“Why do so many ignore nursing home abuse?”
Abuse and neglect have been systemic problems in elder care for many years. Back in 2001, a Congressional report found that 30 percent of nursing homes had been cited for abuse over a two-year period. Notoriously understaffed and underfunded, nursing homes and assisted living facilities are still environments where abuse and neglect frequently go unreported. Much more recently, the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study discovered that “for every case [of abuse] known to programs and agencies, 24 were unknown.” As an attorney at Stanley Law, Joe Stanley summarized what many people are reluctant to acknowledge, “Nursing homes are unfortunately treated as depositories for the most vulnerable people in our society.”
Especially for residents who are unable to look after their own wellbeing, seemingly minor forms of neglect can have terrible consequences. Missed meals in understaffed facilities can lead to dehydrated or malnourished residents. Patients with limited movement need to be rotated or shifted periodically, and yet, more than 10 percent of nursing home residents have bedsores. Also known as decubitus ulcers, bedsores are a serious but preventable problem caused by unrelieved pressure, starting as redness and blisters. If untreated, decubitus results in the loss of all tissue down to the bone, and the wounds are vulnerable to infection. Abuse also has serious consequences, such that residents who only experience minor abuse are subject to a 300 percent higher risk of death, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse.
In some cases, arbitration agreements have been barriers to the families of elders who have been abused or neglected. NPR recently covered how the federal government may regulate or ban arbitration agreements at nursing homes, which prevent families from taking their complaints to public courts. Since resolutions that come out of arbitration may include gag rules, instances of documented abuse may not get media attention. The ability to file a lawsuit is an important tool for families who want to ensure that their loved ones receive adequate care. With elder care facilities and enforcement agencies alike, limited budgets make it difficult to ensure that residents receive care that meets minimum standards. “It’s a lot like the medical system—the only people that are controlling the outrageous behavior are lawyers,” said Stanley. “Right now, if you didn’t have those, the hospitals and nursing homes would be free to do whatever they wanted because government regulation is minimal at best.”
When the health of a loved one makes nursing home or assisted living necessary, it’s important to check the Health Department records of facilities. Unfortunately, you also have to be realistic about your expectations and carefully assess what level of care is necessary.
“Assisted living facilities are essentially supervised apartments,” said Stanley. “They are not skilled nursing facilities, and you have to be very careful with what services are provided.” In any case, remaining actively involved and frequently visiting are helpful ways to make sure that your loved one receives necessary care.
In New York and nationwide, the abuse and neglect of elders is an ongoing problem that deserves attention. “It’s a sad situation,” said Stanley, “because we have a vulnerable population that has spent their life being productive members of our community, and we would hope that in their later years, they are treated with dignity and respect.”