A recent government inspection discovered that nursing home abuse is happening to residents and many abuse cases are not being reported to authorities. An audit found more than 1 in 4 cases of possible sexual and physical abuse against nursing home patients were unreported to police, revealing that Medicare is failing to enforce federal law that requires nursing homes to report incidents within 24 hours of it happening. In cases where an injury occurs, nursing homes are supposed to report the incident immediately, and failing to report abuse should result in a $300,000 fine. Investigators inspected cases from 2015-2016 across 33 states and found 134 cases where hospital emergency room records hinted that there might be sexual or physical abuse happening to a nursing home resident, but that incident was then not reported by the nursing home. States with the highest number of nursing home incidents overall were Illinois, Michigan, Texas, and California. The investigators reported all cases that they discovered to law enforcement. This is discouraging news for the more than 1.4 million people living in nursing homes throughout the U.S. After reading this news you are probably wondering, what is nursing home abuse and how would I know if it’s happening to a loved one? Most importantly, how can I stop it?
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
The best way to stop nursing home abuse is to first understand what is considered abuse and what the symptoms are. So, what is nursing home abuse? Abuse comes in many different forms, and there is a fine line between abuse and neglect. Abuse is typically used to define harm that is intentional, while neglect can be unintentional. For example, if there aren’t enough workers to care for residents or staff is underpaid, neglect can occur unintentionally. Abuse is when a staff member seeks out to intentionally harm a resident. Regardless, both are equally damaging and must be reported.
Types of Neglect
Emotionally, residents can be neglected by being continually ignored by nursing home staff or separated from the rest of the residents. They may also be getting yelled at by nursing home staff. There is also personal hygiene neglect, which is when staff members are not helping the resident with laundry, cleaning, teeth brushing, and other daily hygiene practices. If a nursing home resident’s basic needs are not being met – they should have a clean, safe environment with reasonable food and water – this is also considered neglect. Lastly, there is medical neglect, where the nursing home staff isn’t doing enough to take care of residents who have infections, bed sores or disease management for things like diabetes.
Sometimes neglect may be hard to recognize, but there are different signs or symptoms you can keep an eye out for that could indicate your loved one is not being cared for properly. Some signs of neglect include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Bedsores or pressure ulcers
- Injuries from falling
- Socially withdrawn or sudden behavior changes
- Obvious decline in personal hygiene
- Lack of social interaction between staff or residents
Types of Abuse
Intentional harm against the elderly in nursing homes can happen in many different forms. Different types of abuse that can occur include physical, emotional, sexual, and financial. Some signs or indicators of abuse are things like bruising or grip marks on body parts, unexplained injuries, unreasonably fearful or suspicious behavior, unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding and suspicious financial activity.
There are also signs a nursing home might be more prone to neglect or abuse, such as poor lighting, slippery floors, unsafe furniture, and indications that they are understaffed.
How to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse
Now that we have covered the question of what is nursing home abuse, it’s time to delve into how to prevent it from happening to someone that you love. Here are some tips to make sure your loved one is not being abused in a nursing home.
Stay in touch
Constant communication is critical once you put someone in a nursing home. If you are calling once a week to chat with them, and perhaps even making a separate call to nursing home staff, workers will be more likely to pay close attention to the care of your loved one. The old saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” is very important when it comes to senior care.
Encourage your loved one to engage in social activities, whether it be crafts, church, or playing games. This way, they’re making friends and staying active. If they’re normally social and happy, you’ll be sure to notice a change in this behavior. If they’re always solemn and alone, it may be harder to detect neglect or abuse.
Stop by to visit often, or you will not be able to see signs of neglect or abuse. If you’re there to see your loved one frequently, you will notice any changes in behavior or physical appearance and be able to act quickly to get the situation resolved.
Nursing Home Abuse Resources
There are resources for reporting nursing home abuse, but the process could differ depending on what state you live in:
- Call the Eldercare Locator during weekdays to find out information specific to your state: 1-800-677-1116
- Contact the National Center on Elder Abuse by the Administration on Aging to find the proper authorities for reporting nursing home abuse in your state.
- Talk to your loved one’s doctor, social worker, or patient advocate about the suspected abuse and use them to help guide you through the process.
- Talk to your loved one about elder abuse. Although it can be a difficult conversation, it’s important that they know you care and are there for them.