As parents and loved ones grow older, nursing homes often become the most viable option to provide the care they need. Putting a loved one in a nursing home is a difficult decision that’s affected by location, availability, affordability, and quality of care and housing. A lot of effort, time, emotional turmoil and stress can be spent in making the decision. But even after making the decision, the worry isn’t necessarily over.
Nursing home neglect and abuse is a valid concern in North Carolina and the rest of the country. There are over 1,200 adult care homes in North Carolina, ranging from 2-6 residents to more than 100 residents. The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program provides advocacy for North Carolina residents in long term care facilities. In their 2017 annual report, they revealed they received 4,350 complaints and assisted 2,031 complainants.
What is Nursing Home Negligence?
Most patients reside in nursing homes because they require a substantial amount of care concerning mental health or physical health. Nursing homes are supposed to provide the specialized care each patient needs to keep them from harm.
Legally, negligence is defined as a failure to behave with the level of care of a reasonable person. Essentially, a person who is found negligent did not act with common sense. There are four elements to establish a case of negligence:
- The existence of a legal duty that the defendant owed to the plaintiff (nursing home staff to the abused or neglected)
- Defendant’s breach of that duty (nursing home staff didn’t do their job)
- Plaintiff’s sufferance of an injury (patient was physically or emotionally injured)
- Proof that defendant’s breach caused the injury, typically defined through proximate cause (nursing home staff caused the injury due to their action or inaction)
How Prevalent is Abuse of Elderly Adults?
According to a study of elderly abuse, more than half of the sample of nursing home staff reported abuse of elderly residents in the previous year. According to the 2017 NORS Data, 84 of the complaints Ombudsman received in North Carolina involved abuse, gross neglect, or exploitation.
North Carolina Breakdown of Ombudsman Complaints in 2017:
- 23% physical abuse
- 4% sexual abuse
- 33% verbal/psychological abuse
- 11% financial exploitation
- 26% gross neglect
- 4% resident to resident physical or sexual abuse
Most Common Types of Nursing Home Negligence Claims
As you can see from the breakdown above, the most common types of nursing home negligence claims involve physical abuse, emotional abuse, and gross neglect.
Physical abuse is the use of physical force that inflicts pain, injury, impairment, or other bodily harm to the victim. These charges may include battery or assault. There are usually physical signs of abuse that include bruising, cuts, sores, bite marks, burns, and other unexplainable wounds. These types of wounds are often found on arms, backs, or hands as a result of the victim’s defensive actions (i.e., raising their arms to block a blow, turning their backs against a blow, or using hands to fight off abuser).
If your loved one has wounds that the staff can’t reasonably explain, or your loved one isn’t willing to explain, it is likely a sign of abuse. Even if the staff or the victim give reasonable explanations, frequent recurrence of suspicious wounds should be a cause for concern. Many victims are threatened with more violence or shamed into hiding the abuse, so you cannot always take their word for it. Other indications of physical abuse include weight loss and notable changes in behavior.
Emotional abuse makes up one-third of nursing home abuse complaints in North Carolina. Also known as elder psychological abuse, signs of emotional abuse are much harder to identify since they are internalized. Emotional abuse can be verbal or nonverbal. Typical attacks from nursing staff include intimidation, humiliation, ridicule, or terrorizing of elderly residents. Emotional abuse can also include isolation from others or completely ignoring the individual.
Most signs of elder psychological abuse are low self-esteem, change in sleep patterns (less or more than usual), lack of eye contact, changes in mood, and other symptoms that also typically align with depression. Many victims of emotional abuse lose their appetites or grow abnormally quiet or resigned.
Gross neglect is more in regards to a breach of duty than intent to harm, but it results in harm to the resident anyway. Gross neglect is often related to emotional or physical abuse. If any member of the nursing staff is repeatedly isolating, ignoring, or berating your loved one, they are guilty of emotional neglect. If the nursing staff isn’t providing for your loved one’s hygiene or basic needs, they are guilty of physical neglect. Medical neglect involves improper medical treatment regarding treatments, medications, illness or injury prevention, and more. Bedsores are a common example of nursing staff not preventing injury through proper expected care.
North Carolina Nursing Home Bill of Rights
North Carolina’s Bill of Rights for Nursing Home Residents outlines the rights every resident has in nursing home and elderly care facilities. The list of 16 different rights protects a resident’s health, dignity, privacy, finances, and more. If any of these rights are violated, the nursing home resident can exercise their right to find justice and compensation for their injuries, whether physical, emotional, or financial.
What Can I Do About Nursing Home Negligence?
If you are worried that your loved one is being mistreated, neglected, or abused, you should act immediately. Many times, people discover the truth based on gut instinct rather than initial evidence. If you have any suspicions, you may wish to connect your loved one with a therapist or psychologist who is trained to identify abuse. Based on your own analysis or the psychologist’s, if your loved one may be a victim, try to secure them a spot in a different nursing home as quickly as possible. Then, document any medical issues or signs of abuse or neglect. It is also a good idea to document the general conditions of the nursing home and other residents.
Nursing home neglect and abuse are serious offenses that may land the abuser in jail or with substantial fines. The nursing home itself may be responsible for damages since they failed to ensure their staff provided proper care of your loved one.
Fisher Stark, P.A., the personal injury attorneys in Asheville NC, have experience with nursing home neglect and abuse cases and would gladly discuss your possible case during a free consultation. Don’t let nursing home negligence and abuse go unpunished, call today.