Many people spend their golden years in a nursing home, with the expectation that they will be safe and well cared for. However, this is not always the case. With homes often severely understaffed due to cost-cutting measures, the vast majority of residents in Oklahoma City and beyond do not receive appropriate care, and some are even abused by staff members. Read on to find out what constitutes nursing home abuse and how to stand up against it.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
If one of your loved ones lives in a nursing home, it’s crucial that you know their rights so that you can act in case they are violated. Many aspects of elderly care are mandated by law, ensuring that the nursing home provides a healthy and safe environment for its residents. There are laws related to nutrition and care, injuries sustained, the use of restraints, and even the installation of surveillance devices.
The Consequences of Understaffing
Across the US, there is a severe shortage of nursing home staff, with around 95% of homes currently understaffed. This is mainly due to cost-cutting measures, some of which are necessitated by ever-shrinking Medicare benefits and expanded paperwork demands from government healthcare programs; but it can be due to simple greed or negligence on the part of management. Whatever the reason, the level of care drops, with only one employee available for too many residents, staff are unable to properly care for so many people and feel overworked and exhausted, which exacerbates the problem.
Understaffing causes a variety of problems. Immobile patients are likely to suffer from bedsores and skin problems, as they are not turned often enough. What’s more, the nursing staff does not have enough time to help residents stay active, engage them mentally and address their concerns, leading to quicker physical and mental deterioration. In severe cases, they may not even be bathed and cleaned regularly.
Injuries and the Use of Excessive Force
Whether caused by negligent or even abusive staff, injuries are maybe the easiest type of neglect to spot. When a resident is not looked after properly, they often develop severe infections that go undetected, or they may injure themselves when walking around unaided.
In the worst cases, abusive members of staff can cause injuries due to the use of excessive force. If a resident suffers physical harm, it is essential that he or she is removed immediately and relatives obtain legal aid.
A particularly disturbing type of abuse is sexual assault, which is always intentional and often happens to residents who are not able to communicate clearly anymore or suffer from memory loss. This both removes the patient’s ability to give consent and makes the issue hard to detect. The main consequences of sexual abuse are mental, including agitation, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, and even suicide attempts.
It is required by law that nursing home residents benefit from high-quality, regular meals. A food supervisor or nutritionist determines the individual needs of the patients and develops an adequate diet. In particular, food must be offered at all times and three meals, at least four hours apart each, must be provided. If the home fails to meet these minimum guidelines, this may be a sign of abuse.
The Use of Restraints
In Oklahoma City, neither physical nor chemical restraints are allowed in nursing homes if used to discipline the residents or for the convenience of the staff. The only time a resident should be restrained is during an emergency or for medical purposes, and this should generally only happen once a physician has given consent. If restraints are used to prevent injuries, the patient must be observed at all times and released for ten minutes every two hours.
If a resident has been over-medicated or otherwise injured due to the use of restraints, this is a clear sign of abuse and could be grounds for a lawsuit. Some potential consequences of using restraints are bedsores, cuts and bruises, restricted breathing, and even strangulation or falls. Even worse, patients may suffer from mental issues such as loss of dignity, depression, agitation, and fear.
Removing Electronic Monitoring
Since 2013, it is illegal for nursing home staff to remove electronic monitoring devices that residents or their relatives have installed in their living quarters. However, if the rooms are shared, the roommate must also consent to the monitoring device. If your loved one’s surveillance camera has been removed or if a camera has been installed without their consent, this is unlawful.
In case you suspect neglect or abuse in your relative’s nursing home, installing a monitoring device could be a good way of confirming this and providing evidence. Any footage obtained from such a camera can be used in court.
How To Spot Abuse
Although certain types of abuse are easy to identify, others are less clear-cut, especially if the resident in question suffers from dementia or is otherwise not able to communicate clearly. The first thing to check for is physical signs such as bruising, scrapes, bedsores, burns, a limp, or even bite marks. Although all of these could be accidents or a self-inflicted injury, it is worth double-checking, especially if they recur more than once.
Even when there are no physical signs, abuse may still be present. Also, consider the resident’s emotional state and behavioral changes. Depression, anxiety, agitation, changes in speech patterns or new, habitual behaviors could all indicate an issue. In particular, watch out for changes in the presence of staff members. If the resident stops speaking or appears fearful when a staff member approaches, this is a clear sign of abuse.
If you suspect nursing home abuse, the first step should be removing the resident from the home in question. Neglect and deliberate abuse can have grave consequences for the elderly, including quicker deterioration, mental stress, and even death. That’s why it’s essential that they are removed from the harmful situation immediately. Next, contact a competent, local personal injury lawyer, who can help you take action against the perpetrators.
Finding a Competent Lawyer
To ensure you have the best chances possible of winning your case, you should hire an experienced lawyer who has dealt with similar cases in the local area. Nursing home laws vary from state to state, and if your resident is located in Oklahoma City, employing a local lawyer gives you the best chance of success. Check the reviews, credentials, and past work of an attorney to make sure they have won similar cases in the past.
Making Your Case
Once you’ve hired a lawyer, you can help them to make your case by providing them with as much pertinent information as possible. Keep a detailed record of incidents including where, when, and how they occurred. If there is photo or video evidence, this can help to build a much stronger case. Once enough information has been gathered to move forward, your attorney can work with you to hold the nursing home responsible and resolve the situation.
Nursing home neglect can present itself in many different ways and is therefore not always easy to identify and prove. It may come in the form of physical violence, neglect due to understaffing, or the unlawful use of restraints. When dealing with such a difficult and sensitive topic, it is best to consult with a specialist who has detailed knowledge of the local laws and regulations.
In the Oklahoma City area, John Cannon is known as one of the most respected and successful personal injury lawyers. In addition to being relentless and advocating fiercely for our clients, we treat you with compassion and dignity, no matter what you are currently struggling with. Contact Cannon & Associates today to book your initial consultation and find out how we can help you and your elderly relative.