Placing your loved one in a nursing home is never an easy decision to make. When you do have someone you love living in such a facility, you trust that the staff will take good care of them. There is nothing worse than suspecting or finding out that the nursing home has betrayed your trust due to some type of abuse taking place. By law, all California nursing homes must be licensed, inspected, certified and regulated by both public and private agencies. These agencies operate at both state and federal levels.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) Licensing and Certification Division is responsible for ensuring that nursing homes comply with California nursing home laws. Under law, nursing homes in California must:
- Provide residents with personal care and assistance
- Provide healthful and safe living accommodations
- Reasonably accommodate patient preferences for food and mealtimes
- Provide residents with assistance with dressing, eating, bathing and other personal needs
- Maintain clean, dry skin for patients. Bed linens, towels and clothing must be consistently changed and free of urine, feces and offensive odors
- Have infection control programs in place
- Use the least restrictive methods for isolating sick/infected residents
- Ensure that patients’ conditions do not worse unless medically unavoidable
- Maintain and improve health as much as possible through care, therapies and treatment and,
- Provide care, therapies and treatment subject to the patients’ right to choose
Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
It can be difficult to determine whether or not a loved one is being abused while living in a nursing home. Some elderly people cannot communicate very well verbally which means they cannot tell their loved ones what is happening to them. Sometimes abuse victims choose not to tell their loved ones how they are being treated for fear of retaliation or even shame. This is why it’s important to know the warning signs of nursing home abuse. Some of the most common signs of nursing home abuse or neglect include:
- Bruises that would suggest the patient is being restrained
- Excessive or sudden weight loss
- Fleas, lice or dirt on or in a resident’s room
- Poor personal hygiene
- Unattended medical problems
- Ripped clothing
- Unpleasant odors
- A change in personality
- The caregiver’s unwillingness to explain what is wrong
- A sudden change in the medication the resident is taking including over-medication
- The caregiver not allowing the resident to see visitors when alone
Nursing home abuse can take many different forms with some involving intimidation against the elderly, some pertaining to negligence and others involving financial exploitation. The most common types of nursing home abuse includes:
Physical abuse – Physical abuse is defined as the non-accidental use of force against someone that results in physical pain, injury or impairment. Physical abuse includes physical assault such as hitting and shoving as well as the inappropriate use of confinement, restraints or drugs.
Emotional abuse – When a patient is emotionally abused, others speak to him or her in ways that cause emotional pain or distress. Emotional abuse takes place when a patient is intimidated through shouting or threats, by humiliation and ridicule and through habitual blaming or scapegoating. Emotional abuse also can include ignoring the patient, isolating the patient from friends or activities and menacing the patient. Signs that may indicate a person is being emotionally abused are behaviors that mimic dementia such as rocking, mumbling to oneself or sucking.
Sexual abuse – Nursing home sexual abuse takes place when a patient comes into sexual contact with someone without the patient’s consent. Sexual abuse can involve physical sex acts, forcing the resident to undress or showing the patient pornographic materials. Signs that a nursing home patient may be the victim of sexual abuse include things like unexplained bruising around the genitals, unexplained venereal diseases or torn, stained or blooding underclothing.
Neglect Or Abandonment by Caregivers – Neglect constitutes more than half of all reported cases of nursing home abuse. Neglect can be intentional or unintentional and is based on factors such as ignorance or denial that a nursing home patient requires as much care as he or she does. Signs that may indicate a person is being neglected or abandoned include an unusual weight loss, malnutrition, untreated physical problems, being left unbathed, wearing of unsuitable clothing and unsafe living conditions such as faulty electrical wiring.
Financial exploitation – When a nursing home patient is subjected to financial exploitation, someone is making use of the person’s money or property in an unauthorized manner. The offending person in a financial exploitation case is usually an employee of the nursing home the victim lives in. That person may steal cash or income checks. He or she may forge the victim’s name, use the victim’s credit cards or even engage in identity theft. The most obvious sign that a person may be a victim of financial exploitation is noticing financial activity the person could not have done themselves such as withdrawing money from an ATM. Other signs include noticing significant withdrawals from the person’s bank accounts and seeing changes made in financial papers and other documents such as wills and power of attorney papers.
What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse
It is important to speak to a California personal injury attorney as quickly as possible if you suspect that someone you love is a victim of nursing home abuse. It is also important that you contact your local county Adult Protection Services office (APS). These agencies are responsible for investigating reports of nursing home abuse. The staff at APS evaluate each case and then arranges for services such as new placement of the victim, advocacy, counseling, money management or conservatorship. There is no time to waste if your loved one is indeed being abused as you certainly do not want the person you care about to endure another minute of abuse if your suspicions are right. You also should document your observations with notes and photos which are dated.
In California, under Penal Code 368, elder abuse can be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony – which route to take is up the prosecutor in each case and depends on the facts of the case and on the criminal history of the defendant(s). When treated as a misdemeanor, the potential penalty is up to one year in county jail and a fine of $1000. If treated as a felony, the defendant may be sentenced to state prison for two to four years.
Your California nursing home abuse attorney will conduct his/her own investigation in order to get to the bottom of what has happened. Witnesses may be interviewed and experts may be consulted in order to find out who is responsible for abusing your loved one.