What to do if a Loved One Suffers Abuse in a Nursing Home

Most nursing homes are wonderful places for elderly and disabled citizens to reside. Unfortunately, these residents are not immune from nursing home abuse. As we grow older, we are often less able to stand up for ourselves when we are bullied, or fight back if we are attacked. If you suspect that someone you know or love may be a victim of elder abuse, it is important to recognize the signs and get help.

Many elderly people do not see, hear, or think as well as they did when they were young. In some cases, this makes it easier for people to take advantage of them. It is important to be aware of the types of abuse that can occur and know what to do if you suspect something. Elders who are harmed physically or psychologically often don’t know how to get help, or are afraid or unable to report the abuse.

Types of Abuse

Physical abuse is one of the six types of abuse that may occur in nursing homes. It includes assaults such as hitting or shoving as well as inappropriate use of restraints, confinement, or medications. Emotional or psychological abuse is the second most well known type. Verbal abuse such as intimidation, yelling, humiliation, and blaming can cause emotional pain and suffering. Nonverbal forms may include ignoring the elderly person or isolation from friends, family, or activities.

Neglect and abandonment is another type of abuse, accounting for more than 50 percent of reported elder care abuse. It may be intentional or result as a result of understaffing or wrongly estimating the amount of care needed. Sexual abuse can also occur, including physical acts as well as forcing viewing of pornographic material or sex acts, or any unwanted sexual touching.

The last two types of elder care abuse are financially based. Financial exploitation involves unauthorized use of or stealing of an elderly person’s money or property. This can include using checks, credit cards, or bank accounts without permission. Healthcare fraud can occur when nursing homes charge for services that were not actually provided or double bill for services.

Warning Flags

Like many kinds of abuse, elder abuse is not always easy to spot. Here are some signs you can look for if you suspect something:

  • Bandages, bruising, bleeding, sores, and cuts
  • Restraint marks around wrists, ankles, throat or mouth
  • Sudden weight loss or gain
  • Rise in number or severity of infections
  • Unclean living materials
  • Preventing resident from being alone with family, or limiting time spent together
  • Listless or unresponsive behavior
  • Withdrawal, depression, unwillingness to talk

What to Do

If you suspect that abuse is happening at a nursing home, the first step is often to talk with your loved one. Though this is a good first step, you should be aware that often patients are reluctant to talk, even if they are mentally capacitated. Abusers often hold power over their victims, which can make reporting the abuse very difficult. Stay calm. In most cases, the resident’s life is not in immediate danger; though if it is, you should call 911 immediately. You can also contact the Department of Health and report your concerns. They should visit the facility and do an independent investigation.

Talking to the facility manager or supervisor is another important step. In some cases, they may not know what is happening and may be able to resolve the issue. Though it won’t always work out that way, giving them the benefit of the doubt can often lead to an ending that both parties are happy with. The administration should be able to help investigate your concerns.

If talking doesn’t work, your next step is to file a complaint with Pennsylvania Elder Abuse & Adult Protective Services. They can investigate and provide needed resources. If the abuse is happening in a licensed facility, you can call the state Attorney General’s office to make a complaint or report and consider discussing your situation with an experienced nursing home abuse attorney in Philadelphia.

Once you’ve discovered abuse and gotten your loved one into a safer position, you may want to hire a lawyer to represent your case. Nursing home abuse cases can be complicated, and require a lot of skill. Finding a lawyer with experience in this area can help your case go smoothly.