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Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Steps to Take If You Suspect It

Posted on February 21, 2018 by Kelly Wolford
Caregiver mistreating senior citizen woman

Making the decision to move a loved one into a nursing home can be a heart-wrenching process. It is also a stressful one. In recent years, nursing facilities in New York and across the country have made headlines with horrific stories of abuse and neglect suffered by elderly and other vulnerable adults.

Even when family members do their research to find a quality nursing home, the sad truth is that abuse can happen in even the most highly rated facilities – and it’s not always easy to spot.

Nobody knows exactly how many cases of nursing home abuse happen each year. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 of people over the age of 60 have been victims of elder abuse. A study in New York found that 260,000 (or 1 in 13) older adults suffered some form of abuse during a one-year period. But many cases of nursing home abuse and neglect go unreported, either because victims cannot or are too afraid to speak up.

If you suspect that someone you love is being abused in a skilled nursing home, assisted living or other long-term residential care facility, you can file a complaint with the New York State Department of Health. You should also contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney to help investigate the situation and advise you about taking legal action.

Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Nursing home abuse can take many forms, and some signs are more visible than others. Examples of potential abuse include:

  • Physical abuse: Any type of force that causes bodily injury. Visible signs might include bruises, cuts or broken bones that might have come from hitting, slapping or shoving. Physical signs of neglect might be sudden weight loss due to malnourishment, bedsores, dehydration and poor hygiene.
  • Psychological abuse: Verbal abuse such as yelling, humiliating, or making fun of a nursing home resident can be emotionally isolating. Rather than confiding in you about the abuse, seniors sometimes display behavioral changes such as a sudden decline in cognition or depression.
  • Sexual abuse: Any form of sexual contact in which a person does not – or cannot – give consent, such as in cases of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
  • Financial exploitation:  Occurs when a caregiver takes control of a patient’s finances to steal money, commit identity theft, forge signatures or steal property.
  • Healthcare fraud and abuse: Examples might include double-billing, over- or under-prescribing medications, overcharging for services and Medicare or Medicaid fraud.

What Are Residents’ Rights in New York Nursing Homes?

The New York State Department of Health publishes an extensive guide called Your Rights as a Nursing Home Resident in New York State and Nursing Home Responsibilities. Each section provides information about residents’ rights and the standards that nursing facilities must meet in accordance with state law.

Some examples of residents’ rights include:

  • To be provided a comfortable living environment and be treated with dignity and respect
  • To receive quality care without discrimination
  • To make your own personal and medical decisions
  • To have the authority to protect your own money and personal property
  • To have private communication with your doctors, friends and family
  • To receive written and verbal descriptions of the fees and services provided at the facility
  • To have a clear and user-friendly complaint process
  • To live free from chemical or physical restraints except those authorized by nursing home standards (such as a doctor’s order)
  • To apply for Medicaid or Medicare benefits

The guide also includes information about the obligations that nursing homes owe to residents, including a prompt response to any grievances. Keep in mind that these rights apply to the nursing home resident, but complaints may be brought by family members, other appointed representatives, nursing home staff or anyone with concerns about a resident’s care. Learn more about how to make a nursing home complaint in New York.

How Could a Nursing Home Abuse Attorney Help Me?

When you make a complaint about the quality of care at a long-term care facility, you should expect a prompt response from a concerned caregiver. But all too often, people encounter red tape, delays and even outright hostility.

Excuses such as “We’re understaffed” will not suffice in cases of elder neglect. An attorney can be a valuable tool to help you get the answers you need and, if necessary, to bring a claim for compensation for negligence or wrongful death.

Lawyers can search out the truth to discover how the nursing home abuse or neglect happened. Common reasons include:

  • Poorly trained staff
  • Negligent hiring
  • Employee shortages
  • Medication errors
  • Third-party responsibility (another patient is responsible for the abuse)
  • Fraudulent practices

Because nursing home laws are complex and vary by state, working with a local attorney can help ensure that you and the ones you love are fairly compensated for nursing home abuse injuries. A lawyer can also engage experts (such as other physicians, nutritionists and counselors) to offer testimony to support your case. By teaming up with a dedicated nursing home abuse lawyer, you also have the potential to stop the suffering of other vulnerable residents.

How Can I Find a Good Nursing Home?

There are more than 600 nursing homes in New York State. To find the one that’s right for your loved one, the first step is to take a tour. When you’re there, keep questions like these in mind:

  • Does the environment look clean and smell nice?
  • Do the residents seem happy?
  • Are you able to speak directly with the executive director, supervising doctor and nurse?
  • Can you speak with someone on the nursing home resident’s council to get their opinions?
  • What is the food like?
  • How does the home handle emergencies, such as a fall?
  • What does the facility do to prevent wandering?

In addition, the Health Department offers this directory of nursing homes throughout New York State, and the U.S. Office for Medicare has a 5-star rating system tool called Nursing Home Compare to assist you in your search.

Contact Our Upstate New York Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Attorneys Today

If a loved one of yours has been injured at a nursing home or other long-term care facility in New York, Powers & Santola, LLP, is ready to help. Contact us today for a free consultation about your best legal options.