In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of cases of abuse in America’s nursing homes. Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the number of cited abuse deficiencies more than doubled from 2013 to 2017. In addition, the percentage of abuse deficiencies at the highest level of severity increased during this period from 31.9% to 42.6%.
There are several reasons for the rising number of nursing home abuse cases. One of the primary drivers of this crisis is our aging population. The Baby Boomers are entering their golden years, and an average of 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old every single day. At the same time, there has been an increase in for-profit nursing facilities, and the tight labor market has made it difficult for these facilities to find qualified employees to hire.
As a result, far too many nursing facilities are facing staffing shortages, leading to numerous forms of neglect and abuse. Not only are these facilities understaffed, those who do work there often lack the proper vetting and training to adequately perform their duties. Nursing facilities need to invest far more to obtain quality workers, and the 2019 GAO report rightly concluded that improved oversight is needed to better protect nursing home residents from abuse.
Most Common Types of Nursing Home Abuse
The GAO found that 58% of the abuse suffered by nursing home residents is perpetrated by the staff, while the remaining percentage happens between residents or is done by outsiders. Staff-initiated nursing home abuse can be grouped into three general categories:
- Physical Abuse: This is the most common form of nursing home abuse, and it is often done by staff who do not have the temperament and/or quality of character to work with the elderly. Examples of physical abuse include hitting, punching, slapping, pushing, pulling, pinching, kicking, biting, and striking with an object. Nearly half of all nursing home abuse deficiencies were identified by the GAO as physical in nature.
- Verbal/Mental Abuse: The second most common abuse deficiency in nursing homes is identified as verbal or psychological. Nursing facility residents depend heavily on their caregivers for even their most basic needs. This makes them very susceptible to this form of abuse. Examples of verbal or psychological abuse include yelling, insulting, threatening, intimidating, or harassing. A caregiver may also isolate a resident by forbidding them to leave their room to visit with other residents or outsiders.
- Sexual Abuse: Though it does not occur as often as physical and verbal/mental abuse, sexual abuse is a widespread problem in today’s nursing facilities. A multi-year investigation by CNN found that more than 1,000 nursing homes throughout the country have been cited for sexual abuse. Many predators view the elderly as easy targets, especially those who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Those who have these types of conditions are less likely to remember that they were abused, and people are less likely to believe their story when they do report it.
Protecting your Loved Ones from Nursing Home Abuse
There has been a sharp increase in the number of reported cases of nursing home abuse in recent years, but this only tells part of the story. A very large percentage of abuse cases never get reported at all. Estimates vary, but some studies suggest that only about one out of every 14 cases of abuse are ever formally reported.
It is not hard to see why abuse so seldomly gets reported. As mentioned earlier, nursing home patients rely on their caregivers for everything, and if they report abuse and no one believes them, there is a credible fear that things will get even worse for them. Knowing this, it is all the more important that family members take proactive steps to protect loved ones who are in nursing homes.
The GAO identified “infrequent visitors” as one of the top risk factors for nursing home abuse. In other words, nursing facility residents who are ignored by their loved ones are significantly more likely to be abused. With this in mind, one way you can protect a family member who is in a nursing home is to show up to see them frequently.
If you visit often and get to know your loved one’s caregivers and their supervisors, you will communicate the message that you expect your loved ones to be well cared for. While you visit, pay close attention to their physical conditions, demeanor, and living conditions, and look for any signs that things are not right. And if you suspect that they are being abused, act promptly to put an end to this situation.
Has your Loved One Been Subjected to Nursing Home Abuse? Contact Burge & Burge for Experienced Legal Guidance
If you have good reason to believe that your loved one has been abused in a nursing facility, report this to the proper authorities, then contact us to discuss your legal options. Call our office today at 205-251-9000 or message us online to schedule a free consultation and case assessment with one of our attorneys.