Nursing Home Negligence: What it Is, What to Do
The decision to put a loved one in a nursing home is rarely an easy one. Usually, a family makes the difficult choice to move a parent or grandparent to a nursing home only after it becomes clear that they cannot be safely cared for in their own home. Perhaps there are no family members who live close enough or have time to provide the needed care. Perhaps the older person’s condition is just too challenging for family members to manage.
Whatever the reason a nursing home is needed, the decision to place a loved one there is often accompanied by mixed emotions: sadness or guilt that a nursing home was necessary, and relief that the older person will finally be getting the care they need, care that will keep them safe.
Unfortunately, sometimes the trust families place in a nursing home is unjustified. When a nursing home is negligent, patients may suffer or even die. Learn how to spot nursing home negligence and protect your loved one.
Types of Nursing Home Neglect
You may have heard horror stories of older people being physically, emotionally, or sexually abused in nursing homes. While nursing home abuse is real, seniors don’t need to be victims of intentional abuse in order to suffer. Nursing home neglect may not be deliberate, but it can be just as harmful as abuse.
Neglect falls into a number of categories, including:
- Neglect of basic needs: When your loved one is in a nursing home, you should be able to assume that they are in a clean, safe environment, receiving sufficient and appropriate food, and getting adequate hydration. Nursing homes that fail to meet these minimal standards are neglecting basic needs.
- Medical neglect: Almost by definition, if someone is in a nursing home, they have medical issues. Medical neglect means that a patient is not receiving sufficient attention for medical issues. A common example of medical neglect is allowing the development of bedsores or infections.
- Personal hygiene neglect: Most nursing home residents need at least some assistance with their personal hygiene, including bathing, toileting, and laundry. Failing to provide this help is called personal hygiene neglect.
- Social and emotional neglect: All people, including those with neurological issues like dementia, need social and emotional interaction. Social and emotional neglect involve leaving a patient alone for extended periods, ignoring them, and failing to provide opportunities for human contact.
If you are not able to be present with your family member often, you may not directly witness signs of neglect. However, there are signs that can tip you off that nursing home neglect is going on.
What to Do If You See Signs of Nursing Home Neglect
You need not see your family member being mistreated to suspect that they are being neglected. Even if your loved one is unable to verbalize their experiences, you may suspect neglect if you observe any of the following:
- Bedsores, which result from prolonged pressure. Bedsores usually mean a patient’s position is not being changed frequently enough; they may be left lying in bed for hours at a time.
- Unexplained bruises
- Unexplained or dramatic weight loss
- Malnutrition or dehydration
- Bruises or evidence of falls
- Unusual changes in behavior, especially becoming withdrawn or fearful
- Decline in hygiene or cleanliness
- Hazardous or unclean environment, including slippery floors, poor lighting, lack of needed mobility equipment
Pay attention to interactions with nursing home staff, as well. Are they pleasant and responsive to you and your family member? Does your family member appear fearful when a certain staff member approaches? A staff member who seems brusque doesn’t necessarily prove neglect; they could just be busy, temporarily overworked, or just having a bad day. But if you notice a consistent decline in the quality of interactions with staff, it could be a sign that the quality of care at the facility is declining, too.
Nursing home neglect doesn’t just mean that a patient’s quality of life is less than ideal; neglect can pose a real threat to their life or health. So what should you do if you suspect neglect?
If you believe that your family member is generally safe but that certain aspects of their care needs improvement, speak to nursing home staff. Be specific in your observations and requests, and document them in case you need to refer to them later. If the situation doesn’t improve, or you believe your family member is in imminent danger, you may need to have them evaluated in a hospital or remove them from a home.
Nursing home care is costly, and neglect is inexcusable. You have the right to expect your family member to be well-cared for. If you suspect your loved one has been harmed by neglect in a nursing home, they may be entitled to compensation for their injury. We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser to schedule a consultation to discuss your options.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.