When your loved ones are aging and require more care than you can provide, what are your options? Unless you can afford an expensive in-home nurse, chances are your options are limited to nursing homes. Putting a loved one in a nursing home is a difficult decision, but in many cases it’s the best place for those who are too elderly and sick to stay at home alone.
Nursing homes are a popular choice – according to the most recent data available from the Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 3.2 million patients in nursing homes around the country. A nursing home can provide your loved one with the medical care she needs around the clock, provided by caretakers who are well-trained and experienced medical professionals.
Unfortunately, not all nursing homes treat patients with the care and respect they deserve. Nursing home negligence is a growing issue in North Carolina and around the country. One study found that over 50% of nursing home employees admitted to abusing a patient. Another study found that almost half of nursing home patients claim they’ve been abused and a staggering 95% claim they’ve been neglected or have seen staff neglect another patient. According to National Ombudsman Reporting System data, physical abuse by staff is the most common abuse-related complaint from nursing home patients, followed by abuse by other residents and psychological abuse by staff. Gross neglect constitutes 14% of the complaints.
So, how can you know if your loved one is being treated the way she deserves? What are your options if you believe a nursing home patient is being abused?
What is nursing home negligence?
Patients are typically in nursing homes because they need a substantial amount of care. They may have limited mobility, be on complex medication regimes, require regular medical procedures, suffer from a variety of mental health problems, or have other medical issues that require the attention of medical professionals. Negligence on the part of nursing home staff can have serious implications for the health of their patients.
In legal terms, a person is “negligent” if she fails to act with reasonable care and that causes harm to another person. In nursing homes, opportunities for negligence abound. Medical professionals in nursing homes are negligent if they fail to ensure that patients take the medications they need, for example. A reasonable person would know that missing a dose could cause serious medical harm. Negligence is a basic standard – put simply, you need to act with common sense.
Nursing home negligence can refer to a wide range of actions. As mentioned above, medical staff should ensure that patients take the right doses of the right medications at the right time. Staff should also ensure that the nursing home is clean and safe – infections that a young and healthy person could fight off may easily be fatal for elderly and sick patients, making proper sanitation crucial. Many older patients are mobility-impaired, so staff should ensure that they have access to walkers and wheelchairs and that hallways and doorways are not obstructed.
Bed sores are one of the most common complaints from nursing home patients. Bed sores occur when patients lie in the same position for too long. Your skin needs to be exposed to air regularly and constant pressure will cause it to break down. Bed sores are extremely painful and can become infected very easily. Those kinds of infections are very difficult for older patients to fight off.
Worst of all, bed sores are preventable. Patients should be moved regularly; those with some mobility should get out of bed into a walker or wheelchair and move around. Patients who are bedridden should be turned regularly to relieve the pressure on their skin. Nursing home staff should ensure that patients are moved and repositioned on a regular schedule to ensure that bedsores don’t develop. Failure to do so constitutes nursing home negligence.
Nursing Home Abuse
Nursing home negligence is bad enough. In a dirty nursing home or a home where the medical staff don’t take adequate care of patients, little problems can quickly snowball into life-threatening medical problems or permanent emotional damage. In some cases, nursing home staff members actually abuse the patients. That abuse may be physical, sexual, or emotional. Nursing home residents may also abuse each other.
The Nursing Home Bill of Rights
North Carolina law recognizes the risks faced by nursing home residents due to the negligence or ill will of nursing home staff. To help ensure that patients are treated appropriately, North Carolina law includes a bill of rights for nursing home residents. Among other things, these rules require that residents of nursing homes are treated with dignity and respect. Patients must receive the medical care they need. They must not be abused in any way and must have a way to file complaints and have their complaints heard and handled. Failure to meet the requirements of the bill of rights is a violation of the law and gives patients the right to sue.
How can I tell if my loved one is being neglected or abused?
First, take a look around the nursing home. Is it clean? Are kitchen areas, resident rooms, and bathrooms clean and well-maintained? Are patients clean and tidy? A dirty nursing home is a danger to patients – older patients are more prone to serious infections and a dirty living environment is a breeding ground for germs. Are patients restrained? Restraints may be physical, such as a wheelchair parked against the wall so that the patient can’t move, or chemical, such as sedation. Do patients show evidence of general medical negligence? Do you see any patients with injuries that haven’t been treated?
Next, speak to your loved one. Have they lost weight? That may be a sign that they’re not receiving enough food. Are they withdrawn or behaving strangely? Emotional and physical abuse can cause patients to shut down or exhibit unusual behaviors, such as rocking in place or physically lashing out. Do they have bruises? Bruises may come from falls or stumbles but may also be a sign of physical abuse by nursing home staff. Do they have bedsores? That indicates that staff are not ensuring that your loved one moves around and or making sure your loved one is taking regular showers or baths. Has your loved one complained of physical, sexual, or verbal assault by a nurse, doctor, medical assistant, or another patient?
What can I do about nursing home neglect or abuse?
If you feel your loved one is in a negligent or abusive environment, don’t wait to act. First, try to secure a spot in a different nursing home for your loved one. Her health is the most important issue and you shouldn’t leave her in a dangerous environment for any longer than is absolutely necessary. Document any medical issues your loved one has suffered because of nursing home negligence or abuse. You may also want to document the general conditions at the nursing home, including dirty areas or visible problems with other residents.
Then, reach out to one of our experienced attorneys for a free consultation. Nursing home negligence and abuse are serious offenses. In some cases, the offending individuals may face jail time or fines. The nursing home itself may be required to pay money damages for failing to ensure that its staff give appropriate care and treat patients with dignity and respect. Our attorneys will go over your case with you and help you decide how best to pursue it. Your loved ones deserve high-quality care and good treatment, not abuse and neglect. Don’t allow nursing home negligence and abuse to go unpunished.