When you place a loved one in a nursing home, you have the right to expect the highest quality care. Unfortunately, too many nursing homes are poorly, negligently or corruptly run, so patients and residents are put at great risk of preventable injuries, neglect, and abuse.
To protect your loved one, you must be a zealous advocate, alert to the signs of substandard care and abuse. Here is a short list of red flags you must be alert to:
- Odors — If you detect the stench of human waste, vomit, garbage, or stale food, you can be sure the quarters are not being properly cleaned and aired out. This should raise suspicions that residents who have accidents are likely to be left for a cruel and inordinate amount of time with urine or feces stained clothes and bedding.
- General lack of cleanliness — Dust accumulating in the corners, sticky floors, dirty bedding, and soiled gowns indicate lax hygiene. This type of neglect puts residents at risk of contagions.
- Change in personality — If your loved one is not his or herself after a period of care, you have to wonder why. If your loved one appears to be suffering from anxiety, depression or moodiness, there is cause to suspect abuse or neglect. Many facilities will chalk up an elder’s “failure to thrive” as an inevitable result of aging. However, overmedication, physical or verbal abuse, or simply being left alone in their quarters for long periods of time can have a negative psychological impact that causes personality change.
- Bruising — A bruise does not necessarily mean an elder has been struck, but rough handling by poorly trained staff can produce bruises, often in areas you wouldn’t readily see. Bruises on the wrists can indicate the use of restraints, which are certainly abusive if not medically necessary.
- Reddening of the skin at points of contact — Elder patients are at risk of bed sores, which can be extremely painful and make their system vulnerable to infections and life-threatening sepsis. If you see the skin on your loved one’s elbows, heels or buttocks starting to turn red, it’s a sign he or she is not getting the attention necessary to prevent bed sores. You must take this sign very seriously and demand a prevention plan immediately because the deterioration of an elder’s skin can accelerate quickly.
- Weight loss — If your loved one is not eating, you have to question why. Is the food of poor quality? Is it served hot? Is your loved one getting the assistance necessary to eat? Is the loss of appetite a response to abuse or neglect, or is it a medical issue that hasn’t been properly addressed?
- Falls — There is no excuse for a fall in a nursing home setting, where staff should be attentive to a resident’s needs. But, if a resident has mobility issues and is neglected for long periods of time, he or she might try to stand or walk without necessary assistance. Fractures from falls can be devastating to an elder’s health, but painful injuries can also occur if an elder is yanked back up again by poorly trained staff.
If you spot any of these signs, you should speak to the administrator of the facility immediately about your concerns.
How can you guard your elder loved one against nursing home abuse?
The first step in preventing nursing home abuse is to place your loved one in a reputable facility. Medicare.gov has a service called Nursing Home Compare, which allows you to get vital information about the facilities you are considering, including records of health violations. But even after you have found a facility you’re confident about, you must be vigilant. Remember, you are your loved one’s best advocate. Therefore:
- Visit often and at different times on different days, so staff doesn’t know you’re coming
- Keep your eyes, ears, and nose open
- Don’t be shy about visiting different areas of the facility
- Talk to your loved one about the care he or she is receiving
- Get to know the staff
- Physically inspect your loved one for any signs of injury
If you suspect abuse or neglect, you should not only talk to the facility administrator; you should also contact a personal injury attorney with experience in nursing home abuse cases. If your loved one has been injured due to neglect or abuse, he or she is entitled to monetary compensation.
Forcing a negligent nursing home to pay damages not only delivers justice for injured residents, but it also provides a strong incentive for a facility to improve the quality of care to prevent further injury.