Philadelphia Elder Care Abuse Lawyer
Our medical malpractice elder care abuse attorneys understand that when our elderly citizens get abused, that act is one of the most heinous types of personal injury, and we must fight for our elder care clients to seek justice. Our grandparents, parents, relatives and friends sometimes need us to fight for them when they cannot defend themselves. The elder care and abuse medical malpractice attorneys at our PA law firm know that our elderly need the best possible medical care. Unfortunately, our elderly do not always receive the best medical care, and a personal injury occurs through medical malpractice.
Sadly, tens of thousands of senior citizens – or more – are abused and neglected by their caregivers, including relatives and friends. The elderly are frail, which make them less likely to stand up for themselves and more prone to being taken advantage of.
Elder Abuse Comes In A Number Of Different Forms:
- Physical: hitting or shoving the elderly person, improperly administering or administering too much medication, improperly physically restraining the elderly person
- Emotional: making verbal threats, intimidation, humiliation, ignoring or isolating the elderly person.
- Financial abuse: using an elderly person’s accounts, checks or cards without permission, forging an elderly person’s signature, stealing cash or valuables from the elderly person’s home, inappropriately charging an elderly person for healthcare costs.
- Sexual: physical sexual contact, forcing an elderly person to look at pornography or sex acts, forcing an elderly person to undress for other than legitimate medical reasons
Another form of elder abuse is neglect, which can be intentional or unintentional. Elder neglect occurs when an elderly person is not given the degree of care they require. More than half of all reported cases of elder abuse involve neglect.
Elder care abuse is rarely reported for a few different reasons. Some individuals are fearful that the abuses will continue or escalate if they are reported. Others are ashamed to admit having been victims of abuse, or perhaps they do not think anyone will believe their story. Those who are abused by friends or family members may not want their abuser to get into trouble. There may have even been intimidation or threats on the part of the abuser. This is why it is important to be aware of signs that your loved one is a victim. Signs of abuse include bedsores, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and scars. Signs of neglect include a dirty or cluttered home, odors on your loved one’s clothing, furniture or bedsheets, unclean hair or nails, and unexplained weight loss.
Representing victims of elder care abuse requires a team of lawyers, nurses and others trained to review the facts of these cases, including medical records. It can be very difficult to prove that even the most serious elder care injury is the result of medical malpractice. That’s why you need attorneys on your side to investigate medical records and find the best medical experts to examine the extent of your injuries. At The Levin Firm, we also work with highly-regarded experts to determine the type of medical malpractice and how and why it happened. At times, we will work with other law firms that have particular expertise to assure that our clients receive the most thorough and zealous representation.
When you need a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania or New Jersey personal injury attorney to represent you, a family member or friend who is elderly and has been abused or neglected by a caregiver, contact The Levin Firm, who represent every client zealously in order to obtain the best results possible in each case.
Elder Abuse Attorneys
As a society, we expect the policies, procedures, and protocols for resident care in long-term care facilities to comply with federal and state standards, and we consider violations and deficiencies to these basic requirements to constitute abuse and neglect. Mistreatment, whether an intentional act or a failure to act appropriately, is unacceptable, and in most cases, you can take legal action against the perpetrators. Concerned family members expect the clinical and support staff in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or in-home caregiving situation to maximize an elder’s quality of life, not harm it.
Elder Abuse Constitutes A Crisis Situation
A recent AP story highlights information and data analysis from nursing home expert Stephen Kaye, Professor at the Institute on Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, estimating an excess of 40,000 nursing home fatalities in a nine-month period, beyond those from COVID-19 and those expected from the natural progression of aging. One in 10 adults over the age of 60 suffer from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation.
The Distinction Between Neglect and Abuse
Almost every resident of a continuing care facility or skilled nursing home has one thing in common: an inability to live independently. Although some residents suffer from comorbidities and terminal illnesses, some will have a cognitive impairment and permanent physical limitations; in these situations, long-term care facilities serve as these residents’ permanent homes. Those recovering from an extended hospital stay often return home after temporary restorative treatment.
Often, cases of nursing home neglect and abuse go unreported, partly because the resident may not understand the level of care required in these situations. Unfortunately, sometimes residents may not feel physically able to report abuse or neglect.
Abuse and neglect constitute different types of injustice.
Abuse involves willful and deliberate actions, whereas neglect generally results from apathy, inadequate training, and failure to provide essential care, such as:
- Sufficient nutrition and hydration
- Appropriate clean clothing
- A comfortable room temperature
- Attention to personal hygiene
- Social interaction
- A clean and safe environment
- Appropriate special individual needs, such as pain management, supplemental oxygen, or dialysis
- Receiving the correct medication, in the correct dosage, as prescribed by a physician
- Infection protection
Recognizing the Warning Signs of Neglect
The responsibility for resident care rests in the hands of the clinical staff of a nursing facility, and sometimes in the hands of administrative personnel. A pre-admission physical exam and reports from a primary healthcare provider serve as a frame of reference for documenting the daily health status of each individual. Resident staff must look for and document cognitive decline, pressure sores, urinary tract infections, weight loss, and medication compliance. Failure to intercede on behalf of the resident constitutes negligent behavior.
Family members may notice the following signs:
- A change in physical appearance
- Unclean clothing and a lack of personal hygiene
- The resident complaining about his or her treatment
- Signs of being overly medicated
- Weight loss
- Unexplained bruising
Recognizing the Warning Signs of Abuse
Signs of abuse may include:
- Unusual and unexplained bruising
- Unanticipated weight loss
- Broken bones, lacerations, and signs of physical restraint
- Unusual behavior, such as agitation or withdrawal
- Genital bruising and rectal or vaginal bleeding
- An unexpected change in the elder’s financial situation
The Effects of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Abusive behavior physically and emotionally harms those sometimes unable, and almost always unwilling, to speak up for themselves. Neglect constitutes a type of abuse, but it involves a lack of action to fulfill certain caretaking obligations. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, almost half of long-term care residents may need assistance with transferring, dressing, eating, and toileting, and about 70 percent of the residents have some cognitive impairment.
Nursing home care plans must include measurable objectives to address major issues, such as:
- Fall prevention
- Infection control
- Medication errors
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) reports that approximately half of all nursing home residents in the United States will experience a fall every year. That amounts to 800,000 potentially preventable falls. Among the causes of resident falls include medications, especially those that affect the central nervous system (such as sedatives and anti-anxiety drugs,) ill-fitting footwear, and a lack of instruction in the proper use of walking aids.
Wandering and Elopement
Failure to ensure the effectiveness and functionality of security protocols can lead to severe injury in a medically compromised and cognitively impaired resident.
Neglect can lead to:
- The chance the resident will become confused and lost.
- The possibility of entering an unsafe or dangerous part of the facility.
- Exposure to dangerous environmental conditions, such as traffic and adverse weather.
Malnutrition in a nursing home setting involves more than a lack of nutrients. Physical, social, and psychological reasons exist as to why an elderly person suffers from malnutrition. Weight loss constitutes a common, and often expected, problem among nursing home residents, as does a general lack of appetite.
That said, a failure to recognize and treat the issue constitutes neglect. Protein and vitamin deficiencies will eventually contribute to weight loss and a weakened immune system. Patients may suffer a decrease in muscle strength and bone mass, which in turn lead to falls, fractures, and a high risk for hospitalization. Additionally, signs of malnutrition include poor wound healing, easy bruising, confusion, and dry skin.
Apart from expected age-related changes, some other causes include:
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- A side effect of certain medications
- A dislike for restricted diets
- A lack of socialization
A nursing home staff should monitor a resident’s weight and have an individualized care plan that addresses each resident’s particular needs when it comes to meals. This may include one-on-one assistance with feeding, making mealtime a more social experience, and possibly adding more flavor to foods with physician-approved spices.
A body can survive, sometimes for weeks, without food, but a lack of water takes a lethal toll in a matter of days.
Clinical signs of dehydration include:
- A resident’s complaint of feeling thirsty
- Dry skin and a loss of elasticity
- Dark urine
- Decreased urine output
- Low blood pressure
The leading cause of dehydration in a nursing home involves a lack of attention. Water constitutes a basic human need, and failing to ensure that each resident gets sufficient water constitutes neglect. No acceptable excuse exists for an exacerbation of illness due to dehydration. Offering water at regular intervals throughout the day takes only a few minutes, costs very little, and requires no specialized staff training.
On average, nursing home residents experience two million infections a year. Acquired infections while in a skilled nursing facility carry a risk of hospitalization, a high rate of mortality, and exacerbation of current illnesses. The most common infections found in a nursing home include urinary tract infections, pneumonia, and skin and soft tissue infection.
Dental plaque serves as one source of bacteria that may lead to increased systemic infection in an elderly population. In a nursing home setting, staff frequently neglects residents’ oral care, which may lead to infection.
Hand hygiene also constitutes an integral part of infection control in long-term care and geriatric settings, especially for health care workers having frequent contact with residents, such as nutritionists, physical and occupational therapists, and social workers.
Infections constitute a common cause of sepsis, an inflammatory bodily response to infection that can cause both organ damage and organ failure. Residents likely to show signs of sepsis include those recently readmitted from a hospital stay, those with a diagnosed infection, residents with a compromised immune system, and those with open wounds, catheters, or IV lines.
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Elevated heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Altered mental status
- Shortness of breath
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a medication error includes “any preventable event that may cause or lead to inappropriate medication use or patient harm while the medication is in the control of the healthcare professional, patient, or consumer,” as defined by the National Coordinating Council for Medication Error Reporting and Prevention. Preventable medication errors have a significant impact on the safety of residents in a nursing home setting. Preventable medication errors in long-term care facilities occur commonly. In this context, a preventable error constitutes a negligent error.
Common medication errors in nursing homes include the following:
- Administering the wrong medication.
- Giving the wrong dose of medication.
- Not paying adequate attention to a resident’s documented allergies.
- Administering medications that don’t go together well.
- Giving medications at the wrong time.
- Failure to give necessary medication.
Families Should Remain Vigilant
If possible, and whenever possible, try to remain an ever-present participant in your loved one’s care. Visit at unexpected times, show up for meals, ask to accompany the resident on planned outings, ask for regular reports from the nursing staff as to the resident’s condition and treatment.
Some states (Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, and Washington), allow video surveillance cameras in resident’s rooms. Certain restrictions apply, so check with an attorney as to the specifics before installing one. Ask questions, and don’t stop until you get answers. Ask for the name of the facility’s medical director, ask how many residents the nursing home has, and ask the facility’s percentage of occupancy.
You have the right to ask how many registered nurses, LPNs, and certified nursing assistants the facility employs. Inquire about security measures in place.
Do the residents wear wander guard bracelets? How often does the facility change its door codes? Who will serve as your point of contact should you have questions? Look around every time you visit your loved one. Do the hallways seem free of clutter and any unpleasant odors? Do the residents appear clean and dressed appropriately? Go with your gut—if you suspect abuse, you should take action.
Nationally, nursing home residents have experienced harm due to inadequate staffing. The federal government does not set minimum staffing standards, and understaffing does not constitute a crime. Harmful, yes; illegal, no. Do some facilities remain understaffed in an effort to maximize profits? Perhaps, but staffing issues may also stem from the availability of qualified candidates, high staff turnover, burnout, and stress.
What Should a Family Expect From a Nursing Home?
Substandard care should never happen in a licensed nursing home. Operating under both federal and state mandates, nursing homes must adhere to a defined set of standards that encompass all aspects of resident care. There is no excuse for substandard care in a nursing home.
Some things to expect from a quality long-term care facility include:
- Social, recreational, religious, and community activities in accordance with resident needs.
- Transportation provided to community activities and private physician’s offices.
- A dedicated place for residents to visit with family and guests.
- An on-call doctor in the event a resident cannot get to a personal physician.
- The required minimum number of registered nurses on every shift.
- The minimum number of required certified nursing assistants.
- A registered dietitian on staff.
- Resident access to a physical therapist and an occupational therapist.
The Nursing Home Reform Law requirements for nursing homes include:
- A registered nurse on-site eight consecutive hours, seven days a week.
- Licensed nurses 24 hours a day.
- Sufficient nursing staff to meet residents’ needs.
Additionally, nursing homes must provide:
- Dietary and pharmaceutical services
- Social services
- Periodic assessments and individual care plans for each resident
Reporting Nursing Home Neglect
Help exists for individuals who suspect nursing home abuse and neglect. If you suspect a loved one has suffered harm in any way, take immediate action. Seek legal counsel for guidance and assistance in determining the best way to keep your elder relative safe in the immediate future to seek compensation for injuries sustained.
Who Bears Liability for Harmful Neglect?
When a licensed medical professional’s conduct falls short of an acceptable standard of care, it may constitute neglect. The same holds true for clinical support staff, such as certified nursing assistants and aides, as well as the administrative staff of the facility.
Some examples of nursing home negligence include:
- Administering the wrong medication or the wrong dose
- Prescribing a wrong medication
- Failure to observe signs and symptoms of a new condition
- Failure to regularly monitor a resident’s vital signs
- Failure to document changes in a resident’s condition
- Failure to report changes in a resident’s condition
- False chart documentation
- Procedural errors
When Should a Family Contact an Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
Families and residents have a right to receive treatment with respect and dignity. Family members have a right to see the results of the facility’s most recent state survey or inspection. Residents have a right to participate in their care plans, and to remain free from physical and mental abuse and neglect. Residents have a right to the confidentiality of their medical records and to expect privacy in the care of personal needs.
Abuse and neglect in a nursing home, assisted living community, rehabilitation center, or any skilled nursing facility can take on many forms, and legal action and compensation may prove available depending on your circumstances. A concerned family member or relative serves as the best advocate a resident has when his or her voice is silenced by fear, shame, or illness.
Consider the following types of abuse and neglect:
- Violation of a written agreement between the facility and the family.
- A medical professional’s lack of attention causes harm.
- A resident falls as a direct result of a prevalent hazard.
- A resident suffers harm from another resident.
- The facility fails to address new medical conditions.
- Suitable security measures don’t exist.
- A resident suffers from regular over-medication.
- The facility fails to give all prescribed medications.
- A resident shows signs of malnutrition or dehydration.
- Staff does not clean the facility properly.
- Staff does not clean the resident properly.
Our aging family members deserve high-quality care. Be the voice your loved one needs if you suspect abuse or neglect in a long-term care facility, assisted living community, or at the hand of an in-home caregiver.
Reach out to a nursing home abuse and neglect lawyer if you have questions.