Elder Neglect in a Nursing Home

Imagine being dependent upon another person for all your basic needs.  Without that person, you couldn’t get dressed, bathe yourself, prepare a meal, take medicine, go to the bathroom or even roll over in bed.

Now, imagine the person that’s supposed to help you often “ doesn’t feel like” helping you.  Or frequently forgets about you.  Or simply ignores you.  And you’re forced to stay soiled, hungry, unmedicated and uncomfortable until that person decides otherwise.

It’s unthinkable, isn’t it? Nevertheless, this is happening every day to thousands of elderly people in private homes, skilled nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and even some hospitals across America.

Elder neglect is a serious problem in this country. It comprises about half of the 500,000 reported cases of elder abuse each year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.  But even this figure doesn’t tell the whole story.  The Senate Special Committee on Aging has estimated that as many as five million elders are being abused and neglected by their caregivers, but are too afraid, isolated, ashamed or sick to speak out.

If you suspect an elder is being neglected, seek help immediately. Neglect can have grave health consequences for the elderly, whose fragile systems make them more susceptible to severe infections, heart damage, renal failure and other problems.  Without prompt intervention, neglect can lead to an elder’s premature death.

What Constitutes Elder Neglect?

Elder neglect occurs when a caregiver refuses or fails to provide an elder with basic life needs, including: food, water, shelter, clothing, personal safety, personal hygiene products, medicine/medical treatment, or heat or air-conditioning, as appropriate.

Elderly Neglect Signs

Signs of elder neglect can be easily mistaken for symptoms of dementia or declining physical health – and may be deceptively characterized as such by neglectful caregivers. If you observe any of the following signs in an elderly loved one, seriously consider the possibility that he or she is being neglected:

  • Malnourished appearance/dramatic weight loss
  • Untreated physical problems (bedsores, infections, broken bones, etc.)
  • Soiled clothes or clothing inappropriate for the weather
  • Urine or fecal smell
  • Poor personal hygiene and ungroomed appearance
  • Unusual withdrawal or lack of communication
  • Elder reports neglectful behavior of caregiver

What you should do if an elder is being neglected

If you believe a neglected elder is in imminent or life-threatening danger, you should call 911 or the police as soon as possible.

  • For neglect suspected in private homes, report the signs of neglect to Adult Protective Services (APS) in your county (call 1-800-510-2020).
  • For neglect in long-term care facilities in California, report suspicions to your local long-term care ombudsman (call 1-800-231-4024).

Choosing the Best Nursing Facility for Your Loved One

With an estimated 300,000 California residents being cared for in nursing facilities, every day families across the state are faced with choosing the right facility to care for their loved one. And with 18% of all substantiated complaints against nursing homes related to mistreatment or abuse of residents by staff, making sure your loved one doesn’t become a victim of elder abuse is a real concern. The following includes some tips that can help guide your decision in selecting the best nursing home facility for your loved one.

Research the Facility

Choosing the right nursing home starts with research. The group California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform has an online nursing home guide that allows you search for California nursing homes by city, county and specific populations served.

You should also check with the local long-term care ombudsman and District Office of Licensing and Certification. You’ll be able to obtain information about complaints made against the facility and any violations or deficiencies.

Location

The best thing for your elderly loved one is to be near family and friends who can support and visit them. So even the highest-rated nursing home is a bad fit if it means moving your loved one hours away from the people she would want to see on a regular basis. So consider choosing a facility close to whichever family member will visit the most, or who will be called on in an emergency.

Tour the Entire Facility

If staff show you only one wing of the facility, ask for a complete tour. If they do have a problem with the request, it could be a sign that the rest of the facilities are inadequate. Then make a second, unannounced visit. If the facility was putting on a good front for the official tour, you should notice a difference.

Take Note of Resident Appearance and Mood

Do residents appear clean and happy, especially those who are unable to care for themselves? Does the facility offer activities for residents and do they appear engaged? Are there comfortable chairs for residents in common areas, or are they confined to their bedrooms?

Staff to Resident Ratio

A 2005 study released by California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development found that one-fifth of state nursing facilities had inadequate staff levels. The lower the ratio, the better care your loved one will receive.

Talk to Families of Residents

If the nursing facility provides you with family references, talk to them. But seek out the opinion of families not hand-picked by the facility. You may get a more honest response.

Payment

Will you be paying out-of-pocket? Does your loved one have Medi-Cal or Medicare? Are you trying to use a long-term care insurance policy? With the exception of out-of-pocket payment, each program has rules governing payment for nursing home care. Make sure you check with the particular program to ensure care is covered.

Contact an Elder Neglect Attorney

Once your loved one is out of immediate danger and has received proper medical attention, contact an elder neglect attorney. An experienced attorney can help gather evidence and assess whether the signs of neglect are due to a lack of care or due to the infirmities of advanced age.  If neglect is the likely cause, your loved one may be entitled to financial damages.

The elder abuse and neglect lawyers at the Appel Law Firm LLP are dedicated to helping elderly victims who have been neglected in nursing homes, institutions, hospitals and other long-term care facilities throughout California.