How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in South Carolina [Step-by-Step]Nursing Home Abuse
Many of us must make the difficult decision to move a loved one into a nursing home because we can’t provide the care they need at home. And some seniors with dementia need around-the-clock supervision that simply requires nursing home care. This is never an easy decision.
Families put in a lot of consideration and effort when they choose where their parents, grandparents, or other elder family members will live. If you suspect or have hard evidence of nursing home abuse, you are likely experiencing a wave of emotions. This is a tough situation to be in. It’s difficult to know where to turn or what to do next.
When a senior experiences nursing home abuse, they need help taking swift and decisive action. In this blog post, we describe the step-by-step actions you should take to report nursing home abuse in South Carolina.
#1. Decide If You Need to Call 911
If you feel that your loved one needs immediate medical attention, that they are in imminent danger, or you witness a crime in progress, call 911. Make your loved one’s safety your first priority.
The nursing home staff may try to tell you that you can’t call 911 because they need a doctor’s orders first. Or, they may have some other excuse for why a 911 call is “against policy.”
Don’t listen to them. They are either misguided or straight-up lying. The facility may have a policy against staff calling 911 under certain circumstances. However, you are not an employee; you are a concerned family member. You do not need anyone’s permission or oversight to call an ambulance or the police for a nursing home resident.
#2. Contact a South Carolina Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
Not all nursing home abuse situations are a dire emergency. Each resident and circumstance are unique, so use your best judgment. If you don’t feel that you need a police officer or medical care right away, then your first call should be to a South Carolina nursing home abuse lawyer.
Many law firms that handle nursing home abuse cases are available 24/7, even on holidays and weekends. In fact, abuse is almost always discovered outside of regular business hours, because evenings and weekends are when most people visit their loved ones.
Contact an attorney immediately, before the nursing home has the chance to cover up the abuse. All evidence deteriorates over time. The sooner your legal team can take photos or videos and speak with any eyewitnesses, the better.
#3. Notify South Carolina’s Long Term Care Ombudsman Program
The state’s Department on Aging oversees the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) at 1-800-868-9095. LTCOP needs to know about any abuse, neglect, or exploitation that occurs at a South Carolina nursing home. Together, you and your attorney can decide if you should call LTCOP or if your attorney should contact them on your behalf.
#4. Consider if a Transfer to a New Nursing Home Is Appropriate
It may be in your loved one’s best interests to move to a new long-term care facility. Each abuse case is unique, so you will have to carefully think through what is best for your loved one and if you can continue to trust the facility and its staff.
A nursing home cannot involuntarily discharge a resident solely because they or their family reported abuse or neglect.
A resident can only be discharged if:
- The nursing home is unable to meet the resident’s needs.
- The resident no longer needs the nursing home’s services.
- The resident endangers the safety or health of others in the facility.
- The resident failed to pay for services.
- The nursing home plans to close.
In addition, discharge notices must come in writing, and usually 30 days in advance. (Some situations may require less than 30 days’ notice—for example, if the resident poses a safety hazard to other residents.) A nursing home abuse attorney can prevent an unlawful discharge and help you handle any other acts of retaliation.
Reasons to Hire a South Carolina Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
You may question the need to hire a nursing home abuse lawyer. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the facility will only have your loved one’s best interests at heart.
Long-Term Care Facilities With Documented Instances of Abuse and Neglect Have a Lot to Lose
- When nursing homes fail to meet certain health and safety regulations, they could lose their Medicaid/Medicare funding.
- Ratings for all long-term care facilities in the U.S. that accept Medicare are publicly available.
- When job seekers look at open positions, they consider a nursing home’s rating. Competent and knowledgeable staff avoid poorly rated facilities
It’s difficult for a nursing home’s reputation to recover after abuse and neglect cases are made public. Administrators and other staff members may try to downplay or even cover up what happened to your loved one. Experienced nursing home attorneys know how these cases can play out and stay one step ahead of dishonest staff.
An Attorney Can Help You Pursue a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit
This is a type of civil lawsuit that can be in addition to any criminal lawsuits that the state may file against the facility or staff members.
A nursing home abuse lawsuit can provide a settlement that covers payment for:
- Your loved one’s injuries;
- Any medical care that your loved one needs because of those injuries; and
- Compensation for their pain and suffering.
While no amount of money can undo abuse or neglect, your loved one deserves to be compensated for what they have been through. A civil lawsuit is also another way to hold the nursing home accountable for its actions and lack of oversight.
Questions to Ask a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
Before you hire an attorney to help you handle your loved one’s abuse claims, ask them these questions:
- How much of your caseload is devoted to nursing home abuse and other personal injury cases?
- What type of experience do you have with South Carolina long-term care facilities?
- If there is an emergency, does someone at your firm answer phone calls 24/7?
- What are your fees, and when do you require payment?
Nursing home abuse and neglect cases are complex. You shouldn’t try to navigate these situations without legal representation.
Why You Shouldn’t Try to Handle a Nursing Home Abuse Case on Your Own
If you suspect or have evidence that your loved one is being abused, it’s difficult to keep your emotions under control.
However, you shouldn’t:
- Attempt to conduct your own investigation.
- Make accusations against the on-duty staff.
- Make any verbal or written threats against the facility or staff members.
In doing so, you could jeopardize any criminal investigation. And if you break the law in any way, you could have certain charges brought against you.
In cases of suspected or confirmed nursing home abuse or neglect, do:
- Take photos or videos of any evidence that will support your claim.
- Make copies or take photos of relevant paperwork that are in your loved one’s room or apartment.
- Lastly, stay calm.
Your loved one needs your support, as they just experienced trauma. You’ll need a clear head as you may have to make important decisions about your loved one’s medical care and future placement.
How Common Is Nursing Home Abuse in South Carolina?
Sadly, nursing home abuse is far too common. According to the South Carolina Department of Aging, more than 8,000 complaints are filed by or on behalf of long-term care residents every year. To put that number in perspective, there are 2,039 long-term care facilities in the state.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to know the full magnitude of nursing home abuse. Not all abuse is reported or even identified. Even people who seek medical treatment may not be forthcoming with their providers or they may be unable to describe exactly what happened to them.
How to Identify the 5 Types of Nursing Home Abuse
Instances of nursing home abuse typically fall into at least one of these five categories: physical, sexual, emotional/psychological, financial, and healthcare fraud. Elder abuse can be inflicted not just by nursing home staff but also by other residents and outside visitors.
Many nursing home residents are frail and need a walker or wheelchair to get around. Their condition makes them uniquely susceptible to physical abuse and attacks. They often can’t defend themselves. Elders with dementia or other cognitive impairments also may not be able to describe what happened to them.
Evidence of physical abuse can include unexplained injuries or unlikely stories about why your loved one was hurt.
Unwanted touching or groping, rape, forced nudity, and the creation of explicit photos and videos without consent are all forms of sexual abuse.
Some signs of sexual abuse are blatantly obvious: STDs; bruises on the thighs, buttocks, or genitals; and torn clothing. Other signs are subtler, such as an abrupt change in mood or anxiety around one specific caregiver.
Emotional and psychological abuse includes bullying, verbal attacks, ridicule, and physical isolation.
Seniors who experience emotional and psychological abuse may become depressed and have low self-esteem. They may also frequently skip group activities and become uncharacteristically antisocial.
In a nursing home, financial abuse can take many forms. Staff with access to your loved one’s room may steal their belongings like jewelry, bank cards, and cash. Other residents may also wander into other residents’ private living areas and steal items.
Staff members who have control of your loved one’s finances may abuse this authority. They might purchase items for themselves or write checks for their own expenses.
Nursing home administrators commit fraud when they bill for services that never occurred, a practice that is commonly called “phantom billing.” Health insurance fraud can go undetected for several months or even years. Family members may only be aware of it after they sit down and carefully review medical bills, and find charges and services that don’t make sense.
What Is the Difference Between Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) addresses both elder abuse and elder neglect.
- Abuse is considered an “intentional act or failure to act that causes or creates a risk of harm.”
- Neglect is “the failure to meet an older adult’s basic needs.”
The signs of neglect may be subtler and occur over time. For example, your loved one may have slowly lost weight. They may need encouragement and sometimes-physical help to eat, but this doesn’t always happen because some shifts are understaffed.
From legal and ethical standpoints, there isn’t much distinction between abuse and neglect. Both are unconscionable, deeply upsetting, and against the law.
South Carolina’s Bill of Rights for Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities
The Bill of Rights for Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities contains the state laws that protect nursing home residents. All residents have the right to respect and dignity.
- An environment that is free from abuse and neglect.
- No chemical or physical restraints (unless prescribed by a doctor).
- The right to participate in social activities.
- The right to keep clothing and other personal items, as space permits.
In addition, every resident and their legal guardian have the right to:
- Choose their own doctor and healthcare provider.
- Make decisions about medical care and treatment plans.
- Be fully informed about any changes in medical care.
- Refuse to participate in any experimental research.
Retaliation Is Against the Law
A long-term care facility cannot retaliate against a resident or their guardian because they report a Bill of Rights violation. Prohibited acts of retaliation include “increasing charges, decreasing services, rights, or privileges, or by taking any action to coerce or compel the resident to leave the facility or by abusing or embarrassing or threatening any resident in any manner.”
If you or your loved one experienced nursing home abuse, contact a nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer near you today.
Nathan Hughey, an attorney and fourth-generation South Carolinian, founded Hughey Law Firm in 2007. Before that, he spent five years defending nursing homes and insurance companies. Leveraging his experience, he now advocates for those injured or wronged by such entities, securing over $220 million in verdicts and settlements.