Reporting Suspected Nursing Home AbuseMay 7, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP
Nursing home abuse, though despicable, is hardly uncommon. Although laws vary by state, most states do have laws—which include criminal penalties—in place to protect senior citizens from elder abuse; nursing homes are not exempt from these laws.
Unfortunately, nursing home abuse tends to be underreported because individual homes do not take elder abuse seriously and residents fear embarrassment, injury, even incapacitation for speaking up. As with any abuse, the only way to prevent more instances is to stop it immediately as soon as abuse is suspected.
Thoroughly investigate any nursing home being considered. Undervalued, underpaid, and untrained employees tend to render more abuse. Ask about and watch for high employee turnover rates. Employees who are not properly trained or paid may not be concerned with the residents in their charge and even less concerned about challenging authority if they suspect abuse. In many cases, employees who have been charged with multiple incidents of abuse do not receive punishment and remain employed at the nursing home.
If someone is in life-threatening danger, call 911 immediately. If danger is not immediate, but abuse is suspected, tell someone trustworthy. Contact local adult protective services by speaking with the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 between 9:00 am and 8:00 pm Monday-Friday Eastern Time. When making a call to report abuse, be able to provide the elder victim’s address and contact information; known medical problems, including confusion or memory loss; family or other social support system; types of abuse and if any incidents of hitting, yelling, or other abusive behavior have been witnessed; and the caller’s name, address, phone number, and contact method to discuss the abuse. When reporting abuse and not related to the victim, a nursing home abuse hotline is the best option and each state has organizations that monitor these hotlines and can offer assistance. If making a formal complaint against a specific nursing home or staff member, find a sitter to monitor the victim or remove the victim from the facility. Abuse sometimes increases following complaint initiation.
In a harrowing example of widespread elder abuse and negligence, in February, the family of a deceased Norwich, Connecticut man filed what is believed to be the first wrongful death lawsuit against officials at Connecticut’s largest nursing home chain: Haven Healthcare. The suit claimed that misappropriation of Haven funds by Chief Executive Officer Raymond Termini contributed to "deplorable conditions.” The family also sought permission to sue the state departments of public health and social services and Nancy Shaffer, the state's long-term care ombudsman, for failing to investigate and act on complaints lodged by the family. The deceased family member was a patient at Haven homes for over two years when he was rushed to a hospital after his wife found him in excruciating pain and his legs gangrenous and in early rigor mortis, allegedly due to an untreated and infected pressure sore on his hip and physical restraints that immobilized him. The man died two days later.
Also in February, the Bush administration finally published the names of 131 of the nation’s worst nursing homes. There are about 16,400 nursing homes nationwide and taxpayers spend about $72.5 billion annually to subsidize nursing home care. The document containing the nursing homes cited can be accessed at: http://www.cms.hhs.gov/CertificationandComplianc/Downloads/SFFList.pdf