Nursing homes are big business. South Carolina is home to over 5 million residents, of which approximately 835,000 are senior citizens per the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent data. In addition, there are nearly 200 licensed nursing homes in South Carolina as of mid-2018, with over 20,000 beds. Unfortunately, nursing home abuse is a prevalent problem throughout the United States, and the reality is that it can happen to anyone. If you believe that your loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. To schedule a free consultation with one of the Beaufort nursing home lawyers at the Hughey Law Firm, call us today at (843) 881-8644 or contact us online.

Broken Trust

Caring for an ill, disabled or incapacitated family member is extraordinarily difficult. That devotion often requires special skills, medical training, time, patience, and money. Children and siblings often have no choice but to entrust their loved one to a nursing home facility. That responsibility creates a trust relationship, which when broken cannot only be heartbreakingly devastating but also cause personal injuries (and even death).

South Carolina has comprehensive laws and regulations for licensed facilities, including defining physical and psychological abuse. Residents also have a Bill of Rights that addresses fundamental concerns such as:

  • Medical treatment;
  • Personal possessions;
  • Personal treatment;
  • Communication; and
  • Privacy.

Nursing home facilities owe elderly individuals a duty of care. If breached (either intentionally or through negligence), the elderly resident may recover damages. Elder abuse is serious and may also constitute a crime in South Carolina.

The images are nightmarish: moving an infirm loved one to a nursing home, only to learn that family member or close friend suffered abuse. Nursing home abuse—emotional or physical—is increasing, as the elderly population rises.

Growing Population, Growing Problem

Nearly 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day, per the non-profit Justice in Aging. Experts predict that by 2030, the elderly will outnumber children (U.S. Census Bureau) and will comprise about 20 percent (20%) of the U.S. population.

The elderly are most vulnerable to abuse because of their frail conditions. About 10 percent (10%) of seniors suffered some form of elder abuse, per The National Council on Aging (NCOA). That figure is probably low, because only 7 percent (7%) of cases are actually reported to authorities. Elderly abuse cases may number as high as 5 million annually.

Why Underreported?

With infirmities, senior citizens are often reluctant to ‘speak up’ for themselves or ‘fight back’. They may be incapacitated, incoherent, too frightened or intimidated. Caregivers can take advantage of an elderly person’s poor vision or hearing, or other mental or physical conditions. Elderly patients are often disbelieved or dismissed (for example, due to the onset of dementia).

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Elderly abuse occurs most often at nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Typical causal factors are low hourly wages, inadequate training, and insufficient staffing.

Elderly abuse may not be readily apparent, especially if concealed or no apparent outer signs.

Types of elderly abuse include:

  • Physical: Slapping or pinching patients while changing clothing or bedding; twisting arms; even punching
  • Financial: Fraud, theft, concealment (of money or property)
  • Sexual: Any sexual contact between caregiver and senior (a broad range of nonconsensual touching)
  • Neglect: Elderly patients are often dependent. They need staff attention for feeding, getting dressed, showering/bathing, hygiene, grooming, and medication. Failure to pay attention—even if inadvertent—is abuse.
  • Emotional: Harassment, threats, intimidation, manipulation, and control of nursing home patients
  • Verbal: Insulting, threatening or demeaning seniors

Abuse is usually part of a pattern with one or more residents.

Nursing Home Abuse “Red Flags”

Has the senior’s physical or emotional condition markedly changed or deteriorated? There are many signs of abuse:

  • Emotional
    • Childlike behaviors, such as rocking, coiling in a fetal position, mumbling
    • Harassing or controlling behavior by a caregiver
    • Threats, bullying
  • Sexual
    • Unusual signs near genitals (blood, scars, bruises, lesions, hives, rash)
    • Sexually-transmitted disease or infections
    • Bloody, torn or stained undergarments
    • Stained, bloody or torn underwear
    • Anal or vaginal bleeding
  • Physical
    • Broken hearing aids, eyeglasses or dentures
    • Bruises, scars, welts, sprains, broken bones, fractures, dislocations
    • Wrong prescriptions, dosages, missed medication times
    • Caregiver reluctant to leave the room when someone else present
  • Financial
    • Changes in financial condition
    • Unusual access to online accounts
    • Using login/password information
    • “Lost” or missing valuables or collections (for example, jewelry)
    • Changes to a will, power of attorney, insurance policies, titles to property
    • Missing cash
    • Unexplained withdrawals or use of credit cards or ATM cards
    • Adding names as signatures to bank accounts
    • Odd loans
    • Lack of medical care, despite being able to afford it
    • Unusual purchases (of goods or services), gifts or donations
  • Neglect
    • Leaving the elderly person alone in public
    • Improper attire for weather conditions (rain, snow, heat)
    • Unsafe, unhygienic living conditions
    • Poor hygiene, not bathing or showering
    • Soiled bedding, clothes, bugs, dirty housing
    • Extreme weight loss or gain
    • Bedsores

State Laws and Regulations

Elderly abuse became a national issue in the 1970s. To protect the most vulnerable adults from caregiver harm, South Carolina lawmakers passed the Omnibus Adult Protection Act (OAPA). “Vulnerable adults” are those older than 18 who are limited due to advanced age, organic brain damage or physical, mental or emotional dysfunction. “Caregivers” are not limited to paid professionals but can include relatives and other household members.

Under the OAPA, certain professionals (for example, nurses, physicians, teachers, social workers, psychologists) are required to report if they reasonably believe the vulnerable adult is being abused, neglected or exploited. Actual knowledge is not required; if the professional has a reasonable belief, she must report. Failure to report is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and/or a year in jail.

Adult Protective Services (APS) are coordinated through the Department of Social Services, which investigates cases of alleged elderly abuse. If necessary, APS will initiate protective custody proceedings.

Did Your Loved One Suffer Nursing Home Abuse? Call an Experienced Beaufort, South Carolina Lawyer for Help

If your family member or friend was hurt by nursing home abuse, or if you suspect nursing home abuse, please contact us. We can help you and your loved ones. We are experienced elder law attorneys at the Hughey Law Firm, conveniently located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. We are seasoned professionals, and handle many cases involving older persons who live in nursing homes and adult care facilities. Call us right away at (843) 881-8644 or contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation. Our attorneys and staff care.