The incident rate of abuse on the elderly living in nursing homes is a significant subject, especially for families looking for a facility to care for an aging loved one. Unfortunately, numerous reports and studies are showing how allegations of neglect and abuse of nursing home residents are often under-reported or rarely investigated.
A High Incident Rate
The Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of HHS (Health and Human Services) notes that nearly one out of every 10 of the approximate 50 million elderly adults living in America are neglected, abused, or exploited every year. That number is expected to increase in the years ahead, as the remainder of the nation’s baby boomers enters their retirement years.
By law, each nursing facility is required to report every allegation of neglect or abuse immediately to the in-house designee or administrator, certificate agency or state survey agency. This reporting activity on the part of the nursing staff supposedly triggers a subsequent investigation to determine the allegation and substantiate any findings.
In addition to a required report of any allegation of abuse, the nursing facility is expected to provide safety to every resident. However, findings by the Department of HHS show that only approximately 53 percent of the total number of allegations of neglect or abuse with a subsequent investigation are ever reported, even though it is federally required. In addition to the lack of reporting, an investigation by the OIG also concluded that:
- Slightly more than three out of every four nursing homes maintain policies for addressing federal regulations to report abuse allegations with subsequent investigatory results.
- Approximately six out of every 10 documented their compliance of federal regulations on reporting neglect and abuse.
- Only one in four reported abuse allegations involved resident-to-resident incidences, with nearly four in 10 involving resident staff.
Elderly nursing home residents suffering neglect or abuse often deal with emotional or physical harm. Many of the outward signs and indicators of abuse are not always obvious. Because of that, it is beneficial for family members to turn to an outside entity such as an ombudsman or personal injury attorney for advice on how to proceed with an investigation or complaint.
Some of the following signs indicate abuse or neglect in the nursing home. They include:
- Unusual behavior including an extraordinary reaction to typical stimuli
- Unexpected behaviors including depression, withdrawal, self-isolation, intense anger/anxiety or the avoidance of specific healthcare providers or visitors
- Measurable obvious physical signs including malnutrition, dehydration, skin damage, broken bones, an injury from an unidentified source, soiled clothing or linens, or any change in personal hygiene.
- Financial exploits including suspicious signatures on legal documents, missing belongings, unexpected bank account withdrawals, or any change made to property documents, trust or will.
Types of Abuse
No type of neglect or abuse on the elderly is ever acceptable, no matter what the circumstances. Indication that caregivers or other residents are physically, mentally or financially harming the senior requires immediate action. Common examples of abuse include:
- Physical punishment, pushing, slapping, hitting or any type of rough treatment
- Willfully allowing any resident of the nursing home to fall
- Any non-consensual sexual activity including inappropriate touching or sexual talk including comments or suggestions
- Any unintended medical complication including decubitus ulcers (bedsores)
- Any unexplained physical injury including skin conditions, welts, bruises or scratches, which might indicate a resident has been restrained
- Unexplained weight loss
- Threats, cursing or yelling
- Negative teasing or vocal cruelty
- Belittlement or humiliation of the resident through words or actions
- Lack of implementing a plan of care
- Not providing needed assistance, liquids or food
As a result of the study by the OIG, recommendations are being made to ensure nursing facilities are following federal regulations on reporting allegations of abuse or neglect. Health and Human Services is recommending the CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services) take steps to ensure nursing homes continuously maintain abuse allegation policies and implement them according to federal regulations.
- For additional information about nursing home abuse and neglect in Illinois view our page here.