Nursing Home Abuse and Assisted Living Facility Injuries
What is nursing home injury, abuse, and neglect?
Placing an elderly or disabled loved one in a care facility is one of the greatest acts of trust a family can make. We count on professionals to protect the most vulnerable among us, and undertaking such a vital duty comes with great responsibility. Quality nursing home facilities provide an enriching, comfortable, and safe environment for their residents. Unfortunately, sometimes these facilities abuse the trust placed in them.
On August 7, 2020, the State of Georgia took strong measures to increase the protection given to residents of all care facilities in the Disabled Adults and Elder Persons Protection Act. Care facilities must now have proper nursing services, well-trained staff, licensed administrators, and financial resources to avoid the prospect of cutting corners.
These new provisions are designed to protect residents from neglect. Injuries from nursing home neglect range from falls, bedsores, and choking to injuries caused by inadequate care, including missing or improperly administered medications, malnutrition, and infections related to a failure to control disease.
Of course, vulnerable people are also particularly susceptible to abuse. Nursing home abuse can take the form of physical abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, or even less noticeable lack of care, which is tantamount to neglect.
If you suspect that your loved one has been injured or died due to nursing home abuse or neglect in a nursing home facility, our experienced trial attorneys can help.
Covid-19 & Assisted Living Facilities
According to the Georgia Department of Community Health, over 10,000 residents of nursing home facilities in this State have tested positive for Covid-19. Unfortunately, nearly 2,000 residents have died, and many of those who survived nonetheless experienced extreme suffering, a reduction in their life expectancy, and a substantial reduction in their quality of life.
This outcome was not inevitable. Extraordinary challenges require extraordinary efforts. Sadly, many deaths and injuries from Covid-19 could have been prevented if nursing home facilities had taken reasonable steps to protect their residents.
If you lost a loved one or had a family member severely injured by Covid-19 and feel that the nursing facility failed to take reasonable steps to protect your loved one, we want to hear your story.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elder abuse in nursing homes is a growing problem. A nursing home commits abuse when its actions are intended to cause harm or when its actions are so egregious that the wrongful intent can be inferred. Various types of abuse occur in nursing homes, and they can be both physical and non-physical, with different warning signs or red flags. Nursing home abuse may lead to civil or criminal liabilities for the facility.
Physical elder abuse is when someone uses physical force against another individual, which may result in bodily injury, impairment, or physical pain. This type of abuse happens in various ways and can include violent acts such as pushing, shoving, hitting, striking with an object, shaking, kicking, punching, and burning. Physical abuse can also include the inappropriate use of physical restraints or drugs or the force-feeding of a nursing home resident. The signs of nursing home physical abuse are:
- Broken eyeglasses, torn clothing
- Bruises, lacerations, restraint marks
- Sprains, dislocations, fractured bones, broken bones
- Open wounds, bleeding, internal injuries
- Laboratory reports of over-medication or underutilization of prescription drugs
Emotional elder abuse is the infliction of anguish, pain, fear, or distress through non-verbal and verbal acts. This form of abuse can be just as detrimental to nursing home residents as physical abuse. Emotional abuse can take the form of verbal assaults, name-calling, insults, humiliation, intimidation, harassment, or isolation. It also includes property destruction, treating someone like a child, or giving someone the so-called “silent treatment.” The signs and symptoms of nursing home emotional abuse are:
- Being emotionally upset
- Being withdrawn or non-responsive
- Unusual behavior such as rocking, sucking or biting
Nursing home financial abuse is a widespread problem. Residents are often more susceptible to financial abuse because of mental or physical decline, isolation, emotional distress, a lack of financial education, or misplaced trust in a family member or friend. Financial abuse can take several different forms:
- Nursing home staff uses the resident’s financial information to make unauthorized withdrawals of money
- Nursing home staff uses the resident’s credit cards to make unauthorized, personal purchases
- Nursing home staff defrauds the resident into purchasing expensive items or vacations for them
- Nursing home staff fabricates a story about a financial emergency, convincing the resident to give them money
In addition to the unlawful spending or theft, the nursing home may also commit Medicare fraud if the facility claims a reimbursement to which it is not entitled. Some examples include billing for a procedure that was never actually performed for the resident, billing for unnecessary items, or billing for a higher-level service than was provided.
Sexual elder abuse, a form of physical abuse, is sexual contact with any person who is incapable or unwilling to give their consent. It includes coerced nudity, taking sexually explicit photos, sexual assault or battery, rape, and sodomy. Although sexual abuse at a nursing home may seem unthinkable, it is an existing problem between the nursing home residents and the facility’s staff or volunteers. The signs that a resident may have been sexually abused are:
- Torn, stained, or bloody undergarments
- Bruises on the breasts or genitals
- Vaginal or anal bleeding
- Unexplained infections of the genitals or an unexplained venereal disease
Nursing Home Neglect
Nursing homes have an obligation and a duty to care for their residents. When a facility refuses to perform those duties or its actions fall below a reasonable standard of care, this is neglect. Nursing home neglect can take many forms, including basic needs, personal hygiene, medical, emotional, and social negligence. Signs that a nursing home is neglecting a resident include:
- Hazardous, unsafe, or unclean living conditions
- Poor personal hygiene
- Dehydration, malnutrition
- Unattended or untreated health problems
- A resident is left alone or isolated for long periods of time
Bedsores, sometimes called pressure ulcers or pressure sores, are the painful and gruesome result of nursing home neglect. They happen because of prolonged pressure on an area of the body, limiting blood flow to the skin. The pressure will cause an ulcer to develop on the skin and its underlying tissue. If left untreated, bedsores can lead to serious, life-threatening complications such as cellulitis, sepsis, bone and joint infections, and cancer. Seniors with restricted ranges of motion or those who are sedentary in beds or wheelchairs are particularly susceptible to bedsores. However, nursing home staff should be trained to prevent bedsores by turning residents in their beds, encouraging residents to walk or exercise, ensuring they have enough food and water, and ensuring the residents’ skin is clean and dry. Signs of a bedsore are:
- Swelling, red, or tender areas of the body
- Foul smells or pus-like drainage of skin
Despite federal guidance for nursing home facilities and the fact that bedsores are entirely preventable, they continue to be a prevalent medical problem. An estimated 10% of nursing home residents suffer from bedsores.
According to the CDC, falls are one of the leading causes of injury and death in people aged 65-years and older. Nursing home residents can be at an even greater risk of falls for various reasons. Some factors that contribute to nursing home falls include:
- Medication that causes confusion or loss of balance
- Inadequate staffing to properly monitor or assist nursing home residents
- Lack of proper equipment such as bed alarms, chair alarms, handrails, fall mats, or lighting
- Safety equipment is not properly adjusted to the individual patient
- Facility is unclean or cluttered
Whether it is a patient factor or environmental factor, nursing home falls are not acceptable. The incident can constitute nursing home negligence.
When we leave our loved ones in the care of a nursing home, we expect that the staff will take measures to ensure their health and monitor their activities. We do not expect our loved ones to wander off and injure themselves or others. Nursing homes that do not prevent wandering may be guilty of negligence.
For residents who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other losses of cognitive function, wandering from a safe area can be incredibly dangerous. They can suffer a serious fall, become lost, or be exposed to dangerous weather elements. Wandering can even lead to the resident’s death.
Nursing homes should be aware of residents with a history or a high risk of wandering. These residents often seem restless or agitated, they repeatedly try to open doors or windows, or they talk about wanting to leave the facility. Nursing home employees should be trained on how to prevent wandering, and the facility should be equipped with locks, alarms, proper fencing, and security.
Choking issues, sometimes referred to as dysphagia, are more common among the elderly population than any other age group. When a person chokes, it means that their food or medication has gone into their windpipe instead of their esophagus, restricting their air supply. If the choking is not handled immediately, the person can suffer brain damage or even death. There are several health conditions that can cause a person to have difficulty with swallowing or choking. A nursing home should be aware of the resident’s condition and how to prevent or address it. Health conditions that can cause a person to choke include:
- Age-related weakness of the muscles
- Reduced saliva due to medications
- Bone spurs in the spinal column
- Neurological damage due to a brain or spinal injury, stroke, or cancer
- Alzheimer’s, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease
Dehydration or Malnutrition
Dehydration is when your body does not have enough water to function properly. It is normal to lose water from breathing, sweating, urinating, or through saliva and tears. You can also become dehydrated due to an illness or as a side-effect of certain medications. It is estimated that about one-third of nursing home residents suffer from dehydration. They are not consuming enough fluids to replace the liquids they’ve lost. Dehydration, in serious cases, can lead to dangerously high sodium levels and can be life-threatening. Symptoms of dehydration include:
- Dry, sticky mouth
- Dry, papery skin
- Sunken eyes and cheeks
- Decreased frequency and output of urination
- Inability to sweat
- Low blood pressure
- Confusion and irritability
Malnutrition occurs when a person is not getting enough food or enough nutrient-rich food. Without the necessary vitamins and minerals, the body cannot function properly. It is estimated that up to 85% of nursing home residents suffer from some form of malnutrition, typically due to the staff’s carelessness, lack of concern, or insufficient training. Malnutrition can weaken a person’s immune system, which in turn increases their risk of infections and other illnesses. Signs that a person is not getting enough nutrient-rich food to eat include:
- Glassy eyes
- Sores in the mouth
- Skin that appears dull or yellow
- Muscle weakness
- Irritability or confusion
When a nursing home does not properly assess or attend to a resident’s health, the resident may develop issues including illnesses or infections. This can lead to serious medical conditions, organ damage, or even death. Nursing homes are not only required to take measures to prevent the residents from developing infections, the facilities should also be observant of the symptoms after any infections have developed. The nursing home staff should be trained to identify any warning signs. Their failure to properly assess and attend to a resident may constitute neglect. Some infections common to nursing home patients include:
- Skin infections
- Soft-tissue infections
- Respiratory infections
- Urinary tract infections
When a loved one dies unexpectedly, it can be emotionally and financially devastating. If you have lost someone due to the negligent actions of a nursing home, Burrow & Associates may be able to help with a wrongful death claim. Under Georgia law, a wrongful death occurs when a person dies because of an individual’s or an entity’s reckless, criminal, intentional, or negligent acts. Georgia’s Wrongful Death Act includes nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect as a possible legal ground for a wrongful death claim.
While no amount of money can replace your loved one, holding the negligent parties responsible can provide a feeling of justice and closure for your family. It may also help prevent similar problems for other residents in the future.
Nursing Home Abuse Statistics
More than 1.5 million people currently reside in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the US. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse:
- 44% of nursing home residents were found to have suffered either mental or physical abuse
- 50% of nursing home employees admitted to mistreating residents
- 97% of nursing homes have failed to meet at least one federal staffing requirement
Signs of Nursing Home Abuse & Neglect
It is important for friends and family members to always be on the lookout for signs of nursing home abuse or neglect. Be on alert for both physical signs and changes in the resident’s behavior. This can include:
- Unexplained cuts, bruises, or other marks
- Fractured or broken bones
- Open wounds, bleeding, or bedsores
- Sudden weight loss
- Confusion, listlessness, depression, anxiety
- Unclean or unsafe living conditions
If you notice any of the above physical signs or changes in behavior, you should begin to question what is taking place (or not taking place) in the nursing home. Most importantly, trust your instincts. If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect, it’s time to act.
What To Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Injury, Abuse Or Neglect
No one should ever have to worry about their loved ones being abused or neglected in a nursing home. But, unfortunately, it does happen. If you have observed that your friend or loved one is not getting the proper treatment, it is time to report it to the authorities.
If your loved one is in imminent danger of illness, injury, or death, call 9-1-1 or your local police department for help.
If your loved one is not in immediate danger, you may consider speaking with the nursing home. Depending on the situation, you might want to question the management or address any concerns that you or the nursing home resident have.
If the nursing home does not address the issue to your satisfaction, you can consider filing a complaint with the Georgia Department of Community Health’s Healthcare Facility Regulation Division. Their website provides step-by-step instructions for filing an abuse or neglect complaint against a nursing home or long-term care facility.
At Burrow & Associates, our team of nursing home abuse attorneys have years of experience litigating personal injury, abuse, and neglect claims. If you or a loved one were injured or killed because of a Georgia nursing home violation, please contact us for a free consultation to review your case. You can reach us at (678) 323-2394 or via our online contact form.
How we handle nursing home injury, abuse and neglect cases
Preparation and relentless pursuit of evidence are vital to successfully resolving a nursing home abuse or neglect case. These cases require knowledge of a complex and evolving set of regulatory governance, fast reaction to gather evidence from a variety of witnesses and sources that may disappear quicker than other areas of personal injury, experience with numerous sources of private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid, the ability to work within the probate system to provide proper protections for families who have lost loved ones or who are caring for the interests of family members who do not have the legal capacity to administer their own affairs, financial resources to engage top experts needed to preserve and enhance the case, and ultimately, experienced trial attorneys who know how to present a case to a jury to achieve a maximum outcome.
Many personal injury firms simply do not have the capacity to properly handle a nursing home abuse or neglect case. At Burrow & Associates we have the resources your case needs to be successful. From the moment you engage our services your case will be assigned to an experienced team of professionals guided by our nursing home abuse trial attorneys. Our team will guide your family through the process of obtaining all the information needed to preserve your claim, gather all sources of evidence, and obtain all available information about the individuals and entities responsible for the injuries and identify all sources of insurance and assets available to compensate you for their actions. This early organization and preparation is the difference between successful claims and claims that could have been successful had they been handled by the right law firm.
- Settlement v. Litigation – Successful settlements are achieved when cases are properly prepared for trial. Our litigation team is relentless in pursuing evidence and knows how to present that evidence so that decision-makers pay attention. Our objective is to achieve the greatest recovery in your case, whether that comes via settlement or trial. Our firm believes in a transparent process where our clients are engaged in every step and feel empowered that they are making the best decision for their situation. Whether your case is resolved by settlement or pursued to a jury verdict, you will have all the information you need to make the decision that is right for you.
- Recovery of Economic Losses – Victims of nursing home abuse and neglect often incur substantial expenses. In addition to increased medical expenses there may be additional expenses for securing new services to provide care, increased housing and meal expenses for transitioning into a new care environment, physical therapy or at-home health expenses, expenses for conversion of a residence or vehicle to accommodate disabilities as a result of injuries that were sustained, transportation expenses, and often the expense of needing to transition from a residential facility to a nursing facility as a result of injury. The nursing home abuse attorneys at our firm are committed to ensuring that our clients are fully compensated for every aspect of damages they have incurred.
- Punitive Damages – Sometimes, the conduct of a nursing home facility is so egregious that punitive damages are warranted. In certain extreme circumstances, additional damages may be awarded above an amount necessary to compensate a victim to punish the individual or facility responsible. Uncovering evidence to support these damages is not easy. Bad actors who engage in terrible conduct are often very good at hiding evidence. In these situations, victims of nursing home abuse and neglect need experienced nursing home injury trial attorneys who are adept at finding this evidence to ensure that they are appropriately compensated and that the actors who caused their injuries never do it to another person again. Our team of nursing home abuse lawyers will not rest until we discover all the evidence needed to pursue this goal.
Give Us A Call Today!
We understand that this can be a very difficult time for you and your family, and we’re available to guide your decision-making and help you navigate unfamiliar territories. With Burrow & Associates, you not only have experienced allies in the fight for restitution but professionals who genuinely care.
To find out if you have a potential nursing home abuse case, contact Burrow & Associates at (678) 323-2394 or request a consultation today. We have offices in Athens, Conyers, Duluth, Morrow, Kennesaw, and Gainesville for your convenience.
At Burrow & Associates, “Law is Our Expertise. Faith is Our Foundation.”