Nearly 2 million Americans live in long-term care facilities, allowing neglect and abuse in these facilities to remain a national concern. Nursing Home Alert’s website informs us that Federal nursing home regulations state that “the resident has the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.” These regulations define nursing home abuse and neglect as:
-Abuse: an intentional infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, care/service deprivation or punishment that results in physical harm, pain or mental anguish
-Neglect: a failure, intentional or not, to provide a person with the care and services necessary to ensure freedom from harm or pain; a failure to react to a potentially dangerous situation resulting in resident harm or anxiety
Putting your loved one into a long-term care facility can be emotionally taxing— the last thing you should or need to worry about is the potential for senior abuse at the hands of their new caregivers. Understanding the warning signs and researching the facility before you make a decision can ease this stress, and help insure you’re leaving your loved one somewhere you can trust.
A Tough Realization
Nursing home abuse statistics are extremely disheartening, but the sad truth is that more than two (2) million cases of elder abuse are reported every year, and almost one (1) out of every ten (10) elderly individuals will experience some form of elder abuse. The majority of the parties working closely with nursing home facilities agree that most abuse goes without being reported, making this type of abuse where the vulnerable are violated, a national epidemic that’s understated and disgusting.
Families who turn to nursing homes often do not have the income, resources, or health education to continue housing their senior loved ones. Delegating this type of care to a facility of strangers requires a trusting relationship between the family, facility, and elderly person. When that trust is broken it can cause irreversible, physical damages to your loved one that the family may have the right to sue over.
An NPR article highlights the physical and sexual abuse apparent in our country, with Curtis Roy, an assistant regional inspector general in the Department of Health and Human Services having some interesting things to say. Looking at records from 2015 and 2016, Roy and his team of investigators found 134 cases of abuse of nursing home residents severe enough to require emergency treatment. The vast majority of the cases involved sexual assault. "There's never an excuse to allow somebody to suffer this kind of torment, really, ever," says Roy. The problem is that people aren’t reporting the incidents— "We're so concerned," says Roy, "we'd rather over-report something than not have it reported at all."
Picking a Safe Place
It is understood that nursing home facilities can be a more expensive alternative to caring for your family members, yet finding a safe and trusting space for loved ones shouldn’t have a price attached to it. If possible, physically visit the space you’re considering to examine the overall nature of the facility. Provided by an AARP Bulletin by Cynthia Ramnarace, here are some wonderful questions to ask yourself when touring a potential nursing home for your family:
1. How does the food taste? Sharing meals with your family member can be a great way to boost morale and keep conversations flowing, but also gives you some insight into their diet and food preferences. Aging along with certain prescription medications and illnesses can cause loss of appetite, and make getting the right amount of nutrition more stressful. The meals served in these nursing homes may very well be meeting the nutritional guidelines, but are they edible and enjoyable? What is the presentation like? If your family member has strict diet restrictions like low-sodium, or gluten free, it may be harder to promise a nice looking plate of food— but if the food isn’t edible than it lessens their chance of getting proper nutritional intake.
2. What sounds do you hear? It’s common for sounds of distress to be heard in the halls of most nursing facilities; however, this can be the cause of dementia rather than the patients being mistreated. If possible, try to see how the staff addresses these sounds of discomfort. A professional level of respect should be in order, especially given the fact that this is a generation that used more formality with names. Referring to patients as “Mr. or Ms.” rather than “grandma” or “grandpa,” should be the standard.
3. What does it smell like? Nursing homes may have some suspect odors floating around, most likely from unavoidable circumstances like medications and diet making the patients gassier. As people age, they are also more likely to lose control over their bladders and bowels and we understand accidents happen. What shouldn’t be happening however, are people having to stay in their soiled briefs or beds for any period of time. If there is a noticeable, overwhelming stench of bodily fluids in the air, it could be because the staff aren’t cleaning the patients up in a timely manor, or cleaning them up to completion.
4. How does the staff interact with each other and the patients? As mentioned before, the environment should be just like any professional work place. Try and listen in on conversations and banter between the nurses and aids— if they’re rude to each other then they’re probably going to be rude to your family member. Pay attention to the tone in their voices as they talk to patients— are they sitting down and looking them in the eyes? What type of background noise is the staff providing? If a radio station is on, it should be soothing and comfortable for the residents, not to provide a fun, loud environment for the staff.
5. Do you see unexplained bruising or bedsores on any of the patients? Don’t assume any bruise is an automatic sign of abuse. Elderly people have more fragile and thin skin, which bruises easier. A finger- shaped bruise or handprint-shaped marks on the upper body are the suspicious ones that raise a concern. Bedsores are sometimes unavoidable, especially if the patient is frail and can’t adjust themselves easily on their own. What’s concerning if you notice after some time that your loved one hasn’t had any issue eating or getting around on their own, but has large, painful bedsores. It would lead me to believe that they’ve been neglected and have spent way too much time in the same position.
It is possible to find an affordable, trust-worthy space for your senior loved one; it just may take more time to research. Visiting the family member throughout their time at the nursing home is the best way to monitor their quality of life, and getting them to have conversations about their daily routine and activities can leave you less worrisome about the care they’re receiving. If you think you picked somewhere that may have had you fooled, and your family member isn’t capable of communicating their day-to-day activities and level of care, do not hesitate to report incidences of possible abuse. Call your local authorities or 911 if necessary, and seek legal representation immediately. Nursing home abuse is a national epidemic and in order to make changes we need to speak up about the issue.