The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates that one in three nursing home residents in the United States suffer from neglect. Illinois investigates nursing homes every 15 months or less, but a study by the U.S. General Accountability Office noted that state investigations regularly miss both actual harm and immediate hazards for nursing home residents. This lack of effective oversight leads experts to believe the incidences of neglect and abuse may be much higher.
Abuse is defined as a deliberate infliction of harm, a deprivation of care, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or punishment that results in physical or mental pain. Neglect indicates a failure to provide the care and service necessary for freedom from pain. Nursing home neglect may not necessarily be caused by intentional act, but the presence of a potentially dangerous situation that causes harm or anxiety is against federal guidelines.
Awareness and involvement lowers the risk of harm
Negligence is often caused by problems such as a lack of staff education, staff burnout or high staff turnover. These issues and others often lead to abuse, which includes assault and battery, lack of adequate medical care, food or water deprivation, sexual assault, unreasonable restraint and use of medication unauthorized by a doctor. Loved ones can identify potential problems by watching for the following:
- Sudden changes in behavior or emotional distress, such as agitation, withdrawal or depression
- Pressure sores, unexplained injuries, falls, broken bones or infection
- Rapid weight loss or gain or signs of malnutrition or dehydration
- Heavy medication or sedation
It is common for family members who are not aware of the situation to miss the signs because an elderly resident is the victim of intimidation by the staff or lacks the ability to communicate. The best thing a loved one can do for a nursing home resident is to visit frequently, stay alert and raise questions at the first indication that something may be wrong. The Administration on Aging advises individuals to report suspicions to the appropriate authorities rather than attempt to verify abuse or neglect.
All neglect and abuse should be reported to authorities
According to federal nursing home regulations, all nursing home residents have the right to freedom from all types of abuse, punishment and seclusion. Anyone who suspects that a nursing home resident is in immediate danger should call 911. In Illinois, injury to patients should also be reported through the Illinois Department of Public Health.
The Administration on Aging recommends attorney involvement as a way to hold nursing home facilities accountable for harm that occurs to its residents and discourage further abuse. A Chicago injury attorney may be able to assist loved ones who believe a nursing home patient’s rights are violated.