Nursing homes have a responsibility to provide their elder residents with quality medical and personal care. While some Illinois facilities do just that, all too many elders experience incidents of physical, verbal and sexual abuse while living in nursing homes. In fact, a U.S. congressional report states that one in three elders living in long term care facilities have suffered abuse or neglect. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that the percentage of nursing homes cited for occurrences of serious mistreatment has risen each year since 1996. A nursing home abuse lawyer in McHenry knows that poor treatment can lead to further, more dire injury, and even premature death.
The scope of the issue
According to the NCEA, 3.2 million people lived in nursing homes in 2008 in the United States. Additionally, the National Center for Assisted Living estimates that 900,000 people live in some type of bed and board or assisted living facility across the country. The trend seems poised to continue. The NCEA estimates that 40 percent of adults over the age of 65 will reside in a long term care facility in their lifetimes. Families who trust the care of their loved ones to a nursing home staff expect that they will be treated with the respect and attention they deserve. Unfortunately, studies show that this is often not the case. This problem may be exacerbated in by a steady increase in the number of people who will require long term residential care in the future.
Range of mistreatment
The congressional report states that 30 percent of existing nursing homes were responsible for 9,000 cases of elder abuse reported between January 1999 and January 2001. While 70 percent of all complaints from nursing home residents regarding their experience were related to abuse or negligence, the results of the report are not exhaustive. It is difficult to know how many incidents of abuse go unreported. Evidence of reported injury or maltreatment manifests in a variety of ways. Physical abuse is most commonly cited, followed by psychological abuse through verbal assault, and gross neglect. Neglect may present as a lack of physical care, or may be the culprit behind what in typical circumstances would be a preventable injury. Signs that mistreatment is occurring or has occurred include:
- Evidence of malnutrition, or a noticeable change in eating habits
- Dehydration, unusual lethargy
- Broken bones and/or lacerations, or indications of having been bound
- Poor hygiene, including a pronounced smell of urine or feces, neglected dental hygiene, soiled clothing
- Withdrawn behavior, or a marked tension between elder and caregiver
Bruises in and around the genital area may indicate sexual abuse. When an elder suffers from abuse or neglect, he or she may or may not feel able to communicate the problem. The NCEA reports that 44 percent of elders surveyed admitted to having been abused. Over 95 percent of nursing home residents said that they had either been grossly neglected themselves, or had witnessed other elders suffering from neglect.
Nursing home violence
Resident-to-resident violence is a significant issue in long care facilities. The NCEA reports that up to 22 percent of nursing home violence occurs between residents. Disturbingly, care workers have been known to either ignore or encourage the behavior. As unthinkable as this may seem, a nursing home abuse lawyer in McHenry understands that staff may also be directly responsible for violence perpetrated upon elder residents. The U.S. government report noted evidence of violence by means of punching, slapping, kicking and choking of elders by fellow residents and care facility workers alike. Over 50 percent of nursing home staff interviewed said they had mistreated an elder resident, either by physical abuse or by yelling or verbally belittling an elder. Two-thirds of them confessed to neglect.
Through Medicaid and Medicare, the federal government is deeply involved in providing nursing home care for elders. Although 11,000 of the country’s 17,000 nursing homes are private for-profit operations, all care facilities are subject by law to government oversight. State agencies contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to perform annual inspections of nursing care facilities statewide. According to the NCEA, a 2010 report cites that inspections reveal several common issues inherent to the proliferation of elder abuse in nursing homes: facilities in general suffer from a lack of resources; expectations vary across jurisdictions; and lastly, elder abuse is not often granted priority status as a social issue. As a result, a considerable percentage of the aging population of the U.S. is vulnerable to gross mistreatment and preventable suffering. Government inspections and reports shed light on the ongoing issues, but public awareness and action may be the first steps toward a meaningful shift away from an annual increase in elder abuse in long-term care facilities.
Don’t ignore the signs
Elder people who reside in nursing homes need personal and medical attention they may not always receive. They may suffer the consequences of inadequate staffing, poor oversight and other circumstances that compromise responsible care. At worst, your loved ones may be victims of physical or emotional assault. An abusive situation in a nursing home may lead to serious injury or other health problems that can cause permanent bodily or mental impairment, or premature death. If you suspect that an elder loved one is the victim of neglect or mistreatment, a nursing home abuse lawyer in McHenry may be able to help get just compensation for injuries or wrongful death.