Nursing homes are meant to be facilities where health care professionals help provide care for the elderly. Unfortunately, there are a number of facilities where abuse and neglect occur.

Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing homes are meant to be facilities where health care professionals help provide care for the elderly. Unfortunately, there are a number of facilities where abuse and neglect occur. This issue is especially relevant now that the elderly population is increasing, creating a greater need for long-term quality care. The decision to place a loved into a nursing home can be difficult. In addition to the high cost, families also face the tragic possibility of nursing home abuse.

A government study revealed that in 2012, at least one case of abuse or neglect was reported in 85 percent of nursing homes. The Office of the Inspector General indicated that nursing homes only reported 53 percent of allegations against them that same year, suggesting that the actual rate of abuse is likely even higher.

Unfortunately, some facilities consider profits more important than patient care. Oftentimes, Medicaid and Medicare fund a substantial amount of care in nursing homes, but this money does not always seem to trickle down to residents. Some nursing homes may continue to accept new residents in order to keep collecting government money while failing to provide care. Abuse and neglect may stem from a number of factors, including poorly trained staff, under staffing and high turnover rates.

What Constitutes Nursing Home Abuse?

Abuse in nursing homes can take many different forms. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, abuse constitutes the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish.” Family members may notice constant bed sores, wounds or infections or incorrect distribution of medication. In some case, residents may suffer from neglect when staff fail to address issues such as unsanitary conditions.

Each year, approximately 5 million seniors suffer from abuse or neglect. These incidents include cases where harm is caused intentionally or residents are left alone without proper care.

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

The National Outbreak Reporting System (NORS) defines the follow six categories of abuse:

  • Physical
  • Sexual
  • Emotional or Psychological
  • Gross Neglect
  • Financial
  • Resident to Resident

In long-term nursing home facilities, the most common type of abuse is physical; this means that the use of physical force inflicted pain or injury. NORS indicates that in 2010, physical abuse accounted for 29 percent of abuse reports. Physical abuse may include violent acts with or without an object, inappropriate drug use, unnecessary use of physical restraints, force-feeding and punishment.

Family members should look out for warning signs of abuse, sprains dislocation, bruising lacerations, open wounds, broken bones and other physical injuries. They should also be suspicious if staff members refuse to let them see their loved one alone or if lab reports indicate overdosing of medication.

Psychological abuse makes up 21 percent of reported abuse tracked by NORS, making it the third-most common form of abuse. Emotional or psychological abuse occurs when victims suffer distress, humiliation, pain or anguish due to verbal or nonverbal acts; Abusers may intimidate, humiliate or harass elderly patients.

Sexual abuse, where non-consensual sex acts of any kind occur, constitute seven percent of cases. Seniors who are unable to communicate effectively, such as those with dementia, may be especially vulnerable. Signs of sexual abuse may include marks or bruising around the breasts or genitals, sudden venereal disease or infections in the genital area, injuries or bleeding to the genitals or anus and bloody, stained or torn undergarments.

Financial abuse may occur when a staff member takes advantage of a resident and illegally uses their funds, property or assets. A nursing home employee may conduct financial abuse by stealing money, cashing checks without permission or forging signatures. They may also force or deceive a resident into signing a document.

Resident to resident abuse accounts for 22 percent of abuse. This includes all the previous types of abuse mentioned, but occurs between nursing home residents. Some residents may take advantage of more vulnerable residents. This is more prone to happen if there is no staff to supervise the situation.

Gross neglect comprised 14 percent of abuse cases. This occurs when caregivers do not fulfill their professional and legal obligations, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Signs of neglect include bedsores, poor hygiene, malnutrition, unsanitary or unsafe living conditions and untreated health problems.

How to Recognize Abuse and Protect Nursing Home Residents

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) asserts that the first step to preventing abuse is to recognize that it is occurring and stop it. The likelihood of abuse is generally influenced by facility, resident and relationship. In addition to recognizing signs of abuse, families can also be aware of these relevant risk factors.

Poor staffing is the number one cause of nursing home abuse. Residents are at greater risk when there is high turnover and poorly trained or overworked staff. Families should investigate a facilities’ credential and assess whether it is properly staffed before admitting their loved one into a facility.

The resident’s mental and physical conditions are also a risk factor. Unfortunately, the most disabled and fragile patients are the biggest targets for abuse of neglect. Oftentimes, these seniors are unable to communicate the abuse.

A resident’s relationship with family members is also crucial in preventing abuse. Visiting a loved one frequently is beneficial. However, there are also situations where family members can negatively intervene with care.

Who Owns Nursing Homes?

Nursing homes can be non-profit or for-profit. Most of the time, nursing home abuse occurs in for-profit facilities. In these instances, the owners are frequently individuals with no experience in health care, such as entrepreneurs, real estate moguls or investment bankers. Sometimes these owners go through considerable efforts to keep their identity hidden. This makes it more difficult for regulators to find related cases of abuse and neglect.