Between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020, The Illinois Department on Aging (DOA) Adult Protective Services (APS) received 20,800 reports of abuse, neglect, self-neglect, and financial exploitation. Older adult abuse is a serious problem facing our Chicago neighbors who reside in nursing homes. Loved ones of abuse victims can contact a nursing home abuse lawyer to learn more about what can be done to combat this issue. In this article, we will discuss what law enforcement agencies can do when an alleged case of nursing home abuse is reported to authorities.
What Happens After an Abuse Report Is Filed
When a report of alleged elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation is filed, the process of reviewing and following up on suspected cases can begin. Before looking at how to report abuse, let’s quickly and broadly examine what steps will be taken within protective services and law enforcement agencies to handle incoming reports. Each case will proceed differently depending on its unique circumstances. Generally, the following actions will happen once an alleged abuse report is received:
- Review. The details of the report will be evaluated and documented by internal personnel. This information will remain confidential within the agency. The history of the nursing home will also be reviewed to see if previous reports of abuse have come from the same institution.
- Screening. A report can be screened out, usually because there is inaccurate, false, irrelevant, or not enough information in the report. Or a report can be screened in, in which case further inquiry will begin.
- Investigation. A caseworker will be assigned to investigate and collect evidence related to the alleged abuse. In some cases, a police officer will accompany, protect, and assist the caseworker. Law enforcement and court involvement may also be required if a nursing home is unwilling to provide evidence or reluctant to allow its staff members to be interviewed.
- Interview. The investigating agency must make face-to-face contact with the older adult once a case has been reported. The interview may also include others who knew about the abuse.
- Decision. After evidence and testimonies have been gathered and reviewed through one or more investigative efforts, a decision regarding how to proceed will be made. If no indication of abuse was discovered, there may be a decision to take no action. Otherwise, steps will be taken to protect the victim and remove them from contact with the abuser.
- Action. If it is believed abuse has occurred, the alleged abuser will be immediately barred from all contact with the victim. The agency will make a service care plan and discuss it with the abuse victim. The elder or their guardian must approve and consent to the plan and assessment schedule before it can be put into action. If an arrest needs to be made, the police will need to handle this task.
Reporting Abuse and Neglect
The law is a necessary tool in situations of elder abuse. But law enforcement and protective services agencies are not able to step into a harmful situation and take action until they become aware of the alleged abuse. Many nursing homes which allow a culture of abuse to develop under their roofs are also eager to cover up evidence of wrongdoing to protect themselves. This makes reporting by family and friends who observe troubling symptoms all the more important.
The Illinois Department on Aging (DOA) Adult Protective Services (APS) offers a Senior Helpline providing information and resources benefitting the older adult community. The APS also has a statewide, 24-hour Adult Protective Services Hotline. If you suspect abuse, exploitation, or neglect of an older adult, call 1-866-800-1409. Residents who live in nursing facilities can also call the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Nursing Home Complaint Hotline at 1-800-252-4343 to make a complaint themselves.
Additionally, the agency’s webpage offers an online index to help you locate your local Adult Protective Services Provider Agency. Whether you contact the APS or your local police station, they will be able to notify and involve the appropriate party to handle your report.
When reporting an incident or situation, you should be prepared to answer the following questions, according to the Illinois DOA. Nevertheless, the Department strongly encourages you to make a report even if you are unable to provide all of the information requested below.
- The alleged victim’s name, address, telephone number, sex, age, and condition
- The alleged abuser’s name, sex, age, relationship to victim, and condition
- Specifics about the circumstances which led you to suspect abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation
- Whether the alleged victim is in immediate danger
- The best time to contact the alleged victim and if they know of the report
- Whether there is any danger to a case worker going to investigate
- Whether you believe the alleged victim could make a report themselves
- Your name, phone number, and profession
- The names of others with information about the situation
- If you are willing to be contacted again
- Any other relevant information.
What Measures Law Enforcement Agencies Can Take
The Illinois Attorney General’s Office lists several ways that state law enforcing bodies should help prevent and respond to instances of abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) additionally publishes discussions on how law enforcement agencies across the country can be a source of positive change in fighting the harm that elder abuse causes.
The following are responsive measures law enforcement agencies can take after learning of a situation of elder abuse:
- Assist protective services caseworkers in conducting investigations, particularly under potentially-dangerous circumstances
- Arrest perpetrators when necessary and file police reports
- Perform regular check-ins
- When needed, drive victims to a medical facility, or arrange for transportation to a safe place
- Enforce restraining orders and Orders of Protection
- Take away any dangerous weapons that may be accessible to the abuser
- Encourage and educate victims on what constitutes abuse and how to preserve evidence
Listed below are some of the preventative measures that law enforcement agencies can take in an effort to help stop elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation from occurring:
- Organize community teams, coalitions, or forums to address elder abuse
- Take part in Triad safety and crime prevention groups comprised of law enforcement, older adults, and community groups
- Establish research programs focusing on elder mistreatment, such as those conducted by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ)
- Develop Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force programs to target elder fraud and financial exploitation
Symptoms of Nursing Home Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation
Being supportive, closely involved, and on the lookout for any sign of problems is the best way to protect a loved one in a nursing home. If a family member, friend, or someone you know residing in a nursing home displays any of the following symptoms, there is a possibility that the induvial is suffering neglect, self-neglect, abuse, or exploitation. The signs listed below can be indicators of elder abuse:
- Confusion, depression, or altered moods and mental states
- Bed sores
- Emotional or psychological trauma
- Malnutrition and dehydration
- Falling and signs of physical trauma on the body
- Declining physical conditions including poor eyesight and hearing, weight loss, and incontinence
- Evidence of misuse of physical and chemical restraints
- Isolation or abandonment
- Poor personal hygiene or soiled clothes and bed linens
- Signs of financial exploitation
- Loss of enjoyment of favorite activities, hobbies, and social events
- Silence or unwillingness to communicate
- Change of behavior or noticeable discomfort in the presence of caregivers
- Hesitancy or refusal to discuss details of their life at the nursing home
Getting Legal Help to Right a Wrong
Just because a case of alleged abuse is reported does not mean that the wrong will immediately be made right. The law is a complicated subject, and it can be helpful to speak with a legal expert about your family’s options. A civil lawsuit can help an individual who has been abused recover damages and hold a negligent or abusive party accountable for injurious actions.
Our firm at Thomas Law Offices has a history of successfully representing clients and their loved ones who have suffered abuse, neglect, or exploitation in a nursing home. If you need legal advice about how to handle a situation of nursing home abuse, contact us today for a free consultation.