It could be a son or daughter’s worst nightmare: lovingly entrusting her ailing parent with a nursing home, then learning that mom or dad is suffering physical or emotional abuse. Sadly, nursing home abuse is prevalent. Adults are living longer, and as the number of nursing home residents increases, so do instances of abuse. If you believe that your loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse, you should speak to a nursing home lawyer in Hilton Head as soon as you can. Call us today at (843) 881-8644 to schedule a free consultation.
The U.S. population is steadily aging. Almost 10,000 Americans turn 65 each day, per the non-profit Justice in Aging. For the first time in history, by 2030 the elderly will outnumber children (U.S. Census Bureau). Census Bureau experts predict that in the next decade, the elderly will comprise about 20 percent (20%) of the U.S. population. Per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent report, there are 1.7 million licensed nursing home beds.
Because of their significant physical and mental health issues, the elderly are most vulnerable to abuse. The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that approximately 10 percent (10%) of seniors suffered some form of elder abuse. Experts believe that figure is low because only 7 percent of cases are reported to authorities. Some estimate the annual number of elderly abuse cases may be as high as 5 million. An elderly person’s mortality risk triples after suffering abuse.
Why Is Nursing Home Abuse Underreported?
With frailties and infirmities, seniors are simply less able to stand up for themselves or fight back if bullied or attacked. Caretakers can take advantage of the elderly person’s poor hearing or eyesight, or weakened physical or mental conditions. Also, family members or friends might dismiss the elderly patient (for example, assuming he has dementia or simply ‘doesn’t make sense’). With mental decline, the patient might not be taken seriously.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Senior citizen abuse occurs most often at assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Poor training, low hourly wages, and understaffing create a recipe for disaster. Not surprisingly, nursing home residents are least likely to report abuse. They may be incapacitated, incoherent, too frightened or intimidated to speak up, or they’re not believed.
Nursing home abuse is sometimes hard to spot, especially if there are no outwardly apparent visible signs. Types of abuse include:
- Emotional: Threats, harassments, and intimidation of elderly residents by staff members, including emotional exploitation or control.
- Physical: Getting rough with patients while changing clothing or bedding; slapping or pinching patients; twisting arms when moving patients from chair to bed.
- Financial: Conversion, fraud, theft, misappropriation, and embezzlement; the unlawful or unethical use of financial accounts or identity of an elderly person.
- Sexual: Any sexual contact between an elderly patient and a caregiver.
- Neglect: Inattention, inadvertence, or omitting medication, medical care, meals, and hygiene, for elderly patients who depend on staff.
- Verbal: Insulting, threatening, or demeaning patients.
Abuse is rarely an isolated instance, but rather a longstanding pattern with one or more patients.
Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Has the senior’s behavior or personality changed? Here are many signs of abuse:
- Physical abuse
- Bruises, scars, welts, sprains, broken bones, fractures, dislocations
- Wrong prescriptions, dosages, missed medication times
- Caregiver is reluctant to leave room when someone else present
- Broken prosthetics (for example, hearing aids, eyeglasses)
- Emotional abuse
- Infantile behaviors such as rocking, coiling in the fetal position, mumbling
- Harassing, controlling, loudness by the caregiver
- Threats, bullying
- Sexual abuse
- 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
- 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
- Financial abuse
- Changes in financial condition
- Unusual access to online accounts
- Using login/password information
- “Lost” or missing valuables or collections (for example, jewelry)
- Changes to 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
State Laws and Regulations
When we think about abuse, we tend to focus on child and spousal abuse. Awareness about elderly abuse surfaced in the 1970s, when it became a national issue. States passed laws to protect the elderly from abuse.
South Carolina enacted the Omnibus Adult Protection Act (OAPA), to protect the most vulnerable adults from caregiver harm. “Vulnerable adults” are those over age 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, teachers, nurses, doctors, social workers, psychologists) must report if they reasonably believe the vulnerable adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited. Actual knowledge is not required; a professional with a reasonable belief must report. Failure to report is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $2,500 fine and one year in jail.
Adult Protective Services are coordinated through the Department of Social Services, which handles investigations and protective custody proceedings if necessary.
Call an Experienced Hilton Head Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Today to Schedule a Free Consultation
If you or someone you know was hurt by nursing home abuse, or you suspect it, don’t delay. Damages may be significant, and we can help your loved ones. We are skilled elderly law attorneys at the Hughey Law Firm, conveniently located in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. We focus on the helping older adults and handle many cases involving alleged abuse in nursing homes and adult care facilities. To schedule a free consultation, call us right away at (843) 881-8644 or contact us online.