Nursing homes and assisted living facilities play a vital role in caring not only for elders, but also for other patients who are seriously injured or chronically ill. While many of these facilities provide quality care to their residents, it has widely been reported that nursing home abuse and neglect is on the rise.
The Growing Problem of Nursing Home Abuse in America
Part of the problem is the fact that nursing homes are typically run by corporations, and these businesses often sacrifice patient care for profits. In an effort to cut costs, many facilities are poorly staffed or they cut corners by not providing adequate training to employees. In addition, many nursing homes include fine print clauses in their admissions contracts that require patients to resolve disputes through arbitration. As a result, cases of abuse and neglect are not litigated in court and invariably concealed from the public. However, nursing home patients who suffer avoidable injuries have rights and should not be abandoned or left to suffer in silence.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
There are many forms of nursing home abuse, both physical and emotional. Physical abuse, common among elderly residents, involves assault, battery, sexual abuse and even rape. This type of abuse can also include unreasonable physical constraints or depriving patients of food and hydration for long periods of time. Even more heinous is the use of chemical restraints as a form of punishment or for reasons that have not been authorized by a doctor.
While physical abuse can be detected by observing cuts, scrapes, bruises and other injuries on victims, many nursing home patients are emotionally abused, which is harder to identify. This form of abuse ranges from verbal abuse to patients being ignored or neglected, resulting in pain and suffering that drastically impacts their quality of life. Warning signs of emotional abuse include personality and behavioral changes in the victim.
Nursing Home Neglect
Not only are patients subjected to physical and emotional abuse, they are also injured for other reasons. In particular, nursing home residents that are neglected or poorly supervised can be hurt in falls and the consequences are often catastrophic. These patients can suffer broken hips and other bones as well as traumatic or fatal brain injuries.
These injuries can be prevented, however, if a nursing home develops a required care plan to ensure the patient is properly supervised and capable of moving around the facility safely. A nursing home that fails to fulfill this obligation can be held liable for a patient’s injuries.
Another problem that particularly affects patients with dementia and other mental diseases is known as wandering and elopement. When these patients are not properly supervised, they can wander away from the facility and suffer serious if not life threatening injuries. Finally, patients who are neglected in nursing homes can suffer a wide range of afflictions such as pressure sores (or bed sores), malnutrition and dehydration.
Fighting Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
A nursing home that abuses or neglects patients can be held legally responsible, however, these cases can be complicated and achieving successful outcomes is difficult. As mentioned above, most nursing homes require include mandatory arbitration clauses in admissions agreements. While resolving disputes through arbitration is aimed at helping the nursing home industry limit legal costs, patients and their families are forced to settle claims for far less than their value.
There have been recent developments on this front. Prompted by concerns that the widespread use of these provisions concealed patterns of wrongdoing from patients and their families, a consortium of patient advocates and state and federal lawmakers pressured the federal government. In response, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a new rule in 2016 that bars federally funded nursing homes from using arbitration clauses in admissions contracts.
While this is a step in the right direction that will protect about 1.5 million nursing home residents, there’s still a long way to go in the fight against nursing home abuse and neglect. Moreover, the rule that became effective in November only applies to future admissions. At this juncture, it is unclear if the rule will be challenged in federal court by the nursing home industry.
In this regard, the American Health Care Association has taken the position that the CMS exceeded its authority by issuing the rule. Generally, industry advocates argue the rule will open the door to more lawsuits which will inevitably force some nursing homes to shutter their doors and limit patient access to healthcare.
How to Protect Nursing Home Patients
While the new CMS rule has effectively restored the legal rights to countless nursing home patients, it is also crucial for patients and their families to exercise care when choosing a facility. It is equally important to be proactive about long term care planning.
Obviously, the first thing to do is visit a prospective nursing home to ensure that patients receive quality care, are properly supervised and that the facility is safe and clean. In addition, the CMS rates federally funded facilities based on factors such as health inspections, staffing levels, training, and patient quality of life. These ratings are available to the public. Lastly, it is also helpful to obtain referrals from doctors and other medical providers.
In the end, nursing home abuse and neglect is unconscionable, and facilities that fail to provide the appropriate standard of care must be held accountable. If you or a loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you explore all of your options.
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y Law Firm. Yosi is an inspired, aggressive and successful advocate for his clients. He is personally committed to making a difference in his clients’ lives. Nothing makes Yosi happier than getting his clients’ lives back on track.