September 12, 2017
How to Identify Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
By Jonathan Damashek
Every year many New York families struggle with the difficult decision to place Mom or Dad in a nursing home. When no other option exists for providing the care a parent needs, families spend a great deal of time and effort finding just the right nursing home.
Despite all their efforts, however, families often live with the nagging worry that Mom or Dad may not be receiving the care they need and to which they are entitled. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, on average, a nursing home resident falls 2.6 times a year; approximately 1,800 nursing home residents die each year from injuries sustained in a fall.
The State of New York sets minimum nursing home standards via Part 415 of the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations. Nevertheless, family members would do well to be vigilant and observant when they visit Mom or Dad.
Personal Issues to Watch For
Any unexplained injury is an immediate cause for alarm. While unavoidable accidents can occasionally happen, bruises, sprains, a head injury, or a broken bone are serious indications that your parent may have been neglected or actually abused by someone charged with his or her care. Try to gently draw him or her out and tell you exactly what happened, when it happened, and under what circumstances it happened. Listen carefully to what your parent has to say, as well as what nursing home personnel have to say.
If elderly people fail to receive the timely help they need, such as assistance in going to the bathroom, they often get tired of waiting for a staff worker to answer their bell or buzzer and try to do things by themselves, overestimating their own abilities. This can result in a fall. Likewise, bed sores can indicate that your parent is being allowed to remain in one position for too long.
If your parent is poorly, inadequately or carelessly dressed when you visit, has uncombed hair, dirty or overly long fingernails or toenails, or emits an odor from his or her mouth or body, these are signs of neglect. So is any lingering odor of urine or feces in the room or anywhere in the facility. Any indication of unsanitary living conditions is a definite red flag.
Other signs of personal neglect include the following:
- Any indication of malnutrition or dehydration
- Noticeably decreased mobility
- Psychological issues such as apathy, depression, anxiousness, fear, agitation, withdrawal, and/or reluctance to talk about day-to-day living
Facility Issues to Watch For
Each time you visit Mom or Dad, pay attention to what’s going on in the entire nursing home, not just in your parent’s room. Does the staff appear to be adequate, or are people rushing around, trying to take care of everything at once? Such chaos is an indication that the nursing home is understaffed and/or poorly trained in their duties and responsibilities. If you hear constantly ringing phones or observe numerous unanswered call lights, these too are strong indications of a poorly staffed and/or poorly managed nursing home.
It is acceptable for a staff person to answer one of your questions by saying, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out and get back to you as soon as possible.” However, if this is a consistent response, there could be a training or education problem, especially if you never get your questions satisfactorily answered. A sure tip-off of a systemic problem is if anyone answers your question by saying something to the effect that “this is how we always do things.”
Additional signs of possible facility-wide neglectful or abusive practices include the following:
- High turnover of staff
- Protestations by your parent that he or she doesn’t like someone and doesn’t want them to take care of him or her
- Residents aimlessly wandering the halls or sitting in wheelchairs doing nothing, not even talking to each other
Placing your aging parent in a nursing home is difficult enough. The last thing you need is worrying about the quality of his or her care. If you believe you have discovered nursing home abuse or neglect, don’t hesitate to be proactive. The New York State Department of Health maintains a Nursing Home Complaint hotline. You can call 1-888-201-4563 at any hour of the day or night. Staff are on duty during business hours and you can leave a voicemail with your contact information at all other times.