Elderly Neglect and Abuse Lawyers
The thought of nursing home abuse can be almost incomprehensible to family members. Nursing homes assume a fiduciary relationship (special trust relationship) with residents when they accept financial compensation under a contractual agreement to provide for the care of elderly and disabled residents. Nursing homes do not take on the task of caring for our elderly and disabled loved ones simply because they are “benevolent organizations.” On the contrary, nursing and rehabilitation facilities are lucrative businesses that in exchange for compensation, make a promise to provide basic care to seniors unable to provide for their own needs and to ensure a safe environment free from abuse, neglect, physical assaults and threats.
Families looking for answers as to why their loved ones fell victim to abuse or neglect struggle to understand the factors that lead nursing homes to violate this special trust relationship and disregard their responsibility to provide reasonable care and protection to its residents. Whether the neglect and/or abuse is the result of inadvertence or intentional malfeasance. the effects are devastating all the same. While there are many factors that contribute to nursing home abuse, including a focus on profits over quality of care, challenges of caring for seniors by staff with limited training and resources, and staff members that are stressed out and/or exhausted, the common thread is that the factors are largely due to administrative inadequacies and shortcomings
National Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers Advocating for Vulnerable Seniors
Abuse and neglect of elderly and disabled adults in nursing homes is tragic, and we here at Parker Waichman, LLP, a national law firm, are passionately dedicated to advocating for victims and their families. When we investigate incidents of mistreatment in long-term care facilities, we frequently discover that nursing homes engage in systematic patterns of understaffing because they prioritize profits over quality of care.
A National Law Firm Dedicated to its Clients
When taking on nursing homes, the clients of Parker Waichman want the resources of a large national law firm and 350 years of experience representing victims injured through indifference, carelessness or intentional wrongful acts. Our law firm is one of the few in the United States has recovered more than $2 billion for our clients.
Along with our experience and track record of successful verdicts and settlements for injury victims, our law firm has developed a leading reputation because of our focus on communication with our clients. We recognize that lack of communication and the failure to return telephone calls constitutes the most common complaint about attorneys. We know that nursing home residents who have been the victims of abuse or chronic neglect will have fears, concerns, and anxiety about the future. Our general policy is to return client calls the same business day or the next business day. We also provide periodic updates so that you are kept informed about the status of your case.
The national recognition received by Parker Waichman include the following:
- Listed as one of the “Best Law Firms” in the U.S. – U.S. New and World Report
- One of the elite law firms to have received a “Top 100 U.S. Verdict”
- Recipient of the prestigious “5 Dragon” award based on an extensive peer review
- Granted membership in the “Billion Dollar Trial Lawyers”
- Awarded virtually perfect rating of 9.8 from AVVO (out of a scale of 10.0)
- Given an “AV” rating based on peer review, experience, ethics, and other factors by Martindale-Hubbell
What Is Nursing Home Abuse?
When your elderly and/ or disabled loved ones are mistreated by those you have entrusted to provide for their care and needs, the sense of betrayal and disillusionment can be devastating. Abuse of nursing home residents is especially upsetting because it involves vulnerable victims who may not have the ability to effectively comprehend, report, or repel exploitative behavior. Nursing home abuse can take many forms, but it typically involves the exploitation or mistreatment of seniors entrusted to residential care facilities. Because elderly nursing home residents may be completely dependent on caregivers in the facility for their basic needs, residents are especially susceptible to abuse by overworked, underpaid, and unqualified staff members.
Understanding the Most Prevalent Types of Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes
The types of nursing home abuse that are most typical include the following:
Nursing home physical abuse can be defined as the intentional inappropriate use of physical force against an elderly nursing home resident that could result in bodily injury, pain, or wrongful death. Physical abuse against seniors in nursing homes is particularly offensive because elderly residents frequently are more susceptible to injury. Older adults more easily suffer broken bones and fractures, and they typically take longer to recover from their injuries. While the severity of physical abuse can range from what might seem rather mild like a push or a slap to a beating or kicking incident. However, all forms of physical abuse are unacceptable and can result in significant harm to an elderly resident.
Common acts of physical abuse inflicted on residents of nursing homes include but are not limited to the following:
- Punching, striking, or beating the resident with a hand or object
- Slapping or kicking a resident
- Shoving the resident into a bed, wall, or object to make the resident move faster
- Unnecessary use of physical or chemical restraints
- Knocking a resident down
- Intentional deprivation of medication, nutrition, hydration, or hygiene needs
- Pulling a senior’s hair or pinching the resident
- Burning the resident’s skin
While this list of acts of physical mistreatment may seem appalling, these are actual examples of physical abuse:
While this may be the most distasteful and unimaginable form of nursing home abuse, this type of conduct is an unfortunate reality in nursing homes across the United States. Sexual abuse in a nursing home involves non-consensual sexual interaction or conduct. Any sexual interaction between nursing home staff and residents is inherently problematic because the staff may exercise power, authority, and dominance over residents who are frail, ill, or otherwise lack the capacity to consent. Some common forms of sexual abuse in nursing homes include:
- Sexual assault
- Sexual harassment
- Forced exposure to pornography
- Sexual coercion
- Forced oral copulation
- Unwelcome or inappropriate touching
Emotional or mental abuse in a nursing home can be particularly insidious because it is less likely to leave physical signs, which make it harder to detect. Emotional abuse is never appropriate, and the offensive nature of this form of verbal or psychological mistreatment is exacerbated by the fact nursing home residents are dependent on staff members for their needs.
Like other forms of nursing home abuse, emotional abuse may take a variety of forms:
- Isolation or Abandonment: This type of abuse may involve segregating the resident so that the senior does not have access to social interaction or participation in activities in the facility. This form of emotional abuse also includes ignoring the resident or refusing to talk to the resident or to answer the resident’s questions.
- Threats: If the resident observes the inappropriate treatment of another senior, a staff member may threaten to cause physical harm or to deprive the resident of physical necessities if the resident discloses the misconduct.
- Verbal Abuse: The staff member may verbally dress down or humiliate the resident with derogatory comments or insults. This form of emotional abuse may also include verbal threats when the resident soils the sheets or otherwise engages in conduct that he or she cannot control.
- Emotional Manipulation: Because nursing home residents have a high level of dependency on staff members, threats and hostility may undermine the resident’s self-esteem and make the resident leery about asking for something to drink or a snack. These fears increase the risk of the resident suffering from malnutrition or lack of hydration.
This form of financial exploitation or abuse involves other residents, staff, visitors, or administrators at the nursing home taking or using the property, money, or credit of a resident for an unapproved use or to defraud the resident. Financial exploitation is defined as the wrongful misappropriation of a person’s finances or assets for another’s benefit. A resident’s finances or property may be misused because the senior is incapacitated and unable to give lawful consent, or the senior is exposed to intimidation, manipulation, or deceit. Some of the more typical forms of nursing home financial abuse include:
- Electronic transfers, online credit card transactions, or electronic debits from a senior’s account;
- Forging the check of a resident;
- Stealing property or money from a senior;
- Tricking a resident into executing a will, trust, or contract for financial gain;
- Engaging in self-dealing transactions with an elderly resident;
- Accessing the bank accounts of a senior;
- Using the credit history or identity of the resident for financial advantage; and
- Billing the resident for service not provided.
Understanding the Massive Scope of the Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Epidemic
Although many elderly residents and families pay thousands of dollars a month for round the clock professional care, massive verdicts against nursing homes across the United States appear routinely in media reports. Tragic accounts of physical abuse, sexual assault, and chronic neglect that result in physical injury, emotional distress, dangerous falls, starvation, and declining health are far too common. The magnitude of nursing home abuse becomes clear when considering some startling statistics from the National Center on Elder Abuse:
One out of every ten elderly Americans become the victims of abuse or neglect. Approximately four in ten nursing homes have been determined to have violated elder abuse laws. 5.9 million seniors became victims of elder abuse during a recent 12-month period. Ninety percent of nursing homes are insufficiently staffed to meet minimum standards.
This data is reinforced by a study prepared by the Special Investigations Division of the House Government Reform Committee:
- One in three nursing homes was cited for abuse of elderly residents during the two-year period of the investigation.
- Approximated 5,233 nursing homes were cited for more than 9,000 instances of resident abuse during the duration of the study.
- More than 1,600 of these incidents of abuse resulted in actual harm, including “immediate jeopardy of death or serious injury.”
Scope of Under-Reporting of Nursing Home Abuse
As incomprehensible as nursing home abuse may seem, these horrific acts are far more extensive than most people would imagine. Recent research indicates that almost 45 percent of nursing home residents have experienced a form of abuse while almost half believe that they have been treated in a rough manner by staff. Despite the frequency with which nursing home abuse occurs, the magnitude of the problem is far greater than this data indicates because many acts of nursing home abuse go unreported.
A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services characterized the problem this way, “Studies of the processes states use to detect, investigate, resolve, and prevent elder mistreatment in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and board and care homes are deeply flawed. As a result, estimates of elder abuse and neglect are lower than the actual prevalence, and the process must be strengthened to protect residents.”
While it is impossible to know the extent of the under-reporting problem, there are reasons to believe it is extensive. Staff members and nursing homes have little incentive to report violations because of exposure to fines, civil liability, and criminal penalties. Many seniors also are hesitant or unable to report nursing home abuse. Obstacles to accurate reporting include a variety of factors, such as:
- Fear of reprisals
- Cognitive limitations in comprehending abuse
- Limited communication ability
- Inadequate frequency and thoroughness of inspections by state agencies
- Cover-ups in nursing homes to avoid criminal and civil liability
Some sense of the scope of the inaccuracy associated with elder abuse in nursing homes is provided by a study conducted of New York nursing homes. The study revealed that for every incident of nursing home abuse that was reported 24 other incidents of abuse went unreported. When limited to cases of neglect, the under-reporting was even more extensive with only one in 57 incidents being reported.
Nursing Home Caregivers Acknowledge Mistreatment of Elderly Residents
What many people with aging parents or other elderly loved ones in nursing homes might be surprised to learn is that nursing home abuse is so prevalent even staff members acknowledge it is a common occurrence. A survey of nursing home residents found that half of the staff members surveyed indicated that they had mistreated elderly residents during the previous twelve-month period either through some form of intentional abuse or inadvertent neglect. Another survey of Certified Nurses Assistants (CNAs) found that 17 percent admitted that they had pushed, shoved or grabbed a nursing home resident. Almost a third of the CNAs in this survey indicated they had insulted or assailed a resident with profanities.
Based on a review of nursing home citations for abuse and neglect violations, one in three nursing homes received a formal citation for practices that amount to abuse including gross neglect. These forms of abuse can take many forms, but the frequency with which the most common forms of abuse occur breakdown as indicated below:
|Physical abuse||29 percent|
|Abuse by another resident (inadequate supervision)||29 percent|
|Psychological abuse||21 percent|
|Gross neglect||14 percent|
|Financial exploitation||7 percent|
|Sexual abuse||7 percent|
Law Governing Nursing Home Care of Residents
Residents in nursing home facilities are protected by a variety of state and federal laws and regulations. These provisions provide a safeguard against abuse and neglect while protecting the security and privacy of seniors in these facilities. Because of rising reports of nursing home mistreatment of residents, Congress passed legislation in 1987 that required nursing homes to abide by specific mandates if they accepted Medicare or Medicaid for residents.
The Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (OBRA) of 1987 (aka Nursing Home Reform Act) defines specific standards of care for nursing homes. The federal statute directs these facilities to “provide services and activities to attain or maintain the highest practicable physical, mental, and psychological well-being of each resident in accordance with a written plan of care.” If a long-term care facility participates in Medicare/Medicaid, the facility must comply with applicable federal regulations.
When a resident in a nursing home facility is injured because of the negligence of staff, management, or ownership, the injured resident might be entitled to compensation. Long-term care facilities also can be liable for substandard care, abuse, or other violations of federal law that result in harm to residents. Some states impose even more stringent regulations for nursing homes that accept Medicare-Medicaid.
What Are the Causes of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?
Tragically, neglect and abuse in nursing homes across the United States cause preventable debilitating illnesses, serious injuries, and wrongful deaths. Most forms of mistreatment in long-term care facilities turn on the economics. The shift to corporate owned nursing homes has resulted in large corporate facilities operated by entities and individuals with limited experience in the healthcare sector of the economy. This lack of experience and corporate ownership leads to a focus on mitigating operating costs to maximize profits. The factors that contribute to nursing home abuse and neglect include:
- Low Pay: Many facilities pay caregivers only slightly more than minimum wage. Given the physical and emotional toll on nursing home care providers, the low pay levels have created a significant shortage of qualified caregivers. The average rate for caregivers is $12 per hour whereas the average rate for all occupations is $17 per hour according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Because of changing demographics in the United States with Baby Boomers approaching retirement, nursing home industry experts anticipate increasing labor shortages.
- Inadequate Staffing: Nursing homes motivated to maximize profits look to cut costs. A common strategy to reduce operating expenses involves operation with a “skeleton staff.” Inspections and studies have revealed that some nursing homes place only one caregiver per thirty residents on a shift. When facilities attempt to run with this level of chronic understaffing, residents’ basic needs are threatened, such as hydration, nutrition, medical care, and hygiene.
- Failure to Provide Sufficient Training/Supervision: As mentioned above, nursing homes often hire unqualified staff then exacerbate the problem by offering almost no training. While federal law requires nursing homes receiving Medicaid/Medicare to adopt and implement individual care plans, compliance often is thwarted because the staff lacks the experience and knowledge to properly implement such plans. Given that this lack of training frequently will be accompanied by almost no supervision, the high rate of abuse and neglect in long-term care facilities is predictable.
- Failure to Perform Adequate Background Checks: In the wake of a flood of massive judgments and settlements against large nursing home chains for systemic abuse and neglect, some states have implemented requirements to conduct background checks. However, the decision to conduct screenings, as well as the extent of those investigations are left up to individual facilities in many states. More than ninety percent of nursing home facilities included in a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study had a caregiver on staff with a criminal record. The stress stemming from long hours, low pay, and work that is physically and emotionally demanding combined with workers with criminal records creates an environment ripe for abuse.
Signs Your Elderly Loved One Is a Nursing Home Abuse Victim
If you observe signs of nursing home abuse when visiting your elderly loved one, such as loss of weight, infections, bed sores, lack of hygiene or cleanliness, sudden changes in mood or temperament, or similar indications, you should speak to your love one privately to determine if there are abuse or neglect issues. If you cannot tell for sure if abuse is occurring or your elderly family member’s ability to understand or communicate is impacted by a medical condition, you should consider taking your loved one to a physician and notifying the police.
Consult a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Today!
The attorneys at our elder abuse law firm represent nursing home abuse and neglect victims who experience serious injury throughout the United States. from our offices in New York, Brooklyn, Long Island, Queens, Florida, and New Jersey. We invite you to speak with us for more information and an initial consultation. Contact us at (212) 267-6700, fill out our case inquiry form, or visit us in person.
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