margin of error. Nursing home staff should also take the risk of infection seriously by washing their hands regularly and monitoring common sources of infection, like pressure sores and contagious disease outbreaks. Cleaning residents’ wounds (and bedrooms) is also vital.
- Abuse: Warning signs of abuse in a nursing home actually begin before your loved one moves in. When choosing a facility, do your research by checking with the Illinois state agencies in charge of nursing homes, as well as news stories and consumer reviews that list complaints. Once your loved one is inside the nursing home, more obvious signs of abuse are bruising or bleeding, a sudden change in weight, poor hygiene, or stained bedding. Subtle signs of abuse can involve unresponsiveness, physical or emotional withdrawal, changes in personal items (like a will), or unauthorized financial transactions.
You are your loved one’s best advocate, and often, you’re their only one. It’s important to stay vigilant, so contact the Illinois Department of Public Health’s toll-free hotline at 1-800-252-4343 if you suspect abuse. In all likelihood, your suspicions are there for a reason. And that facility has to pay.
If you believe your loved one has been abused while under the care of a nursing home, contact an experienced Belleville nursing home attorney who can help you build a civil case. Your loved one and family need justice, and we intend to work with you to get it in a court of law. John Hipskind and Brady McAninch know how emotional and complicated these cases can be, and will take as long as you need to explain your rights and options. For a free consultation, call us at (618) 641-9189.