Observers predict that the number of Americans over 65 will double by 2050, and the increasing population means increased abuse incidents. So, the 2.1 million reported abuse cases will probably at least double in that period as well. Experts caution that the abuse figure is vastly understated, because they estimate that only about one case in fourteen is reported to authorities. Victims often keep quiet about private abuse cases because the abusers are typically family members, and the victims do not want these people to “get in trouble.”
A similar dynamic exists in nursing homes, because the abusers are normally trusted caregivers. Moreover, many victims fear retribution from abusers. Because of this confluence of factors, all three types of elder abuse are all too common in nursing homes
If someone you love has been the victim of abuse in an assisted care facility, you should reach out to our experienced nursing home abuse attorneys right away.
Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates have declined in the last few years; additionally, these agencies recently changed the way they calculate fees. The new economic norms created something of a snowball effect that has a direct impact when it comes to staff-on-resident abuse.
In this economic environment, many nursing homes feel that they must fill all their beds in order to maximize revenue. However, when these facilities were designed and built, full capacity was defined as perhaps 80 percent occupancy. The increased patient load strains the already-overworked staff, a point that is discussed below. At the same time, to maximize profits, many facilities have stepped down their hiring qualifications, by employing nurses to perform the jobs that doctors once filled, Licensed Vocational Nurses to effectively serve as nurses, and so on.
As a result, many nursing care facilities have created environments where abuse is possible. Some of the most common forms include:
- Physical Abuse: Frustrated staffers have been known to push elderly patients, or even kick and beat them.
- Isolation: Many patients are confined to their rooms for hours at a time because there is no one available to watch them, or they are kept separate in common dining areas or denied access to group activities as a form of punishment.
- Sexual Abuse: Some victims are fondled as they sleep or otherwise physically assaulted, while others are forced to watch pornographic videos or witness sex acts.
- Deprivation: Many facilities try to “push the envelope” when it comes to patient care. Instead of routinely providing medication, food, clothing, entertainment, and other essentials, these services are withheld until someone complains.
- Verbal Abuse: An unkind word or phrase, like “no one loves you” or “your family has forgotten you,” is every bit as abusive and harmful as a shove or a slap.
To combat the problem, many families place hidden surveillance devices, or “granny cams,” in their loved ones’ rooms. South Carolina is currently considering legislation to authorize footage from these devices to be used in both civil and criminal proceedings. The bill has been with the Senate Medical Affairs Committee since January 2015 and it is unlikely to become law in its current form.
As touched on earlier, over 90 percent of nursing care facilities are dangerously understaffed, largely for financial reasons. To reduce expenses and maximize profits, one person often does what two or three people used to do; for example, one person might be responsible for both the reception area and a wing of patients or cooks might prepare meals for twice as many people as before.
The low staffing levels contribute to patient isolation, because there are simply not enough people to watch the residents. In a similar vein, supervision is now passive and not of active. Instead of intervening in petty squabbles between residents, these disputes simmer and eventually boil over into resident-on-resident violence. Once again because of staffing issues, there may be no one to respond to an emergency situation, especially if it occurs in the overnight hours.
Many times, the fights stem from privacy matters: Most facilities are so crowded that the residents have very little privacy and so they guard it zealously. Since most residents are physically frail, serious injuries occur even if the attacker uses little physical force.
Legally, nursing homes have an obligation to make their facilities reasonably safe for patients, which means they must take a proactive approach towards preventing resident-on-resident violence. If they fail to do so, they can be liable for both economic and noneconomic damages. Perhaps more importantly, a negligence lawsuit sheds light on the deficiency, encourages the company to change its policies, and may help prevent future incidents.
In addition to physical frailty, many nursing home residents suffer from mental frailty. Many have Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, or similar conditions. This fact, coupled with the fact that many older people trust their caregiver implicitly, leads to exploitation like:
- Forgery: Some unscrupulous workers falsify signatures and others lie about the nature of the document the person is signing.
- Theft: Particularly in overnight hours when no one is watching, some staffers simply go into rooms and take what they want with little or no fear of detection or reprisal.
- Scams: In one common scam, employees tell residents that a grandchild or other relative is in jail and needs cash to get out.
In these situations, the nursing home is liable for damages under a negligent hiring or negligent supervision theory.