As your loved one ages, they may need care that you are not able to provide alone. At this point, it’s likely you’ll consider nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, like assisted or independent living, depending on the circumstances and your loved one’s needs. Even if you’re confident you’ve found a safe environment for them, it’s important to remember that there are negligent care facilities that abuse their residents. This type of abuse is often referred to as elder abuse. Our Atlanta nursing home abuse lawyers are here for you if that happens.
It’s no secret that long-term nursing home facilities are incredibly expensive. The Administration on Aging provides information on national and state-by-state costs. In Georgia, the average annual cost for a nursing home is over $70,000, with some facilities costing more than $80,000. With a price tag like that, you’ll undoubtedly want the best possible care for your loved one. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen.
If you have an elderly loved one in a nursing home or long-term care facility and fear they are being abused, mistreated, or neglected by staff members, you have the legal right to hire a lawyer to represent your loved one and ensure they receive the financial compensation needed to recover from the abuse and find a new, more appropriate facility. Filing a lawsuit against the institution also protects other residents and ensures those employees never make the same mistake twice.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
If your loved one is in a long-term care facility, it’s important to educate yourself on the common types of elder abuse. You can’t be there for your loved one all the time, unfortunately, but you can pay careful attention to your loved one as well as the conditions of the facility when you visit them. Follow your gut instinct. If anything seems off, it usually is. You know your loved one better than anyone else.
Here are the most common forms of elder abuse and how they occur:
Physical Abuse. This type of abuse is the most common in nursing homes and is defined as some type of physical force on an elderly person that may result in bodily harm, ongoing impairment, or physical pain. This may include hitting, beating, shoving, slapping, shaking, force-feeding, physical punishments, and the use of physical restraints that have not been deemed medically necessary by a physician.
Psychological Abuse. Also referred to as emotional abuse, psychological abuse occurs when a staff member inflicts pain, anguish, or distress on a resident with verbal or nonverbal actions. Typical actions include insulting the resident, engaging in verbal assaults, humiliation tactics, threats, intimidation, or harassment. The elder may be treated like a child or isolated from activities, their friends, or their family.
Financial Exploitation. When a staff member financially abuses a resident, it’s likely they’ll be illegally or improperly using the person’s assets or other property. Examples include stealing cash, forging signatures, signing checks, stealing possessions, or improperly accessing the power of attorney benefits. If your loved one has control of their finances in a long-term care facility, it’s important to discuss their accounts with them to ensure they’re not being taken advantage of.
Sexual Abuse. Any type of sexual contact with someone who denies consent or is unable to provide consent is a form of sexual abuse. It’s important to recognize that this type of abuse can occur between staff and residents or between residents. Examples include unwanted touching, sexual assault, forced pornographic photography, or coerced nudity.
Neglect. While neglect and abuse are sometimes used interchangeably, neglect is actually a type of abuse. It is defined as the refusal or inability to provide a nursing home resident with the care they need to live a high quality life. A resident is being neglected if they are not being provided with essentials like food, water, shelter, clothing, medical care, hygiene options, personal safety, or comfort.
Abandonment. This occurs when a nursing home staff member or resident caretaker deserts a senior. They may be left at public places like shopping malls or grocery stores. They may also be taken to and dropped off at a different nursing home facility or hospital without the family being informed.
Resident-to-Resident Mistreatment. A nursing home is responsible for the care of all their residents. This includes ensuring the residents are treating each other appropriately. In the event your loved one is abused in any way by another resident, the facility may be held accountable for not monitoring their patients properly.
Self-Neglect. This type of neglect is characterized by a senior engaging in behaviors that threaten their personal health or safety. If they refuse to eat, drink, bathe, or take their medications, they may be intentionally self-destructive. A nursing home is responsible for ensuring their patients are safe and healthy, which means monitoring them for signs of self-neglect.
Signs of Elder Abuse
If you suspect your loved one is being abused, be on the lookout for these common signs and symptoms:
- Physical Evidence. Physical symptoms are often the easiest to identify, as they’re more likely to be visible on the body. Signs may include broken bones, lacerations, bruising, open wounds, dislocations, sprains, broken eyeglasses, evidence of malnutrition or dehydration, and unsanitary sheets or clothes.
- Bed Sores. Bed sores are often a sign of serious abuse and only form when staff is neglectful. When a resident is left in a single position for an extended period of time, it’s possible for their skin to become irritated. As skin loss occurs, the remaining open wound is susceptible to quick infections. If the infections are not taken care of, the consequences can be deadly. These can be avoided when residents are moved frequently, exercise, and have their skin inspected.
- Emotional Trauma. An elder being subjected to any type of abuse is likely to exhibit signs of emotional trauma. They may refuse to communicate or become withdrawn. They may also have unusual behaviors or take little interest in hobbies or activities they previously enjoyed.
- Financial Disparities. If you notice unexplained withdraws from your loved one’s bank account or changes to their power of attorney or will, it’s likely they are being exploited financially. The facility itself may also be taking advantage of your family member if they provide unnecessary services or add upcharges to the bill.
While visiting your loved one, if you regularly notice any of the above symptoms or have other reasons to suspect abuse, you should call Georgia’s elder abuse hotline as quickly as possible. They will help you relocate your loved one to a safe environment. Afterward, getting in touch with our lawyers is highly recommended. A lawyer can help you file a lawsuit which will force the responsible staff member or negligent care team to redetermine their care procedures and policies.
Recognizing an Elder Abuser
Your loved one will come in contact with a variety of staff members and caretakers while in a nursing home or other long-term care facility. You’ll benefit from being familiar with the types of employees and how they interact with the residents.
Examples of direct care employees include the following:
- Registered Nurses (RN). An RN administers medication, monitors patient recovery and progress, and educates patients and their families on prevention and treatment.
- Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN). These individuals focus on patient care. They monitor vital signs and update charts. They are also responsible for basic hygiene and personal care, like bathing, dressing, and eating.
- Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN). LPNs are the assistants to RNs. They perform basic medical procedures like taking vital and passing medication. They also have the ability to supervise nursing aides.
- Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA). These individuals provide hands-on health care to patients. They often assist with bathing, dressing, and other basic activities. They also take patients’ vitals, blood pressure, and temperature.
- Physical Therapists (PT). Physical therapists help injured patients improve their movement and manage pain.
In addition to those employees, residents are likely to come in contact with nursing assistants, dieticians, support employees, and administration.
One of the first signs an abuser may give is if they won’t let you be alone with your loved one. If they’re constantly monitoring your visit or checking in so often you don’t have time to speak with your family member privately, they may be trying to prevent your loved one from telling you about the abuse. You may also notice subtle or direct threats or warnings that should be cause for concern.
Legal Rights of Nursing Home Residents in Atlanta
All nursing home and long-term facility residents have rights and certain protections under federal and state law. According to federal law, residents have the right to be free from physical or mental abuse, and are not to be subjected to corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, or any other physical or chemical restraints imposed for the purpose of discipline and convenience that are not required to treat the resident’s medical symptoms. They are also to be treated with dignity and respect.
Georgia’s Department of Community Health establishes the healthcare facility regulations and residents’ rights. The Long-Term Care Facilities: Bill of Rights covers notification of rights, citizenship and personal choice, privacy rights, management of personal property and financial affairs, care, treatment and refusal, restraint usage, transfer and discharge, and more. Let’s take a look at some of these legal rights in more detail.
Nursing home residents have the right to make decisions regarding their care, including, but not limited to:
- Being free from discrimination based on physical or mental conditions, or source of payment
- Participating in family, religious, social, and community events and activities
- Participating in the development of their personal care plan
- Refusing medications, dietary restrictions, or treatment
- Choosing or changing primary care physicians
- Voting in any election
- Receiving private visitors
- Privacy in their rooms
- Being free from physical and chemical restraints
- Entering or leaving the facility as desired
- Waking up and going to sleep as desired
When these basic rights are not met, residents and their family members can take legal action. Unfortunately, fighting nursing home abuse and neglect cases can be incredibly difficult. Most nursing homes are owned by corporations with a great deal of money and powerful legal departments. You’ll need an experienced personal injury lawyer on your side to succeed.
You’ll also need any evidence you can gather in the way of proving that the abuse or neglect occurred. Photographic evidence is ideal and can take the form of pictures of restraints, bruises, marks, or other injuries. Other forms of evidence can include medical records, photographs of unclean or unsafe conditions, recorded conversations with nursing home staff members, security camera footage, and admission documentation.
Preventing Nursing Home Abuse
Abuse in long-term care facilities happens for a variety of reasons; however, the actions are never excusable. If you’ve recently placed your loved one in a nursing home, you can aid in the prevention of abuse by taking the following steps into consideration:
- Stay in touch with your loved one.
- Ensure your elders are not isolated.
- Encourage your loved one to remain as active as possible.
- Help your loved one attend religious services and community activities that are important to them.
- Ensure your loved one understands the state of their financial affairs.
- Stay involved in the nursing home process, so you understand what kind of treatments your loved one will receive.
- Be aware of any changes in your loved one’s appearance or mood.
Steps to Take If You Believe Your Loved One Is Being Abused
If you notice signs of nursing home abuse, like unexplained injuries, unresponsiveness, poor hygiene, or strange behaviors, there are steps you can take to ensure your loved one is properly taken care of:
- Stay Calm. The moment you begin to suspect your loved one is being abused at their facility, it’s understandable to become upset or even angry. It’s important to remember to remain calm for the sake of your family member. Having an even temper is also likely to resolve the situation faster.
- Speak with Your Loved One. Speak with your loved one privately about what their experiences have been like at the nursing home. Be aware that they may be reluctant to speak for fear of retaliation. If, for some reason, the facility makes this a difficult process, you may want to skip straight to calling the police.
- Ask Questions. Question the staff and management regarding the signs of suspected abuse. If they are unwilling to comply or offer unsatisfactory answers, you’ll want to consider taking formal action.
- Take Notes. A quality facility will not mind your inquiries. Record whatever is discussed, as well as what signs you notice that signify abuse. Make sure you get the names and titles of everyone you speak to. If the issue is unresolved, this information will help your lawyer with your case.
- Contact the Authorities. If the abuse is clear or you are concerned about imminent danger, call the police immediately. They will help you find a new location at another facility and will investigate the nursing home.
- Consult a Lawyer. As discussed, your loved one is entitled to certain legal rights and protection. If those are violated by their nursing home, they may be eligible for compensation. Hiring an attorney also has the potential to prevent future cases of abuse.
How We Help Families with Nursing Home Abuse Claims
When you discover your loved one is being abused and decide to take legal action on their behalf, we attorneys can advocate for you and help you recover compensation for the losses incurred. We can do this by ensuring we build you the strongest case possible by:
- Working with medical experts to determine how your loved one was injured
- Reviewing your loved one’s medical records
- Interviewing residents and employees in the nursing home
- Collecting photographic evidence and videotapes from the time when the abuse occurred
- Making sure the nursing home doesn’t make an attempt to block access to important or relevant information
- Interviewing possible witnesses
- Reviewing business records to determine if the nursing home is legally hiring their employees
- Working with health care providers to determine the projected future cost of living after the abuse
- Determining the cost of non-economic damages related to the abuse
After we collect the necessary information to strengthen your case, we can work on proving the nursing home facility was negligent. Often times, liability results from negligent supervision and care, poor or illegal hiring practices and retention of employees, negligent premises maintenance, or poor maintenance or selection of equipment. We can prove liability if the facility breached their duty, that breach injured your loved one, and the facility’s conduct correlates to the injury.
If you’re considering file a claim but have not acted, it’s important to remember that you only have two years to do so – per the state’s statute of limitations. Neglecting to file within this timeframe will result in dismissal without review.
Take Legal Action with Bey & Associates
With 1.4 million nursing home residents in the United States, it’s imperative we, as family members, monitor our loved ones and talk with them regularly to ensure they are receiving the care they need and are entitled to. In the event they are not, it may be in their best interest for you to pursue legal action. The Atlanta nursing home abuse lawyers at Bey & Associates have the experience and tenacity necessary to hold the negligent facility accountable for their actions.
We’ve successfully helped many personal injury victims with their claims. We can help your family in the same way. If you’re ready to ensure your loved one’s abusers are held accountable for their actions, contact our office today for a free consultation. We’ll help you understand your legal rights and options, so you can decide how best to proceed.