The Unacceptable Reality of Elder Abuse

Abuse and Neglect

June 15, 2006, was established as the first annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Despite more than a decade of global awareness, the egregious problem of elder abuse persists in the United States. Recently, the Greenville News South Carolina ranks last in rankings of states for elder abuse protections. The report pointed out that while an estimated 5 million people a year are affected by elder abuse, more than 95 percent of all cases go unreported.

In this blog post, we discuss some aspects of elder abuse in South Carolina and beyond.

When the Abuse Comes From a Place of Trust

Any act of violence is confusing and embarrassing when it happens to a vulnerable older adult. When the abuse or exploitation comes from a place of trust, such as healthcare professionals, family members, caregivers, or staff at a skilled nursing facility, it is especially frightening.

Attorneys Nathan Hughey, Stuart Hudson, and Brad Banyas, stand united for the dignity and protection of older adults. Abuse and exploitation are wanton acts of violence. Protecting elders from abuse and neglect is a prime focus of the Hughey Law Firm.

Reporting Requirements

When it comes to our most vulnerable citizens, don’t assume that someone else has already reported a potential problem. Every person who suspects that an older adult is being abused, neglected or exploited in any way should, if possible, report their suspicions to the proper authorities right away. Reports can be made to the South Carolina Adult Protective Services (APS) and Elder Abuse Hotline at (803) 898-7318.

Additionally, South Carolina law mandates members of certain professions to report elder abuse when they suspect it has occurred. These professions include:

  • Most medical and mental health professionals;
  • Social and public assistance workers;
  • Law enforcement; and
  • Officers and employees of an adult care facility.

Abuse Can Take Many Forms

Elder abuse is a multi-faceted problem that, unfortunately, often goes unnoticed and therefore unpunished. Elderly persons living in their own home, with relatives, or in assisted living facilities are just as likely as those living in a nursing home to suffer some form of abuse including:

  • Neglect;
  • Physical and/or sexual assault;
  • Emotional and psychological distress; and
  • Financial abuse and exploitation.

Neglect Is a Common Form of Abuse of Senior Citizens

Make no mistake, passive indifference or willful deprivation on the part of a caregiver constitutes abusive behavior. This is especially true when the senior citizen needs assistance with the activities of daily living. Neglect takes many forms, including:

  • Failure to provide basic hygiene, adequate food, or clean and appropriate clothing;
  • Keeping a residential facility unclean, in disrepair, or lacks having fire and safety hazards;
  • Depriving a senior of assistive devices such as glasses, walkers, canes, dentures;
  • Prohibiting someone from seeking medical or dental care;
  • Failing to supervise a person with dementia; and
  • Leaving an elderly person bedridden and without care.

Some signs of neglect include:

  • Unusual weight loss, malnutrition, dehydration;
  • Untreated physical problems, such as pressure sores;
  • Frequent infections; and
  • Falls.

Physical Abuse Is an Omnipresent Problem

Physical abuse is violent behavior that causes bodily injury, pain, or impairment to the recipient. It is an all-too-common problem in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Signs of physical abuse can include:

  • Burns, bruises, and broken bones;
  • Abrasions that resemble injuries from ropes or straps;
  • Sudden difficulty walking or participating in scheduled exercise programs;
  • Grip marks around the arms or neck;
  • Rope marks or welts on the wrists and/or ankles; and
  • Repeated unexplained injuries.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse is distressingly common in nursing facilities, particularly resident-on-resident abuse that is overlooked by the staff. Signs of sexual abuse include:

  • Unexplained vaginal or anal bleeding;
  • Torn or bloody underwear;
  • Bruised breasts or buttocks; and
  • Venereal diseases or vaginal infections.

Trust Leads to Financial Exploitation

Older people tend to trust their family members, friends, and caregivers. Vulnerable adults will often voluntarily:

  • Give uncharacteristically excessive financial gifts to those who provide companionship; and
  • Assign property or grant a power of attorney when asked to do so out of a fear of losing the care and support they need.

In addition, residents of nursing homes or assisted living facilities can fall victim to:

  • Forgery;
  • Theft; and
  • Scams.

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Large withdrawals from bank accounts;
  • Switching bank accounts;
  • Unusual ATM activity; and
  • Signatures on checks don’t match the older person’s signature.

Uncharacteristic Changes in Behavior Can Indicate Psychological or Emotional Abuse

Verbal assaults, intimidation, isolation, and humiliation are forms of emotional abuse. In an attempt to control a senior’s behavior, caregivers may:

  • Blame them for something they did not do;
  • Purposefully humiliate them;
  • Subject them to public and private ridicule;
  • Talk to them in a condescending manner; and
  • Intentionally isolate them from their family, friends, and other residents.

Body language indicators and other signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal social activities;
  • Changes in alertness or concentration;
  • Reluctance to talk about their daily routine;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Sudden mood swings;
  • Depression;
  • Excessive fatigue; and
  • Reduction in self-esteem or self-confidence.

Healthcare Fraud and Abuse

When unethical doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, and other professional caregivers perpetrate fraud for their own financial gain, some of the fallout lands on the elderly, innocent, and unsuspecting patient. Fictitious health care claims increase the expenses of insurance carriers, and these expenses result in higher insurance premiums and additional out-of-pocket expenses. Examples of healthcare fraud include:

  • Charging for services not provided;
  • Overcharging or double-billing for medical care or services;
  • Receiving kickbacks for prescribing certain drugs;
  • Receiving financial consideration for giving referrals to other providers; and
  • Recommending fraudulent remedies for illnesses or other medical conditions.

Call the Hughey Law Firm for Help if You Suspect Elder Abuse

Don’t let your family member become a statistic—peak with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer in South Carolina if you suspect a family member is being abused, neglected or exploited. Contact Hughey Law Firm today at (843) 881-8644 to find out how we can help.