Scientific and technological advances in health care have permitted more and more people to live longer than ever before. A longer life is, for the most part, a wonderful thing. It is, however, not without its drawbacks. As people get older, their ability to care for themselves decreases, often to the point where they are no longer capable of being self-sufficient.
When this happens, some families have the ability (both financial and otherwise) to step in and take care of their elderly relatives. Most, however, do not. There may be no family available for caregiving. If that is the case, a nursing home may be the best alternative to ensure that a sibling or parent (or in some cases, even a child) has their basic needs met.
Most nursing homes are reputable, safe havens for the elderly. Not all, however. It has become increasingly common to hear stories of nursing home abuse (also known as elder abuse), whether it be physical, mental or emotional. Fortunately, the law provides remedies for such cases. If you suspect that a loved one is the victim of nursing home abuse, here is what you need to know about making a nursing home abuse claim in Passaic County.
How are nursing home residents protected?
There are numerous laws designed to protect against abuse or neglect of nursing home residents. These include the Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights, the Neglect of Elderly Person/Disabled Adult Act, and the Adult Protective Services Act. In addition, there is the Suspicion of Abuse/Exploitation of Resident of Residential Health Care Facility Act. To get a feel for the types of protections these laws contemplate, the New Jersey Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights is perhaps the most instructive. Among many things, this Bill of Rights provides that residents of nursing homes:
Have the right to a safe and decent living environment and considerate and respectful care that recognizes the dignity and individuality of the resident, including the right to expect and receive appropriate assessment, management and treatment of pain as an integral component of that person’s care consistent with sound nursing and medical practices.
In order to take action on suspected nursing home abuse, one must be able to recognize the signs that such abuse has occurred. As it turns out, nursing home abuse can take many forms and present itself in many ways.
These are perhaps the most obvious signs that abuse may have occurred. However, because the elderly are very susceptible to physical injury from slip/trip and falls, for example, the mere presence of an injury does not, in and of itself, establish that your loved one is the victim of nursing home abuse, even if they claim that to be the case. We’ll address how to determine whether reports of abuse are credible below.
Note that bedsores are a common sign that abuse in the form of neglect may have occurred. Severe rashes may also be an indicator.
An unexpected or chronic illness may be a sign that your loved one is being mistreated or neglected. Malnutrition and dehydration are common signs of neglect.
Sadly, this happens all too frequently in nursing homes. Medical, emotional and psychological harm results from such abuse. The abuse may occur between patients or the patient may be sexually abused by a staff member.
Nursing home residents can suffer emotionally because they live in a constant state of extreme vulnerability. Elderly residents who are frail or suffer from diminished capacity (whether due to illness or a mental condition such as dementia) have virtually no defense against intentional emotional abuse.
Of course, death is a possible outcome of any nursing home stay. For that reason, it may be difficult to prove that a death was wrongful because it was attributable to nursing home abuse or neglect. Causes of wrongful death range from chronic neglect and actual physical abuse to failure to provide necessary care/treatment of injury or illness. Even prescription errors (dispensing the wrong medication, the wrong dosage or failing to dispense medication at all) can be evidence of wrongful death.
To summarize, symptoms of neglect or abuse can include:
- Unexpected death or death with little or no explanation
- Bedsores, pressure ulcers, rashes
- Injuries that repeat such as cuts and bruises on head and/or extremities
- Major injuries such as fractures and burns
- Lack of hygiene
- Lack of cleanliness in the facility in general or personal rooms, restrooms or eating areas in particular
- Fear or reduction in communication with family members
- Emotional outbursts such as frustration or crying
- Actual complaints of neglect or abuse from the resident.
What to Believe
The most heartbreaking source of information regarding nursing home abuse is, of course, the resident. It is hard to ignore a parent or other loved one who reports physical abuse or other mistreatment. Such reporting is not, in and of itself, conclusive evidence that the abuse occurred. It is, therefore, important to be sensitive to certain signs that give credence to the credibility of the claims.
The availability of information from the nursing home
If something happens or suspicions of abuse arise, assess how forthcoming the facility staff is in providing information about what occurred and how responsive staff is to your questions. Is the process transparent or does there appear to be concealment?
We’ve already referred to bedsores/pressure ulcers and other signs of neglect (rather than active abuse). However, there are other symptoms of abuse for which you should be on the lookout:
Unexplained or repeated cuts, bruising or worse
Has there been a change in the behavior or conduct of your loved one? Is your parent or sibling less communicative, somber, frustrated, frequently unhappy or fearful?
Your loved one’s complaints about nursing home abuse should be acknowledged and listened to. When assessing the credibility of those statements, look for consistency in the stories and whether there may be other reasons for claims of abuse (such as trying to get attention or as part of an effort to be moved from the facility).
If you suspect a loved one has been subjected to any of the situations listed above or has otherwise suffered neglect or abuse, you can make a claim for nursing home abuse in Passaic County. The first step is pursuing legal action against a facility and/or its employees for elder abuse. Not only can filing a claim be introduced as evidence in any subsequent case, the investigation that the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services will conduct may turn up corroborating evidence or perhaps, even evidence of abuse or neglect of which you had not previously been aware. If you have questions, seek the advice of an attorney at Fontanella, Benevento, Galluccio & Smith experienced in matters that relate to nursing home abuse.