If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse, Collect These Pieces of Evidence
Guest article by Sarah Blanchard
People are not usually aware of nursing home abuse until it affects their family, directly.
Each year, thousands of people living in care facilities are abused. A two-page National Center on Elder Abuse Research Brief cites a 2010 study that 50 percent of nursing home staff admitted to mistreating patients within the prior year and two-thirds admitted to neglect.
A significant number of nursing home abuse cases go unreported each year. The reasons for not reporting include fear of retaliation, loss of limited care options, and the belief that nothing will be done to stop the abuse.
By collecting and documenting evidence of three different forms of abuse, you’ll be able to provide proof while minimizing retaliation, disbelief, or lack of corrective action.
Physical abuse is one of the most common forms of abuse in nursing homes and includes employees deliberately hurting residents through shoving, pushing, restraining, confining, and other types of assault. The American Psychological Association offers resources to identify signs of physical abuse, including unexplained bruises, scratches, cuts, burns, bite marks, scars, broken bones, sprains, and dislocations.
Collect visual evidence of physical abuse as soon as possible with time-stamped photographs of the injury. Also, ask for a witness’s testimony. Barring that, get the nursing home resident’s doctor to write what s/he observes about the likely nature of the injuries. Finally, to ensure detailed and unbiased documentation, ask that the resident be transferred to a hospital for treatment, where detailed intake notes can be added to the evidence.
Neglect constitutes more than half of reported nursing home abuse cases. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that “neglect can be intentional or unintentional” (page 8). The law is blind to the employee’s intent. Failing to fulfill one’s caretaking obligation can lead to physical, mental, and emotional damage of a nursing home resident.
Physical damage due to neglect is evidenced by bed sores, weight loss, malnutrition, or dehydration. Documentation of neglect includes photographs and medical testimony from a doctor. The same forms of evidence are helpful if the resident is living in unsanitary conditions where dirt, bugs, or soiled clothing and bed sheets, are clearly visible.
In some instances of neglect, the person could be living in unsafe or uninhabitable living conditions. Provide proof with the resident’s testimony, filed reports, photographs, and/or statements from family members who witnessed poor living conditions such as inadequate heating or cooling, lack of running water, faulty electrical or other fire hazards.
In many situations where an accusation of neglect is made, a nursing home may deny the charges and imply that the resident was too picky. In such situations, a ‘granny cam’ and supporting statements from other residents or their family members will prove helpful.
Changes in a person’s emotions or routines can also indicate abuse. If there is an unexplained change in the person’s eating habits, relationship patterns, or socialization, begin observing and documenting to learn the cause.
Proving emotional abuse is not easy. Draw on evidence, such as conversations between the nursing home resident and family members, personal diaries or journals, and notes from family members about sudden changes.
When you suspect a loved one has been abused while living in a nursing home, report it to the ombudsman, state agencies, and law enforcement. Unfortunately, claims are not taken seriously unless accompanied by supporting evidence. Substantiate incidents of nursing home abuse by taking the steps above.
Sarah Blanchard is the marketing manager for Winburn Bequette, a contingency fee based law firm representing victims of nursing home abuse in Arkansas.