Recognizing and Responding to Nursing Home Neglect
Turning over the care of a loved one to a nursing home is one of the toughest decisions a person can make. It is, however, a necessity that many people must accept each year. Often, the type of care that is needed can only be provided by a 24 hour medical staff. Although costly, good nursing home care can allow a resident to enjoy a better quality of life. Unfortunately, bad nursing home care can also make life quite unpleasant for the resident.
Despite the phenomenal cost of nursing home care, many facilities have made cuts in the level of staff that they provide. Others have begun using less trained staff to perform nursing and medical tasks. Some others simply do not adequately monitor the health of their patients. Even in a “good” nursing home, it is important for family members to closely monitor their care. The following are some warning signs that you should follow up and investigate:
- Frequent trips to the emergency room
- Unexplained bruises or scars
- Any broken bones – especially hip, leg and ankle fractures
- Significant unexplained weight loss
- New or worsening bed sores
- Injuries caused while the resident has been “wandering” outside the facility
- Heavy medication or sedation
- Injuries occurring while a resident has been restrained
- Illnesses which are not promptly reported to a physician
- Any unexplained death
- Injuries caused by another resident
- Signs of malnutrition
- Untreated depression
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Declines in Independence
If you observe one or more of these signs, there are steps that you can take. If the changes in the patient’s condition are fairly subtle, it may be as simple as communicating your concerns to the staff. You can educate yourself on the level of care that your loved one should be receiving by reviewing the state and federal guidelines (available online at www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx 00/42cfr483 00.htm and www.idph.state.il.us/rulesregs/77-0300.htm). With the patient’s permission, you can also ask to review the patient’s chart. Most importantly, you can talk to the doctor who is ultimately responsible for the patient’s care. Ask questions and many simple issues can be resolved.
Fore more serious incidents you will likely need to go outside of the nursing home. Nursing homes are always in fear of lawsuits and state investigations. As a result, when a more serious instance of neglect occurs, the doctors, nurses and staff will be less willing to share information or discuss the incident. Fortunately, there are other good resources available. One of the best is your regional long term care ombudsman. Ombusdman act as advocates for the patients and have legal rights to view patient records and conduct investigations. The Illinois Department of Public Health also will investigate incidences of neglect or abuse. When abuse or neglect has occurred it may also be wise to contact an attorney. Illinois law is relatively strong in the area of nursing home neglect. For example a person who wins a neglect lawsuit against a nursing home may be entitled to attorneys fees. These types of lawsuits are usually handled on a contingency fee, so that you do not pay if you do not recover any money. Choose an attorney who does not charge for initial consultations in order to avoid unnecessary costs.
The most important thing that you can do for your loved one is to visit them. Observe their health and their mood. Visit at odd hours and in the evening to make sure that they are getting good care at all times. When you notice a problem, address it immediately.