What Are the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse?
1.3 million Americans currently live in nursing home facilities. Many of these elderly residents are unable to communicate ongoing health issues, due to their underlying comorbidities. Families of the resident should be vigilant in examining their loved one for signs of nursing home abuse and neglect. But what to look for?
Common Nursing Home Abuse Injuries
In most nursing home abuse lawsuits, we encounter at least one of the following injuries:
Bedsores (decubitus ulcers). These wounds commonly develop on a patient’s backside and/or heels due to unrelieved pressure. If a nursing home resident is unable to reposition their body in bed, the nurses must move and reposition the resident to relieve the pressure. Failure to do this is neglect and can result in bedsores. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has deemed pressure sores to be a “never event” in health care (that is, an adverse event that’s unambiguous (clearly identifiable and measurable), serious (resulting in death or significant disability) and usually preventable.
Falls. Nursing home falls occur frequently and can be lethal. Of the 1.6 million residents in U.S. nursing home facilities, approximately half fall annually. One in three of those who fall will do so two or more times in one year. For an elderly resident, a fall can be catastrophic. One in every 10 residents who falls has a serious related injury, and about 65,000 patients suffer a hip fracture each year from falls. Not all falls can be prevented, but it’s incumbent on the facility to assess fall risk and have a plan in place to prevent falls. Preventable facility falls are also “never events.”
Unexplained bruising and fractures. Bumps, bruises and fractures can indicate abuse and neglect in non-verbal residents, like those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. A serious fracture in a bedbound, non-ambulatory patient may indicate a physical assault or an attempt to conceal the dropping of the patient during a transfer. LTC (long term care) facilities need to investigate unexplained injuries in non-verbal or demented residents.
Medication errors. One of the largest profit centers for nursing homes is the in-house pharmacy. Residents are often required to fill prescriptions using the nursing home pharmacy in lieu of their preferred outside pharmacy. Unfortunately, the proper medication names and dosages aren’t always transferred along with the resident. For obvious reasons, medication errors can cause grave injury or wrongful death.
Sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is a nearly inconceivable, yet persistent type of assault in LTC facilities. The overwhelming majority of elder sexual abuse victims live in nursing homes (71 percent of victims reside in nursing homes). Eighty-one percent of the time, the perpetrator is the caregiver. A nursing home staff member must immediately report any complaint of sexual abuse made by a vulnerable resident, and the nursing home must investigate it.
Malnutrition and dehydration. Most nursing home residents require assistance with their activities of daily living, which include eating and drinking. Some residents’ conditions prevent them from verbalizing their need for food and water and tragically, these basic needs can be withheld. Resident dehydration and malnutrition represent the most widespread neglect injuries in LTC facilities. It’s estimated that approximately one third of U.S. nursing home residents are either malnourished or dehydrated at any given time. Malnutrition presents in patients with weight loss, dry lips, a reddened mouth, muscular problems, cognitive impairment and yellowing skin.
Wrongful death. If an LTC facility resident dies due to injuries from neglect or abuse, the decedent’s estate and survivors can bring a wrongful death claim. These claims are generally statutory in nature, and available damages vary by venue.
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