Despite federal and state attempts to regulate care, nursing home abuse remains an important issue. The Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee found that roughly 30 percent of U.S. nursing homes were cited for abuse instances. From January 1999 to January 2001, more than 5,000 facilities were cited for nearly 9,000 instances of abuse.
Families of nursing home residents should be aware of the state of their loved ones while under the care of a nursing facility. In many cases, a resident’s family is the only impetus for investigating nursing home abuse. If nursing home abuse is suspected, the resident should be removed from the facility in order to avoid potential future danger. Additionally, state officials and authorities should be notified immediately to conduct official investigations.
Determining Nursing Home Abuse
When investigating nursing home abuse, the investigating party must first attempt to determine if legitimate nursing home abuse has occurred. Nursing home abuse can take the form of intentional physical harm, sexual assault, verbal or emotional harassment, and financial or material theft. Neglect is also a form of nursing home abuse. Observation of red flags and warning signs can play a critical role in investigating nursing home abuse.
Signs of intentional nursing home abuse include:
- Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, scars, sprains, and broken bones
- The need for emergency medical treatment
- Unreasonable seclusion or physical restraint
- Unsanitary conditions in the facility or the resident’s room
- Patient intimidation or humiliation
- Missing cash, checks, or personal belongings
- Reluctance to speak while in the presence of staff members
- Unexplained physical or emotional withdrawal
Neglected nursing home residents may suffer:
- Malnutrition and dehydration
- Inadequate medical care
- Preventable accidents
- Untreated bedsores
- Inadequate hygiene and sanitation
Steps for Investigating Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home abuse is a serious accusation with potentially devastating results for the victim. An individual should begin investigating nursing home abuse as soon as suspicion arises. If a victim states that an incident has taken place, investigating nursing home abuse should start with verifying the victim’s story. If possible, the investigating individual should attempt to check with other residents who seem coherent. Medical records, photos, recent prescriptions, and recent injury reports should be collected immediately.
If the investigating individual feels that the victim is in danger, the victim should be removed from the facility as soon as possible. After the victim is safely out of the facility, the investigating individual should contact appropriate state agencies and authorities to report the incident and file a claim. In certain states, such as California, elder abuse must be reported as soon as it is discovered. The district attorney may then file charges against the facility if the individual’s evidence is sufficient.
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse
Guidelines and regulations for reporting nursing home abuse are typically maintained at the state level. Due to this organization, these guidelines may vary from state to state. If an individual prefers to remain anonymous, toll-free hotlines can be used to file a report anonymously.
Individuals can obtain anonymous hotline phone numbers and report-filing instructions by contacting the state’s Department of Health and Human Services or Department of Public Health. Many states have a Department of Health and Human Services division called Adult Protective Services or Elder Protective Services.
State Investigation of Abuse Claims
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) implement mandatory reporting requirements for any allegation of mistreatment, abuse, or neglect. These allegations include unexplained injuries and misappropriation of a resident’s property. Incidents must be reported to the facility administrator, the state survey and certification agency, and any other officials required by each state’s laws.
The nursing home facility must also provide evidence that the claim was thoroughly investigated. Investigation results must then be reported to the facility administrator, state survey and certification agency, and other required officials within five working days of the incident. If the investigation confirms the abuse allegation, corrective action must be taken immediately.
Filing a Lawsuit
Families and other representatives of abused nursing home residents may wish to file a lawsuit against the facility. In this case, an experienced nursing home abuse attorney should be obtained. A nursing home abuse attorney can help collect evidence, review state laws, and move forward with filing and conducting a nursing home abuse lawsuit.
“Clarification of Nursing Home Reporting Requirements for Alleged Violations of Mistreatment, Neglect, and Abuse, Including Injuries of Unknown Source, and Misappropriation of Resident Property.” Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Department of Health and Human Services, 16 Dec 2004. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.cms.gov/Medicare/Provider-Enrollment-and-Certification/SurveyCertificationGenInfo/downloads/SCLetter05-09.pdf>.
“Nursing Homes: About Nursing Home Inspections.”Medicare.gov. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 3 Aug 2012. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.medicare.gov/nursing/aboutinspections.asp>.
“Statistics/Data.” National Center on Elder Abuse. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 9 Sep 2013. <http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Library/Data/index.asp&xgt>.