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When you enroll a loved one in a nursing home, you do so in the hopes that its employees will be able to provide the care and attention they need. For any person within the nursing home to harm, abuse, or neglect your loved one is a shocking violation of the trust you have placed in them, and the duty they owe you under the law. Tragically, nursing home abuse and neglect are real, and they can occur at any type of care facility, no matter how expensive or highly-regarded it may be.
If you suspect that a family member or loved one in a nursing home is being abused by the staff or exploited by its administrators, you should call the South Carolina Long-Term Car Omsbudman’s office at 800.868.9095 and remove them from the facilities as soon as possible. Once that is done, contact the nursing home abuse attorneys at McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates to learn what steps you should take next. Call us at 888-353-5513.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
You may be used to thinking of elder abuse as straightforward violence against a nursing home resident, but in reality it takes many different forms. Because the employees of a nursing home have so much responsibility for the well-being of the residents, they are given a great deal of power over those residents’ physical, medical, and financial autonomy. Many of them use that power to abuse the nursing home residents’ rights in different ways..
Physical abuse occurs when nursing home employees use force against a resident that results in pain, injury, or impairment. Physical abuse of residents can take many forms. While we most immediately think of striking or beating patients, this category also includes shaking, pinching, or inappropriately using physical restraints. If your residents have evidence of physical injuries like bruising or beating, they may be victims of physical abuse.
Sexual abuse involves someone from the nursing home forcing a resident into nonconsensual sexual activity. It’s important to note that if a resident is incapable of giving informed consent, any sexual contact with that resident is considered sexual assault. Sexual abuse can also involve forcing a resident to view pornography, watch sex acts, or undress.
Emotional abuse covers a wide range of behavior and a variety of symptoms. In general, it covers any act which inflicts emotional anguish or distress on patients through verbal or nonverbal acts. Insulting, harassing, or intimidating a resident constitutes emotional abuse, as does social isolation or giving the resident the “silent treatment” for extended periods of time. Residents suffering emotional abuse can either be agitated or withdrawn.
Abuse through medication can refer to over-prescribing or under-prescribing medication, or forcing residents to take un-prescribed drugs. Withholding medication the residents need also counts as abuse. This form of abuse has become more common as black markets for prescription medication have grown. Signs of medication abuse include medication overdoses, unexplained declines in health, or erratic behavior from the resident.
Financial exploitation involves a range of activities, from a single employee cashing a resident’s social security checks to a nursing home administration that uses predatory pricing schemes to force residents to pay extra for basic services. At its simplest, this covers any improper use of a nursing home resident’s money, property, or financial assets. If you begin to see mysterious charges on your loved one’s credit card bill or bank statement, or the nursing home keeps demanding money for vague reasons, your loved one may be the victim of financial exploitation.
Neglect occurs when the nursing home fails its obligations toward a resident, failing to provide food, medication, cleaning service, or other necessary care. Many nursing homes include contracts explaining what they are obligated to provide. If they do not provide these, or provide them in a smaller amount than the resident needs, they may be guilty of neglecting your loved one. Neglected residents may be dirty, hungry, dehydrated, or living in unsanitary or hazardous conditions.
Recognizing Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect
If your loved one is suffering this type of abuse and neglect, you may have suspicions without them telling you. Oftentimes, abused elders are reluctant to report what is happening to them out of shame, fear, or possibly for other reasons. As a family member, you may have noticed some of the following signs of nursing home abuse:
- Bed sores
- Unexplained injury
- Unexplained venereal diseases
- Signs of hygienic neglect
- Sudden and drastic weight loss
- Withdrawn behavior
- Behavioral changes
Alternatively, your loved one may attempt to report abuse, and the employees at the nursing home tell you to disregard it, claiming he or she is making it up. While nursing home residents with memory problems or mental conditions are not the most reliable witnesses, it’s generally a good idea to follow up any reports of your loved one being abused.
Our experienced attorneys have seen the ways nursing home abuse devastates the lives of abused elders and their families. We fight for the best possible outcome to these tragic cases. Our lawyers have extensive experience with these types of cases, so we understand the state and federal laws that apply, and we know how to hold wrongdoers accountable.
How to Report Nursing Home Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one has been a victim of nursing home abuse but lack definitive proof, you can be put in an awkward position. You want to protect your loved one and ensure their safety at all costs, but you don’t want their care to suffer in retaliation for your accusations. Fortunately, there are several different ways to intervene on a loved one’s behalf.
If you suspect nursing home abuse, you can go to:
- Adult Protective Services: Caseworkers from APS are generally the first responders to reports of abuse or neglect. They investigate reports of abuse, assess the situation, and monitor the care residents are receiving. Adult Protective Services are able to move nursing home residents on short notice if they suspect abuse.
- State Health Department: Often, Adult Protective Services will call on other governmental bodies to help them secure the nursing home residents’ safety. The Health Department can help ensure that residents’ medical care is sufficient, and can help develop a safety plan with other agencies to make sure that residents’ care does not suffer.
- Long Term Care Omsbudmen: These individuals work to resolve complaints, and maintain regular contact with nursing homes in their area. They are well-versed in residents’ rights and care practices, and are likely to find out if any are being violated.
- Law Enforcement: If you feel that this abuse is an imminent threat to your loved one’s health, you may wish to get law enforcement involved. This is likely to be a louder response than going through APS or the Omsbudman, and will likely require some evidence, but the effects may also be more immediate.
It’s important to note that the legal issues around putting hidden cameras in a nursing home room are legally complicated in South Carolina. Evidence captured on hidden cameras has been admitted in South Carolina courtrooms in the past, but the practice is not officially authorized by law. There is a bill in the South Carolina senate that would make surveillance legal, but as of late 2015 it had been tabled indefinitely. For the moment, if they are used at all, hidden cameras should be a tool of last resort, and you should consult your lawyer before installing one.
Liability in Nursing Home Abuse
The truth is, most nursing home abuse tends to fall under the legal responsibility of the nursing home. Ever since the passing of the Nursing Home Reform Act in 1987, the legal responsibilities of nursing home owners have tended to grow. If any of the nursing home staff or any aspect of the nursing home’s services cause harm to a resident, there’s a good chance the nursing home can be held responsible.
This includes cases such as:
- Staff being improperly or insufficiently trained
- Negligence in hiring or monitoring staff
- Negligence in providing security or protection from safety hazards
- Failure to provide food, water, or other regular necessities
- Using unnecessary or overly-forceful restraints on residents
- Deliberate abuse of residents by staff members
Other potential defendants in a nursing home abuse lawsuit include security contractors the nursing home has hired, manufacturers of medical equipment used by the nursing home, and food vendors hired by the nursing home. Pursuing a lawsuit against a third party may be more difficult if it’s clear that the nursing home’s owners did not perform due diligence in screening or monitoring the companies it contracted.
Proving Neglect in a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit
Nursing home lawsuits can cover a wide range of possible abuses, some easier to prove than others. While it may be clear if loved ones are being physically abused at their nursing homes, nursing home neglect can be much more difficult to prove. Rather than showing positive signs of abuse, you need to argue that the nursing home is not taking sufficient care of your loved ones.
Two things in particular make nursing home neglect difficult to prove. First, it is expected that patients in nursing homes may gradually decline in health. Residents may grow sicker and weaker even with the best medical care, so it’s difficult to show that your loved one is not getting enough care. Second, the testimony of nursing home patients is not always considered reliable, so the victims can find it difficult to be heard in court.
The best way to improve your chances for a favorable outcome is to hire a qualified nursing home neglect lawyer. Good nursing home lawyers:
- Know the standard of care in nursing homes, and can spot places that deviate from it.
- Have access to medical witnesses that can explain why care was substandard.
- Understand what to look for when beginning to build a case.
- Draw on years of experience pursuing such cases.
- Have the resources and patience to deal with large, wealthy nursing home companies.
Legal Options for Nursing Home Abuse
Once you have secured the safety of your loved one, you should contact a lawyer immediately. Any nursing home that has failed in their duties by allowing abuse can be found liable for damages and prosecuted in a nursing home abuse lawsuit. These can include the cost of medical care, the cost of relocation, the money you spent on the nursing home in the first place, and punitive damages.
An attorney will help you:
- Gather evidence
- Depose witnesses
- Find medical experts
- File the proper paperwork in court
- Compile records from the nursing home, APS, and other parties
- Present your case to the court
- Negotiate in the event of a settlement
Adult protective services will help you place your loved one in a new nursing home. It should be possible to find a nursing home that takes care of its residents at a comparable price, but if not, you will want to mention this fact to your attorney.
Protecting Nursing Home Residents in South Carolina
If you need legal representation in your nursing home abuse lawsuit, the law firm of McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates will hear your case. Our attorneys have a great deal of experience pursuing civil cases in South Carolina, and our knowledge and professional contacts can help you build an even stronger case.
McWhirter, Bellinger & Associates offers a free case evaluation to anyone considering legal action against a nursing home or other care provider. Contact us by calling 888-353-5513 or by filling out a form on this page. We serve clients in Columbia, Orangeburg, Sumter, Lexington, Newberry, or anywhere else in South Carolina.