What Is Nursing Home Abuse?

Families need to know how to protect their loved ones.
Two elderly women, one sitting and the other standing behind her with a hand on her shoulder.

When a loved one needs more help than their family can give, families often turn to nursing homes to stand in the gap. They trust that the nursing home will provide a greater level of care than the family can provide.

Sadly, nursing home abuse seems to be reported frequently in the news. It is an unfortunate reality that sometimes nursing home residents are deprived of the safe environment they need and deserve.

What is nursing home abuse?

Nursing home abuse is any kind of willful or neglectful action that causes harm to a nursing home resident physically, emotionally, financially, sexually, or in any other way.

The last thing any families want is for their loved one to become an unwitting victim of nursing home abuse. Family members need to keep a close eye on the level of care their loved ones receive in independent living facilities, nursing homes, or dementia care facilities (memory care). And they should report any suspected signs of abuse to proper authorities.

Causes of nursing home abuse

Many factors contribute to the problem of nursing home abuse in senior living community centers. These are human issues that span much wider than just the assisted living arena or residential care facilities. But these are the primary roots of the issues in nursing homes.

  • Greed – Staff, other residents, or visitors in a care facility may gain a resident’s trust and then take advantage of them. They may convince the resident to write checks to them, or to let them borrow their credit or debit card. Some people could decide to steal possessions, money, checks, or credit cards—especially if the financial resources are unprotected.
  • Understaffing – Many nursing homes suffer from lack of staffing to the point that the staff become overwhelmed with the needs. They just can’t keep up with all of the residents the way they know they should, but they desperately need more help. 
  • Incompetence – Older adults may face the sad reality that some caregivers who should be prepared to properly care for them are under-trained and unprepared. Others may be negligent, unable, or unwilling to provide appropriate care.
  • Mental Illness – Some people who have access to residents in a nursing home may be suffering from mental illness and may cause others harm.
  • Lack of accountability – If staff members believe that no one will check behind them and they are overwhelmed, they may cut corners.
  • Burnout – If staff are overworked and exhausted, sometimes they may lose patience and react in abusive ways rather than healthy, productive ways to residents.
  • Poor corporate decision-making – Sometimes corporations cut costs by letting expensive, experienced staff members go and replace them with less expensive, inexperienced staff to save money.

Types of nursing home abuse

Numerous types of abuse can happen in a care facility.

  • Physical – Any kind of physical force that leads to short-term or long-term illness, injury, physical pain, or death. It can include such violence as hitting, biting, cutting, scratching, choking, suffocating, pushing, shaking, kicking, pinching, burning, etc…
  • Financial – Any unauthorized or improper use of a nursing home resident’s financial resources to benefit someone other than the resident. This can include forgery or the stealing of possessions or money. It can also involve the use of force or deception to get the resident to give up possessions or financial resources. Or, financial abuse can involve improper use of power of attorney or guardianship.
  • Sexual – Unwanted or forced sexual touching (with a hand, part of the body, or an object). This also includes sexual acts committed against someone unable to give proper consent.
  • Emotional – Hurtful words or nonverbal behavior (that does not involve violence) designed to create mental pain, fear, or emotional distress.
  • Neglect – When a responsible facility fails to provide for a resident’s essential needs or doesn’t protect him or her from harm. This could involve inadequate nutrition, clothing, shelter, medical care, and hygiene. (For example, a resident may develop pressure sores from not being turned properly or the sores may be neglected and the patient could end up becoming septic.) It could also involve a care facility not protecting a resident from something or someone that could cause him/her harm.

 

None of these things should ever happen to a resident in a nursing home. Everyone deserves to be well-cared for, safe, and as healthy as possible in a nursing home facility.

grayscale photography of human hands
Photo by Gert Stockmans on Unsplash

Facts about elder abuse

Reported cases of elder abuse are much lower than actual cases. Statistics about reported cases are as follows (according to www.nursinghomeabuse.org)

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, the breakdown of elder abuse complaints is as follows:

  • 27.4% – Physical abuse
  • 22.1% – Resident-on-resident abuse (physical or sexual)
  • 19.4% – Psychological abuse
  • 15.3% – Gross neglect
  • 7.9% – Sexual abuse
  • 7.9% – Financial exploitation
  • Over 50% of nursing home staff are willing to anonymously admit to committing some type of abuse against residents.
  • Residents are abused more often by other residents than by staff.

 

Warning signs of elder abuse or neglect

It can be difficult to know what is happening to your loved one when you are not with them. Especially if they are not able to communicate with you. But there are usually telltale signs of abuse.

  • Physical abuse signs – unexplained injuries, broken glasses, repeated similar injuries/falls, frequent illness, frequent similar infections, red marks on the skin, or even death. 
  • Financial abuse signs – missing funds in bank accounts, unpaid bills, unexplained ATM withdrawals, unexplained medical expenses or medical bills, missing money or possessions in the room.
  • Sexual abuse signs – bleeding or bruising in the genital area or inner thighs, torn or bloody clothes or underwear. Other signs include new STDS, pain in the genital or anal area, injuries to the pelvis, new difficulty walking or sitting. (Also, the resident may have some of the emotional abuse signs.)
  • Emotional abuse signs – fear of certain staff or residents, depression, anxiety, withdrawal from other residents or activities, complaints against staff, panic attacks, paranoia, or suicide attempts. Other signs can include changes in eating or sleeping habits, isolation, anger, violence, or mood swings. (These signs can be present for multiple types of abuse.)
  • Neglect signs – dehydration, untreated bedsores (decubitus ulcers, pressure ulcers), poor nutrition, medication overdose or underdose. Other signs include poor hygiene, dirty clothing, dirty bedding, or exposure to danger. 

 

Report nursing home abuse

If you see signs of suspected abuse for an older person, keep careful records of all that has occurred and please contact:

  • Adult protective services
  • The police 
  • An experienced attorney who specializes in nursing home abuse and neglect.

 

Nursing home abuse lawyers

Nursing home abuse attorneys can help you determine if you have enough evidence for:

  • a personal injury case (personal injury lawsuit)
  • a medical malpractice claim
  • a wrongful death lawsuit
  • other legal case against a care facility

Has your loved one been a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect in the Columbia, SC area?

If you believe your loved one has suffered from nursing home abuse in South Carolina, we can help.

Contact us for a free case review today.

We have offices in Lexington, Orangeburg, and Columbia, SC to serve you. Check with us about virtual consultations, as well.

Resources

Adult Protective Services in South Carolina

Types of Elder Abuse by nursinghomeabusecenter.com

Nursing Home Abuse by nursinghomeabusecenter.com

Elder Abuse Definitions by the CDC

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