Nursing Home Abuse Questions:
What Is Elder Abuse?
Elder abuse can come in many forms – physical, emotional, sexual, financial, and even abandonment. The abuse is overwhelmingly done by care providers. Sometimes the abuse can be intentional, meaning the caregiver wanted to harm the person. When the abuse is intentional, it can be a crime and should be reported to the police immediately. When the abuse is due to neglect, or the lack of providing care, there can still be consequences for the care provider.
How Do I Know if My Loved One Is Being Abused?
Common warning signs that someone is being abused are bruises, pressure or bedsores, broken bones, poor hygiene, and missing property or money.
Bedsores. Bedsores or pressure injuries are usually associated with neglect. The most common area for a bedsore is the sacral area, (tailbone) the area just above the buttocks. Other boney areas such as the hips, ankles, and heels are also common areas for bed sores. If your loved one complains of back pain, or pain near their butt, be suspicious and ask to see the area of pain. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have said that stage 3 and stage 4 bedsores are “never events” – meaning they should never happen. CMS will not reimburse healthcare providers for in-house acquired bedsores because they should have been prevented.
Malnutrition. If your loved one is not getting the proper nutrition it can lead to many other health problems. A sudden loss of weight, typically 10% or more within a short time, is a sign there is a problem. Poor nutrition also can increase the likelihood of bedsores or make it impossible to heal existing bedsores. High protein diets and supplements are key to a healthy body. Also, if a person is malnourished, they are likely dehydrated too. Dehydration can lead to life-threatening conditions.
Falls. A fall for an elderly person can be fatal. A broken hip, femur, or other major bone may require surgery and anesthesia. The stress of undergoing anesthesia and major surgery is often more than an elderly person’s body can handle. Even with rehabilitation, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to restore a person’s mobility to pre-fall status. If your loved one has recently experienced a fall, they are more likely to fall again. Healthcare providers must take all reasonable steps to prevent people from falling and minimize the damage if they do fall. This includes using special beds that are low to the ground, alarms on beds and wheelchairs, the padding on the floor or a person’s hips, non-slip footwear, toileting schedules, and keeping their room clutter-free.
Do I Need a Lawyer if I Think My Loved One Is Being Abused?
- Not every case of elder abuse requires a lawyer. Sometimes speaking with the charge nurse, or the director of nursing is all that is needed to ensure proper care of your loved one.
- If there are still problems after speaking with staff, every county has an Ombudsmen for long-term care facilities. An ombudsman is an advocate that will work with you to address any care problems that your loved one might be experiencing. The goal is to improve the quality of care and thus, quality of life. You can find out more about the Maryland Ombudsman program here: https://aging.maryland.gov/Pages/state-long-term-care-ombudsman.aspx
- The more serious the issue, the more likely you should talk to a lawyer about the legal rights of your loved one. Bedsores, major broken bones, infections, and death are a few examples when you should contact a lawyer immediately.
Can I Get a Copy of My Loved One’s Medical Records?
- Everyone’s medical records are protected under Federal Law – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, (HIPAA). Unless you have written permission from your loved one, medical power of attorney, durable power of attorney, guardianship, or other legal documents, you cannot get a copy of someone else’s medical records. This can be problematic and time-consuming if the person has Alzheimer’s or dementia and did not authorize anyone to act on their behalf.
- If your loved one has passed away, any legal document allowing you access to their medical information is null and void. A medical or durable power of attorney has no legal effect after a person passes away. In this situation, someone must become a personal representative of the decedent’s estate. If the person had a Will, it should say who is the personal representative. If there is no Will, it will typically be the spouse, parent, or adult child of the decedent. Once it is determined who will be the representative, the next step is filing paperwork with the Register of Wills in the county where the person lived. You can find more information about the Register of Wills here: http://registers.maryland.gov/main/
How Do I Know if My Loved One’s Nursing Home Is Safe From Abuse?
Abuse can happen at any facility. However, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have complied information about every licensed facility in the Country. You can check out your loved one’s facility here: https://www.medicare.gov/care-compare/?providerType=NursingHome&redirect=true
Where Can I Get More Information About Elder Abuse?
- The Maryland Department of Health – https://aging.maryland.gov/Pages/default.aspx
- The Maryland Department of Healthcare Quality – https://health.maryland.gov/ohcq/Pages/home.aspx
- The Administration for Community Living – https://acl.gov/programs/protecting-rights-and-preventing-abuse
- The United States Department of Justice – https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice
** FAQs are not a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon. **