A South Carolina man who was suspicious that nursing home staff might be abusing his 89-year-old mother hid a camera in her room to find out if his suspicions were correct.
It turns out that they were.
Investigators were already looking into the situation at the time, after a hospital alerted police about injuries the woman had suffered. Her son’s camera caught footage of two staff members “using physical force and psychological abuse” when the woman didn’t want to take a shower.
One of the facility’s staff members injured the woman while forcing her to take a shower against her will. Both women involved in the incident were charged with abuse of a vulnerable person and the one who caused the injury was arrested. The facility terminated both staff members, and police believed that the incident was isolated.
Twenty percent of the people who have ever lived to be 65 are alive today, and one in every eight Americans is currently 65 or older. An estimated 1.4 to 1.5 million Americans currently live in a nursing home and that number is likely to grow over the next decade as baby boomers age and begin to need more full-time care. If your family will face this transition in the near future, how do you go about selecting a nursing home? And is it true that nursing homes are always places where abuse occurs?
Read on for more information—and if your loved one was the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect in South Carolina, the experienced nursing home abuse lawyers at the Hughey Law Firm can help you understand how to obtain compensation through a personal injury claim.
What Is Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?
Abuse is not a standard state of affairs in all nursing homes. In fact, many nursing home facilities and the staff who work there are devoted to providing a safe place for seniors. However, nursing home abuse and neglect are major concerns across the nation.
Abuse is defined as the intentional infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, deprivation of care or services, or punishment that results in physical harm, pain, or mental anguish.
Neglect is defined as an intentional or unintentional failure to provide a person with the care and services necessary to ensure freedom from harm or pain, or a failure to react to a potentially dangerous situation resulting in harm or anxiety.
There are several types of nursing home abuse, including:
Physical abuse such as slapping, punching, pinching, or pushing, as well as the use of restraints to force a person to comply.
Mental abuse such as threats, intimidation, or belittling the resident to cause emotional pain.
Sexual abuse including rape, inappropriate touching, or forcing the resident to view pornography or watch others have sex.
Financial abuse, including inappropriate withdrawals from the elder’s bank account or adding someone to a deed or account without permission or to exploit the elder.
Neglect such as refusing to provide medication, medical care, nutrition, or other necessary provisions, failure to keep the resident clean and to provide a sanitary environment, failure to prevent pressure ulcers or falls in spite of known risk, abandonment of an elder in a public place, and failure to prevent the resident from wandering away from the facility.
Laws That Protect Nursing Home Residents
The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Law is a federal law granting nursing home residents certain rights and requiring any nursing homes that participate in Medicare and Medicaid to uphold these provisions. The law grants nursing home residents the following rights:
The right to be fully informed about available services and the cost of these services.
The right to be provided with facility rules, including a copy of residents’ rights.
The right to be told in advance about plans for changing rooms or roommates.
The right to receive information in a language that the resident understands.
The right to receive appropriate assistance if the resident has a sensory impairment.
The right to complain or to file a complaint without fear of reprisal.
The right to request that the facility address grievances the resident presents.
The right to receive adequate and appropriate care.
The right to be informed about all changes in their own medical condition.
The right to participate in their own assessments, care plans, treatments, and discharge.
The right to refuse medication or treatment.
The right to refuse chemical or physical restraints.
The right to review their own medical record.
The right to private and unrestricted communication with anyone they choose.
The right to privacy and confidentiality regarding medical care, personal needs, and financial information.
The right to a 30 day notice of transfer or discharge that includes the reason for transfer or discharge, effective date, location to which the resident will be transferred, as well as the right to appeal that decision.
The right to be treated with consideration, respect, and dignity.
The right to be free from any mental or physical abuse, corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, and physical or chemical restraints.
The right to self-determination.
The right to security of personal possessions.
The right to visits by the resident’s relatives, friends, and guests of their choosing.
The right to refuse visitors.
The right to make personal decisions about where and how to spend free time.
The right to reasonable accommodation of preferences and needs.
The right to choose a physician.
The right to participate in social activities both within and outside of the nursing home.
The right to organize and participate in a residents’ council.
The right to manage their own financial affairs.
In addition to federal requirements, South Carolina has mandatory reporting requirements. Those required by law to report suspected nursing home abuse and neglect are:
Other medical, mental health, or allied health professionals;
Christian Science practitioners;
Mental health or intellectual disability specialists;
Social or public assistance workers;
Staff or volunteers at an adult daycare or facility;
Law enforcement officers; and
Anyone with actual knowledge of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
The law requires any of the above-listed individuals to report suspected abuse within 24 hours or the next working day. An individual may make a report in writing, by telephone call, or in person. The information reported must include:
The vulnerable adult’s name or physical description if the reporter does not know the victim’s name;
The name and address of the vulnerable adult’s caregiver or any person who has or had permanent or long-term custody of the vulnerable adult; and
A description of the facts and circumstances leading to the report.
Facilities are barred from developing policies that interfere with mandatory reporting requirements. Failing to report suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable adult is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 or imprisonment for up to one year. In emergencies that pose an imminent risk of harm to the resident, immediately make the report to law enforcement.
Reasons to Suspect Abuse
These red flags may indicate possible nursing home abuse:
Unexplained injuries, particularly if they require hospitalization;
Bruising, particularly on a nursing home resident’s wrists, which may indicate that they have been subject to unlawful restraint, or on their genitalia, which may indicate that they have been subject to sexual abuse;
Behavioral changes, including agitation or withdrawal;
Falls, fractures, head injuries, or increased or worsening pressure ulcers;
Malnutrition or dehydration;
Reluctance to speak in the presence of staff members;
Any staff member’s refusal to allow the resident to be alone with visitors;
Soiled or dirty clothing, or the appearance that the vulnerable adult has not been bathed;
Symptoms that indicate the resident may have been over- or under-medicated;
Staff who appear frantic or a staff-to-resident ratio that appears inadequate to handle residents’ needs;
High staff turnover, especially in key positions such as the director or the heads of nursing, nutrition, or social services;
A resident who is uncomfortable around certain staff members or who states that they do not want to be cared for by a specific staff member; and
Unanswered call lights.
How to Choose a Nursing Home
Selecting a nursing home is an important decision, as it will have an enormous impact on your loved one’s safety and quality of life. Some questions you should ask when you are considering moving your loved one to a nursing home include:
What is the ratio of staff to residents? Before you ask this question, ensure that you’ve done your own research by taking a look at the facility’s page on the Medicare website.
What is your staff turnover rate? Consistent staffing helps to ensure quality care and allows your loved one the comfort of knowing their caretakers.
How long do nurses and assistants spend with each resident each day?
What services do you offer? If your loved one has specific issues that require specialized care, make sure that the facility you choose can provide that care adequately.
How do you prevent pressure ulcers? This is a particularly important question if your loved one is bed-bound or has diminished mobility.
How does your facility avoid infections and the spread of infectious diseases?
What happens if I run out of money? Nursing home evictions can and do happen. You need to know, before choosing a facility, what the policies are about payment among the facilities you’re considering.
How do you promote diversity so that all residents feel comfortable and included?
What is your policy on mood-altering medication and the use of chemical restraints?
What kind of food do you serve?
What is your policy regarding cultural dietary needs and individual food preferences?
Do you accommodate special diets?
Can residents eat when they want?
What sort of activities do you offer to keep residents engaged?
Does the facility have a resident or family advisory council?
Is there reliable transportation available so that residents can attend activities and events outside of the facility?
Do residents have the opportunity to spend time outdoors?
When selecting a facility, it is important to know what may indicate that the facility is not a safe or appropriate choice for your loved one. These red flags include:
Loud noises. Well-organized facilities will maintain a calming environment for residents. Loud noises can often increase agitation in elderly adults.
Disrespect. Do the staff members know the residents’ names? Do they speak to residents with respect? Do you witness warm interactions between residents and staff? If the answers to these questions are no, this is a major red flag regarding the quality of care your loved one might receive at this facility.
Absent administrators. Is the facility administrator accessible and available to answer questions?
A lack of choices. Federal law states that residents have the right to choose what they want to wear and what to do in their free time. Beware of facilities that don’t advertise the types of activities available to residents and where you don’t see residents freely engaging in activities during your tour.
Visiting hours. If the facility you’re considering has set visitation hours, this will inhibit your ability to freely visit your loved one, as well as inhibiting your loved one’s ability to have guests any time they choose.
An unsafe neighborhood. While most elderly individuals in nursing homes spend the majority of their time indoors, they also enjoy outdoor activities from time to time. Look for a place that offers secure outdoor space for your loved one to enjoy.
Misaligned values. Your values and goals for your loved one’s care must align with what the facility you choose offers. Ask the administration how the facility approaches important aspects of care such as end of life care or goals for maintaining residents’ functional abilities.
With all the research you do and questions you ask, you may still find when touring a facility that “something feels off.” Trust your gut when it comes to making this decision. If something doesn’t seem right with the facility, it probably isn’t.
If you would like more information about specific location or compare compliance ratings between nursing homes check out some of our other pages:
Call Hughey Law Firm’s South Carolina Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse Attorneys Today
If your loved one suffered from abuse or neglect at a nursing home in South Carolina, we can talk to you about the process for obtaining compensation. Contact us for a consultation. You can reach the Hughey Law Firm’s nursing home abuse and neglect lawyers at (843) 881-8644 or through our confidential contact page.
Hughey Law Firm LLC 1311 Chuck Dawley Blvd. | Suite 201 Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464 Phone: 843-881-8644