Trusting the care of your loved ones to strangers is often a harrowing decision, but it’s one that sometimes needs to be made. When we place one of our family members in a long-term care facility, we expect they will receive the respect and care they deserve to live a high quality of life. Unfortunately, negligent facilities and employees may choose to abuse their residents in a number of ways and for a number of reasons. Those reasons, however, are never any excuse for mistreating someone.
If you believe your loved one is being abused in their long-term care facility, there are steps you can take to remove them from that dangerous situation and hold their nursing home accountable through legal action. Our Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers are prepared to take on your case, investigate what your loved one has been through, and make sure they never have to experience any kind of abuse again.
In order to file a successful nursing home abuse claim, you’ll need to be able to prove your loved one suffered as the result of another’s actions or inaction. To do this, you may benefit from understanding more about abuse in long-term care facilities. Let’s start with how often it occurs.
National Nursing Home Abuse Facts and Statistics
Currently, in the United States, nearly 15 percent of the population consists of people who are 65 years of age or older. By 2050, however, the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) predicts that percentage will double to more than 80 million individuals. 18 million of those people will be aged 85 and over. Because of this, it will be crucial to have long-term care facilities that are trained and prepared to house a high number of residents.
While there are many current nursing homes that treat their residents with the dignity and respect they deserve, there are also a significant number that abuse their residents. While statistics are hard to gather because most abuse cases are not reported to authorities, it is estimated that as many as five million seniors are abused annually, and nearly 25 percent of nursing home residents have experienced one instance of physical abuse in their facility.
There are certain individuals who are more at risk of being abused in their nursing home. Many of those people suffer from cognitive impairments like dementia. Anyone who experiences little social interaction is also at risk. Isolation is dangerous because employees may exploit that factor when they know the senior isn’t likely to tell anyone what’s going on or may not have anyone to talk to. There is also a link between lower socioeconomic status and elder abuse.
Being aware of how common nursing home neglect and abuse are will keep it at the forefront of your mind. This can benefit your loved one because you’ll be aware of the issue and on the lookout for any mistreatment.
Rights of Nursing Home Residents in Illinois
The Illinois Department on Aging has established that long-term care facility residents are guaranteed certain privileges according to state and federal laws. Those rights include:
- Safety and Good Care. A facility must provide services that maintain your physical and mental health. Physical, verbal, mental, sexual, and financial abuse are not allowed.
- Participating in Your Own Care. Facilities should be able to make reasonable arrangements for residents’ needs and choices. Residents have the right to choose their own doctor and participate in the development of their written care plan. Residents can also make a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, Living Will, Declaration for Mental Health, or Do Not Resuscitate Order.
- Privacy. All medical and personal care should be private. Facility employees are required to knock prior to entering a room, and facilities cannot give out your information without your permission. Residents have the right to private visits and phone calls. If available, spouses have the right to share a room.
- Money Management. Seniors have a right to manage their own money and see their financial records at any time. Facilities are required to provide itemized statements at least once every three months.
- Contract Information. Residents must be given a contract that states what services are provided and how much they cost. Unless you have a court-appointed legal guardian, the nursing home cannot require anyone else to sign an agreement stating they will pay your bill.
- Medicaid and Medicare Information. Residents have the right to apply for Medicaid or Medicare to assist with payments. If you receive Medicaid, your facility cannot make you pay for anything that Medicaid pays for.
- Staying in Your Facility. Residents have the right to keep living in their facility. If you are asked to leave, you must be given written notice that explains why you are being asked to move, how to file an appeal, and a self-addressed envelope to the Illinois Department of Public Health. A facility can force a resident to leave if they have not paid their bill, are dangerous to themselves or others, have medical needs that cannot be met, or if the facility closes.
Residents can also participate in the Residents Council, meet with Long-term Care Ombudsman, community organizations, legal advocates, and members of the general public who come to the facility, present grievances to their facility, and be free from punishments for presenting issues. In addition to those rights, nursing home residents are also guaranteed the rights that all Illinois residents have, including the right to vote and the right to participate in social and community activities.
If you suspect your loved one’s rights are being violated, this is the ideal time to seek legal aid. Doing so as soon as you feel something is wrong may stop the abuse or neglect from worsening to the point where your loved one’s health is seriously impacted. An experienced nursing home abuse lawyer will be able to determine which rights are being violated, what effects those disregarded rights are having, and what your best course of action should be.
Common Types and Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Abuse can come in a number of forms. Extreme situations involving abuse can result in irreversible damage, and long-term exposure to abuse can significantly harm a person’s mental state. Recognizing the common characteristics associated with the different types, as well as the consequences, can help you identify if your loved one is being abused and how. After reporting an instance of abuse, you should consider contacting an Illinois nursing home abuse attorney who can help you determine the next best course of action.
According to the NCEA, there are seven types of abuse that involve the elderly, which include:
Physical abuse occurs when a staff member uses some type of physical force on an elderly person that causes or can be expected to cause bodily harm, physical pain, or ongoing impairment. Typical actions deemed physical abuse include shoving, pushing, slapping, shaking, burning, kicking, and striking. Physical abuse also occurs if a resident is force-fed, confined with physical restraints, or is given improper medications.
If your loved one is being physically abused, you may notice unexplained injuries, bruising, broken bones, or welts. They may act differently around certain staff members and may seem to be in pain. Other signs of this type of mistreatment include internal bleeding, evidence of being given too much or too little medication, broken eyeglasses, sprains, dislocations, or open wounds.
One of the most common open wounds a resident is likely to sustain if they are being abused is a bedsore. These are also referred to as pressure ulcers. When a person experiences limited mobility and caregivers do not assist them with movement, there could be parts on the body that experience prolonged pressure. This pressure causes layers of skin to separate, which can quickly result in infection.
Warning signs of a pressure ulcer included unusual changes in skin color or texture, swelling, temperature differences in different areas on the body, and draining. Bedsores most commonly occur on the backs of limbs, tailbone or buttocks, and shoulder blades or spine.
Also referred to as emotional abuse, this occurs when a resident experiences pain or distress by verbal or nonverbal means. This may include acts like engaging in verbal assaults, humiliation, threats, intimidations, harassment, or isolation. Isolation is often the most dangerous because the resident may be unable to communicate to others what they are going through.
A senior who is experiencing psychological mistreatment may exhibit the following signs and symptoms:
- Lack of communication
- Seeming unresponsive or withdrawn
- Seeming agitated or emotionally upset
- Unusual behaviors that mimic dementia
Nursing home employees may choose to financially exploit a resident by forging their signature, taking cash or other possessions, signing checks, coercing the senior to sign a document they do not understand, or improperly using the benefit of their power. There are a number of seniors who are financially exploited by family members, as well.
Signs of financial exploitation include changes in the bank accounts or large amounts of money withdrawn, changes to legal documents, the disappearance of funds or possessions, unusual ATM card activity, and finding forged signatures.
Nursing home facilities may also try to exploit residents by providing and charging for unnecessary services.
Sexual abuse occurs when an elder is forced to participate in non-consensual sex or sex acts. Unwanted touching, sexual assault, and coerced nudity are examples. A nursing home resident who has been sexually abused may exhibit the following:
- Unexplained STDs
- Bruises on genitals
- Unexplained genital infections
- Torn or stained underwear
- Extreme emotional changes
Neglect and abuse are often used interchangeably; however, neglect is technically a form of abuse. It is defined as failing or refusing to provide a senior with the care they need to live a high-quality life. Elders are typically left without necessities required for life, including water, food, shelter, medicine, hygiene, personal safety, and comfort. Malnutrition and dehydration are especially dangerous for elderly individuals and can result in death if the situation is ongoing.
Other signs and symptoms include unsanitary living conditions, hazardous conditions like lack of heat or clean, running water, and untreated health problems. Neglect may be intentional or unintentional. Unintentional neglect often happens at long-term care facilities that are understaffed. Employees may not be able to ensure every residents’ needs are met.
Abandonment happens when an elder is deserted by their caretakers. They may be left at a public place like a shopping center, or at a hospital or different nursing home facility. An abandoned senior, depending on their state, may be unaware of where they are and unable to contact their loved ones for help.
Residents may be abandoned if their facility is unable to provide them with the care they need or if they don’t want to because of a history of violence or difficult behaviors.
When an elder engages in behaviors that endanger their personal safety or health, that is considered self-neglect. It is typically seen when an older person fails or refuses to provide themselves with the proper amount of water, food, clothing, medications, or hygiene. Nursing homes are supposed to ensure their residents’ needs are met, so if they neglect to help a person that is neglecting themselves, they can be held accountable.
Our Elder Abuse Lawyers Are Here to Help
With the help of our experienced Chicago nursing home abuse lawyers, you can ensure your loved one is taken care of in the right way and that their abusers are held accountable for the pain and trauma they caused. It’s important to remember that taking legal action can take time, so it’s crucial to seek legal representation as soon as possible. To learn more about how you can take action on behalf of your elderly loved one, contact our firm today.