Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing home neglect may not be as violent as abuse, but it is just as dangerous. Neglect occurs when residents are not properly cared for, resulting in physical harm, illness, or even death. Fortunately, there are ways to help older Americans if you believe they are suffering from neglect in a nursing home.

What Is Nursing Home Neglect?

Nursing home neglect is a tragic but all-too-common issue in the United States. It occurs when residents in nursing homes do not get proper care and suffer physical or mental health problems as a result.

According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 15.3% of elder abuse complaints in nursing homes are for neglect.

Many nursing homes treat residents with dignity and respect, but others fail to meet a basic standard of care. Failure to meet a nursing home resident’s basic needs is neglect and it is always unacceptable.

Nursing Home Neglect vs Abuse

While the term nursing home abuse often brings to mind physical injuries, neglect is actually a type of abuse as well. A staff member who intentionally fails to properly bathe, feed, or give medications to a resident should be held responsible if their actions lead to harm or death.

Even accidental nursing home neglect can be just as harmful as intentional neglect in serious cases. For example, giving an older person the wrong dose of medication can have life-threatening consequences.

What Causes Nursing Home Neglect?

Nursing home neglect cases are often the result of inadequate staffing. Employees who are stressed or overworked may not be able to provide the quality of care needed to keep residents healthy and happy.

Common causes of caregiver stress include improper training or too much responsibility. Impossible workloads lead to overworked staff who cannot fulfill their duties and are more likely to make mistakes.

In addition, nursing homes may not properly vet who they hire, or hire without running background checks.

This can be risky and even dangerous, as those who have struggled with drug and alcohol use or have been abused themselves are statistically more likely to abuse or neglect others.

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Types of Neglect in Nursing Homes

Nursing home neglect can come in a few different forms. Learn about the most common types below.

Medical Neglect

Medical neglect occurs when a nursing home staff member fails to meet a resident’s health care needs.

Medical neglect may include:

  • Failing to administer medications when needed
  • Not regularly moving seniors with mobility issues, putting them at risk of bedsores
  • Not reporting signs of infections or illnesses to nurses or doctors
  • Improper care for existing health problems like diabetes or dementia

In 2018, a jury awarded a 72-year-old nursing home resident over $1 million after they found that negligence caused her to develop severe bedsores. According to her attorneys, the woman never saw a doctor while in the home even though the staff knew she had bedsores.

If you suspect that your loved one might be suffering from medical neglect, talk to a trusted staff member at the nursing home or report your worries to an elder care agency near you. You may also choose to pursue legal compensation — if so, a free case review will help determine if you are eligible.

Social/Emotional Neglect

Nursing homes provide a new opportunity for seniors to make friends later in life. Social interactions can improve a senior’s mood and overall mental health. However, nursing home staff members can commit emotional neglect if they prevent seniors from interacting with other people.

This can occur if staff members:

  • Fail to provide canes, wheelchairs, or walkers to residents with mobility limitations
  • Forget to move residents with severe mobility/mental issues
  • Accidentally isolate vulnerable residents

Neglect of Basic Living Needs and Hygiene

With this type of neglect, nursing home staff members fail to provide essential living functions as promised by the facility.

This may include:

  • Not properly bathing a senior
  • Not changing the clothing or bedding of seniors who soil themselves
  • Failing to change a senior’s clothes regularly
  • Providing seniors unsafe food or water
  • Not cleaning a senior’s room or the nursing home facility

Albeit different, this type of neglect can be just as dangerous as medical neglect. For example, in 2018, the father of former United States National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster died after a nursing home resident failed to check on him after a fall.

Signs & Symptoms of Elder Neglect In Nursing Homes

Warning signs of nursing home neglect include:

  • Bruises, lacerations, skin tears, broken bones, and other unexplained injuries
  • Bedsores (pressure ulcers/pressure sores)
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Burns, often accidentally self-inflicted
  • Personal hygiene issues
  • Insomnia/sleep loss
  • Significant personality changes

Despite these tell-tale signs, neglect can be very hard to detect because it may require the testimony of a witness. Additionally, neglect is typically most likely to happen to people with mental impairments like Alzheimer’s disease, making it even harder to identify and resolve.

However, with the help of legal counsel, you may be able to prove how neglect was caused by the actions of staff members in the nursing home.

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Possible signs that a staff member is committing elder neglect include:

  • Excessively using restraints (physical or medical) on a resident
  • Giving incorrect or ineffective doses of medication over long spans of time
  • Providing prescriptions with conflicting medications or excessive side effects

Consequences of Nursing Home Neglect

Consequences for Elders

Nursing home neglect can have a significant impact on the health and well-being of residents. Physical health, mental health, and hygiene can all be directly affected.

Hygiene Consequences

  • Bad odor
  • Dirty skin
  • Unclean clothes
  • Ill-fitting, damaged, or missing clothes

Potential Health Consequences

  • Untreated medical or dental issues
  • Recurring sicknesses or injuries
  • Weight loss or malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue

Social & Emotional Consequences

  • Unpaid bills or other debts
  • Personality changes (like depression, anxiety, or fear)
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Loss of trust in others
  • Insomnia or sleep loss
  • Substance use or abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts or actions

In the most severe cases, mistreatment and neglect in nursing homes result in death. The Boston Globe reported about a Vietnam veteran who died in a Massachusetts nursing home because his nurse spent the night playing video games instead of checking on him.

The report also revealed that many other patients and their family members were very dissatisfied with the quality of care at the facility. Complaints included that patients went long hours without food or changes of clothes and even months without showers — obvious signs of neglect.

Consequences for Nursing Homes

The contract between a nursing home and a patient is often a legally binding document. Failing to provide adequate care can result in administrative, civil, or criminal penalties.

Staff members or facilities that are found to have neglected patients may lose the ability to care for other older adults. In addition, they may be subject to significant fines or lose their licenses entirely.

Nursing homes that allow staff to neglect elders also leave themselves open to costly lawsuits. Some cases of nursing home neglect have resulted in payouts of over $1 million.

Preventing Nursing Home Neglect

Nursing home neglect is generally caused by inaction rather than action, which means it can often be prevented with planning and care.

To reduce the risk of neglect, make sure a facility you’re considering has:

  • Proper staffing and training: Adequate staffing and elder care education should be every nursing home’s first line of defense in preventing neglect.
  • Reporting procedures: It is critical that nursing home staff know the process for reporting concerns, including neglect. In addition, residents or family members who come forward with abuse allegations should be taken seriously.
  • Criminal record checks: Criminal record checks and extensive interviewing can help vet potential employees and eliminate candidates who are not well-suited for a caregiving position.
  • Flexible care plans: Assisted living facilities should keep track of a resident’s health and adjust care plans accordingly. For example, an individual in a long-term care facility who accidentally sets fire to their kitchen may need more supervision than they are receiving.

In addition, friends and family can regularly check in on their loved ones in nursing homes. Visiting often may help with spotting warning signs of abuse or neglect early on.

How Do I Report Neglect in a Nursing Home?

Nursing home neglect is a serious matter that can lead to serious consequences. It’s critical that all cases are reported. This helps ensure the health and safety of the individual and puts pressure on nursing homes to improve their standards of care.

A good place to start when reporting nursing home neglect is contacting a long-term care ombudsman. The local ombudsman in each state will have their own processes for investigating claims of elder neglect and ensuring all older adults receive proper care.

Law enforcement, Adult Protective Services (APS), and social workers can also be involved. Family members and others who report elder neglect can include numerous authorities if desired. Finally, you may want to report abuse to a nursing home neglect lawyer who can help you access compensation to pay for medical bills and other expenses.

Get a free case review to see if you can pursue financial compensation.

You deserve justice. Get a free legal case review now.

Author:Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team
Nursing Home Abuse Justice Team

Nursing Home Abuse Justice was founded to shine a light on nursing home and elder abuse. Every day, thousands of people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities are abused. Our team helps educate seniors and their loved ones on the common causes, signs and preventions of nursing home abuse. We report on real-world studies and current events from respected news outlets to expose this national problem.

Last modified: December 8, 2020

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