The very idea of nursing home abuse is both scary and concerning. All over the country, there are nursing homes neglecting the elders they pledged to care for. Physical abuse, mental and emotional abuse, financial abuse, and even sexual abuse can put elders in a vulnerable and painful situation – and you may feel helpless to do anything about it.
If you suspect nursing home abuse in any form, there are some important steps you’ll need to take.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
First, you should understand that there are many types of nursing home abuse, each with different effects:
- Physical abuse. Physical abuse is the most commonly understood and most noticeable form of abuse. If you notice bruises, bleeding, or other unexplained signs of injury on your loved one, they may be suffering from direct physical abuse.
- Emotional and psychological abuse. As many as 60 percent of all self-reported nursing home abuse cases included some form of verbal abuse or emotional harm. Abusive caretakers may insult, belittle, or manipulate their patients with words.
- Sexual abuse. Nobody likes to think about sexual abuse, but it’s a frighteningly common plight in nursing homes. STDs, inappropriate contact with staff, and bruising or bleeding around genitals may be signs of this kind of abuse.
- Financial abuse. Elders may also be abused financially, being the victims of theft or manipulation.
- Neglect and abandonment. Even if no one is directly harming your loved one, they may be inflicting damage through neglect. If an elder isn’t getting the care they need, they may suffer from bedsores, malnutrition, dehydration, and worsening medical symptoms.
What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse
If you suspect nursing home abuse in any form, for any reason, there are several important steps you’ll need to take, including:
- Get your loved one to safety immediately. First, if you have reason to believe that your loved one is in imminent danger, or if they’re suffering from an advanced medical issue like malnutrition or dehydration, you need to get them to safety immediately. That might mean calling 911 for assistance or relocating them to a different nursing home. In any case, your loved one’s health and wellbeing should be your top priority.
- Start taking notes. If the signs of abuse are ambiguous or you’re not sure if you want to take further action, simply start taking notes. Write down what you see and what you hear, and describe your suspicions. Write down dates and times when relevant. The more information you have to work with, the easier it will be to build a case.
- Keep quiet (for now). After witnessing abuse or suspecting employees of wrongdoing, you may be tempted to talk directly to management or file a formal complaint. However, it may be better to remain quiet for now; if you alert staff members to your suspicions, they may be motivated to destroy evidence that could be used against them.
- Document any evidence you can. If your suspicions grow, or if you’re pursuing legal action, it’s important to start documenting any evidence you can. Take photos and videos of any signs of abuse you witness firsthand – and collect copies of relevant documentation.
- Talk to a lawyer. Next, talk to a lawyer who has experience with nursing home abuse. A lawyer will be able to help you understand your case, the context for what you’re experiencing, and the most important next steps to take. They’ll also be able to help you gather evidence, prepare a case against the nursing home responsible for the abuse, and help you through the trial (if it comes to that).
- Talk to administrators and care providers. If you’re not pursuing legal action, or if you want to take action as early as possible, talk to administrators and/or care providers about the abuse you suspect. Go straight to the top if you can; good administrators want to eradicate problems like these as a top priority. Sometimes, a simple policy change or a fired employee is all it takes for the abuse to end.
- File a formal complaint. If your complaint isn’t being heard or acted on, consider filing a formal complaint with an official Adult Protective Services agency in your state (or a similar authoritative body).
- Consider filing a lawsuit. In many cases, the best course of action is to file a lawsuit. You’ll not only recover damages, but also force the organization named in the lawsuit to either change or close forever.
Unfortunately, we can’t prevent all instances of nursing home abuse from unfolding. But if we notice any signs of potential abuse, we can take action to get our loved ones to safety and ensure no one else has to go through the same experience at that facility.