Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

The U.S. General Accounting Office conducted a series of studies revealing that 25% of nursing homes in this country "had serious deficiencies that caused actual harm to residents or placed them at risk of death or serious injury." The study further showed that 40% of these homes had repeated serious deficiencies. In 2016, one advocacy group gave Pennsylvania a failing grade for the quality of its nursing home care. ABC News states that the group also singled out Pennsylvania as one of the only states with a declining quality of care.

As our population continues to age, and more people are living in nursing homes, there has been an alarming increase in reports of cases of nursing home abuse, neglect and malpractice. Quality of care in nursing homes, that is, the technical competency of medical care, remains a major issue despite federal quality standards, survey processes, and enforcement mechanisms which dominate the quality assurance system.

Per The Patriot-News, Pennsylvania has also seen a recent decrease in oversight of local nursing homes. In 2015, the governor's administration banned anonymous complaints, which may discourage many residents from reporting mistreatment. Furthermore, statewide citations of nursing homes have fallen extremely over the last decade. Given these harmful changes, it is essential for families with elderly loved ones to know how to recognize the signs of nursing home abuse or neglect.

Types of Nursing Home Cases

The fundamental types of nursing home cases are characterized as abuse, neglect, and medical malpractice.

ABUSE - This is defined by federal law as the "willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish (42 C.F.R. 488.301). These intentional acts of abuse include the following:

  • Assault and battery, including sexual assault (Physical injuries, such as bruises, sprains, fractures or trauma near the genital area, can be indications of physical or sexual abuse according to the Administration on Aging)
  • Unreasonable or unnecessary restraints. (Pressure marks on a person's wrists or arms may be a sign of forced restraint).
  • Deprivation of food, drink, medicine or other basic necessities (Family members should look for signs of malnutrition and dehydration).
  • Administration of drugs not approved by a medical doctor, or the knowing prescription of improper medications (e.g., use of sedatives by the nursing home).

NEGLECT - Federal law defines neglect as "the failure to provide goods and services necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish or mental illness." (42 C.F.R. 488.301). Neglect differs from abuse. Acts of abuse are done with intent, whereas neglect arises from negligence or indifference. Neglect can be defined as the failure of the caregiver to provide the resident with the reasonable degree of care required given the resident's medical condition or circumstance. Examples of neglect include the following:

  • Failure to prevent infection, bed sores and pressure ulcers (patient needs to be monitored and regularly repositioned).
  • Failure to notify medical doctors of change in medical condition (new medical problem arises or an existing medical condition worsens).
  • Failure to prevent malnutrition or dehydration
  • Physical or mental neglect
  • Negligent use of restraints

In many circumstances, these conditions arise because the facility is understaffed. Although federal regulations require that nursing facilities have licensed nurses on duty 24 hours per day, an RN on duty at least 8 hours a day 7 days a week, and an RN Director of Nursing, these requirements are not adjusted for facility size or assortment of cases. Federal law and regulations require that nursing facilities have "sufficient" staff to attain or maintain "the highest practicable level" of physical, mental and psychosocial well-being of every resident. However, the law and regulations do not provide specific standards or guidance as to what constitutes "sufficient" staffing.

MEDICAL MALPRACTICE - Nursing homes may not always provide an adequate number of doctors to care for nursing home patients. Medical doctors cannot ignore nursing home patients, and should extend the same level of care they would to other patients. If they fail to do so, and harm results, they and the nursing home can be held accountable for their medical negligence.

Holding Nursing Homes Accountable

Family members who have reason to believe that abuse or neglect is occurring should promptly notify Pennsylvania's Adult Protective Services agency, which can conduct a follow-up investigation. According to the AOA, families should be prepared to provide contact information about their loved one and describe the signs of abuse that they have seen. If the abuse is life-threatening, family members should promptly contact law enforcement authorities.

A personal injury lawsuit may be filed on behalf of someone you love who has suffered injuries of unknown origin, experienced frequent falls, suffers from bed sores, sustained a broken hip, or suffers other examples of nursing home abuse or neglect. If you believe that a family member has suffered serious injury or harm as the result of nursing home abuse or neglect, call us for a free, no obligation consultation to discuss a potential lawsuit. There are no fees or expenses unless we are successful in obtaining a recovery. In cases of abuse where the conduct is intentional or exhibits reckless indifference, a nursing home may also be subject to an award of punitive damages.