As life expectancy continues to rise, the percentage of older Americans in the overall population is becoming more prevalent. The United States Census Bureau reports that by 2060, one in four Americans will be age 65 or older, an increase from around 15 percent today. More older Americans means that more families have loved ones living in nursing homes. When you have a parent, grandparent or close friend who resides in a nursing home, you hope the care they’re getting is respectful and enjoyable. Unfortunately, recent investigations into nursing home conditions show abuse exists and might happen to someone you care about.
A 2017 report by NPR found there were 134 cases of severe abuse in 2015 and 2016, which resulted in visits to emergency rooms. These cases occurred across 33 states, and most victims experienced sexual assault. What’s even scarier is that federal investigators found 25 percent of serious abuse cases are never reported to police. ABC reports that more than one-third of nursing homes in the U.S. have documented cases of abuse, including physical, sexual and verbal abuse. Considering how many cases are hidden or never reported, the numbers are likely to be much higher.
If you learn from a loved one that they have experienced abuse, or you suspect it’s happening because of what you have seen or heard, you may have a nursing home abuse and neglect case on your hands. Consulting with a personal injury nursing home attorney in Birmingham can give you more insight, but here is what to be aware of.
Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Besides physical ailments and displays of abuse such as bruises or cuts, there are other conditions within a nursing home that may indicate neglect and abuse are occurring. Sometimes abuse isn’t overtly purposeful — neglect happens simply because homes are overcrowded and understaffed. When you visit a loved one at a nursing home, look out for these warning signs:
- Unsanitary conditions, including spills that have not been mopped up
- Unrepaired furnishings
- Suspicious medical treatment, such as a sore that has not healed properly or is getting worse
- Unusual change in behavior or mood, such as unexpected depression
- Suspicious weight loss, which could indicate malnutrition or loss of appetite because of abuse
Unfortunately, because nursing home residents are under the care of others, they are often unable to defend themselves as abuse is occurring or may feel too scared to say anything to a loved one, for fear the abuse may worsen. As a loved one, your vigilance in observing conditions and talking with caregivers can help identify abuse and give the resident an opportunity to be quickly removed from the home.
It’s also important to pay attention to the conditions of other residents besides your loved one. One of their friends might make a comment that causes suspicion in you, or you might notice a change in behavior or physical condition in someone else that makes you suspect abuse. In any case, it is better to trust your gut and investigate than to let it continue happening. Removing a victim from an abusive environment is vital for their protection and should be documented in case of a future claim.
Why You Might Consider Contacting an Attorney Because of Nursing Home Abuse
Knowing the grim fact that much nursing home abuse goes unreported, there may be many more cases of abuse at the facility and by caregivers that have happened and will continue to happen without someone stepping forward. If you suspect or have discovered abuse at a facility, consulting with an attorney may lead you to discover that a claim is substantive enough to be brought forth. You may also want to contact police to alert them to any suspicion. An investigation by CNN revealed that when loved ones of victims report the incident to nursing homes alone, the nursing homes are usually slow to respond in order to protect their business.
Be sure to gather as much evidence as you can, in case a claim is pursued. Document any conversations you have with the person who has been abused, by writing down what you talked about after each conversation. You can also record a conversation with the victim’s permission to ensure accuracy. Also, be sure to take photos or videos of any physical evidence of abuse, such as a personal injury.
Working with an attorney on an abuse case can help to bring to light past incidents and identify any alarming patterns. Most importantly, you may be able to help prevent others who are in a similar situation to your loved one from being abused, too.