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Nursing Home Abuse: A Growing Concern for the Elderly

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With the large population of senior residents in Southwest Florida and the abundance of nursing home facilities here, the potential for a member of your family being subjected to nursing home abuse is a serious concern. You expect that the facility where your relative lives will provide professional and appropriate care – and yet, the fact is that abuse does occur, and can be devastating to your family.

Florida’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program is a volunteer-based organization seeking to improve the quality of life of frail, vulnerable elders who live in long-term care settings, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities and adult family care homes by directly responding to their concerns. The program operates under the authority of federal and state law. The organization’s 2007-2008 Annual Report points out that long-term care facilities in Florida fall into one of three categories: nursing homes (686 facilities; 82,024 beds), assisted living facilities (2,743 facilities; 89,445 beds), and adult family care homes (503 facilities; 2,316 beds). That means there are 3,932 long-term care facilities in the state of Florida, with 173,785 beds. The potential for the abuse of residents requires an ambitious and ongoing oversight.

The Ombudsman Program conducts annual administrative assessments of these facilities as mandated by Section 400.0073, Florida Statutes. These assessments focus on the rights, health, safety and welfare of residents. In 2007-2008, volunteer ombudsmen completed assessments of 100 percent of licensed long-term care facilities statewide. During the same period, they completed 7,758 complaint investigations. The top three complaints from nursing home residents pertained to improper discharges; medication administration; and matters of personal hygiene. The top three complaints in assisted living facilities and adult family care homes were related to menu quality, quantity and variation; medication administration; and issues of cleanliness, pests and general housekeeping.

There are several types of abuse that can take place in a nursing home. People most often think of physical abuse, but several other forms of improper care are reported each year. Elder abuse is any act, failure to act, or incitement to act done willfully, knowingly, or recklessly through words or physical action that causes or could cause mental or physical injury or death to a nursing home resident. This includes verbal, sexual, or mental/psychological abuse, including corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, or any other actions within this definition.

Often, family members or the legal guardian of a nursing home resident may be hesitant to report a suspected case of abuse. They fear the situation may become worse, in a retaliatory effort of staff and supervisors. Additionally, abuse may be occurring due to the inability of the patient to emotionally or physically communicate the problem to the nursing home staff or to a family member. The alarming fact is that only 20% of nursing home abuse incidents are ever reported.

The National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, a non-profit membership organization founded in 1975 to protect the rights, safety and dignity of America’s long term care residents, has published this list of things to watch for in monitoring the care of a nursing home resident, and defines the differences between neglect and abuse:

Neglect: Neglect is the failure to care for a person in a manner, which would avoid harm and pain, or the failure to react to a situation that may be harmful. Neglect may or may not be intentional. For example, a caring aide who is poorly trained may not know how to provide proper care. Examples include:

• Incorrect body positioning — which leads to limb contractures and skin breakdown;
• Lack of toileting or changing of disposable briefs – which causes incontinence and results in residents sitting in urine and feces, increased falls and agitation, indignity and skin breakdown;
• Lack of assistance eating and drinking — which leads to malnutrition and dehydration;
• Lack of assistance with walking – which leads to lack of mobility;
• Lack of bathing – which leads to indignity, and poor hygiene;
• Poor hand washing techniques — which leads to infection;
• Lack of assistance with participating in activities of interest – which leads to withdrawal and isolation.
• Ignoring call bells or cries for help
Abuse: Abuse means causing intentional pain or harm. This includes physical, mental, verbal, psychological, and sexual abuse, corporal punishment, unreasonable seclusion, and intimidation. Examples include:

• Physical abuse from a staff member or an intruder or visitor from outside the facility — including hitting, pinching, shoving, force-feeding, scratching, slapping, and spitting;
• Psychological or emotional abuse — including berating, ignoring, ridiculing, or cursing a resident, threats of punishment or deprivation;
• Sexual abuse – including improper touching or coercion to perform sexual acts;
• Substandard care which often results in one or more of the following conditions — immobilization, incontinence, dehydration, pressure sores, and depression;
• Rough handling during care giving, medicine administration, or moving a resident.

Misappropriation of Property/Funds: This means the deliberate misplacement or misuse of a resident’s belongings or money without the resident’s consent. Examples include:

• Not placing resident funds in separate interest bearing accounts where required;
• Stealing or embezzling a resident’s money or personal property, such as jewelry or clothing.

Nursing homes are required by federal law to have intervention strategies and regular monitoring to prevent neglect and abuse. The nursing home must re-evaluate these measures on a regular basis.

Florida personal injury lawyers are concerned about the level of care provided at our area nursing homes and assisted living facilities. “When you entrust the care of an elderly family member to a licensed care facility, you don’t want to even think about the possibility for abuse of your loved one”, says Bruce L. Scheiner, founder and senior attorney of Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner Personal Injury Lawyers. “Proper investigation and research of the facility, as well as diligent, ongoing monitoring of the care being provided, can help reduce the risk of abuse cases.”

If you suspect a family member may be the victim of nursing home abuse in Florida, the first thing you should do is report the incident. The National Center on Elder Abuse, under the direction of the U.S. Administration on Aging, provides these resources:
• 1-800-962-2873 (For suspected elder mistreatment in the home).
• 1-800-453-5145 (For suspected elder mistreatment in the home, TDD/TTY access).
• 1-888-831-0404 (For suspected elder mistreatment in long-term care facilities).

Since 1971, Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner Personal Injury Lawyers has been aggressively fighting for the rights of victims of nursing home abuse, focusing on justice and ensuring that your loved one is receiving competent care. We’re here if you need us at 1.800.DialBLS or www.focusedonjustice.com