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.
Many nursing homes treat elderly residents with respect, but others sadly do not. Failure to meet a nursing home resident’s basic needs is neglect and it is always unacceptable.
If you suspect that a loved one might be suffering from neglect, you have options. 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.
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 care for a resident should be held responsible if their actions lead to harm or death.
Even accidental nursing home neglect can be harmful 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.
Types of Neglect in Nursing Homes
Nursing home negligence can come in a few different forms. Learn about the most common types below.
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
- Improper medical care for existing health problems like diabetes or dementia
- Not regularly moving seniors with mobility issues, putting them at risk of bedsores
- Not reporting signs of infections or illnesses to nurses or doctors
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.
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 residents from interacting with others.
This can occur if staff members:
- Accidentally isolate vulnerable residents
- Fail to provide canes, wheelchairs, or walkers to residents with mobility problems
- Forget to move residents with severe mobility/mental issues
Neglect of Basic Living Needs and Hygiene
With this type of neglect, staff members fail to provide basic health care as promised by the nursing facility.
This may include:
- Failing to change a senior’s clothes regularly
- Not changing the clothing or bedding of seniors who soil themselves
- Not cleaning a senior’s room or the nursing home facility
- Not properly bathing a senior
- Providing seniors unsafe food or water
In 2018, the father of former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster died after a staff member failed to check on him after a fall.
Signs & Symptoms of Elder Neglect In Nursing Homes
Warning signs of nursing home neglect include:
- Bedsores (pressure ulcers/pressure sores)
- Bruises, broken bones, and other unexplained injuries
- Burns, often accidentally self-inflicted
- Insomnia/sleep loss
- New or untreated medical conditions
- Personal hygiene issues
- Significant personality changes
Despite these signs, neglect can be very hard to detect as it may require the testimony of a witness.
It can be even harder to identify and resolve cases of neglect when someone has Alzheimer’s or dementia. They may not be able to give their side of the story due to these illnesses.
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.
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 elderly people. Physical health, mental health, and hygiene can all be affected.
- Bad odor
- Dirty skin
- Ill-fitting, unclean, damaged, or missing clothes
Potential Health Consequences
- Recurring sicknesses or injuries
- Untreated medical or dental issues
- Weight loss or malnutrition
Social & Emotional Consequences
- Insomnia or sleep loss
- Isolation and loneliness
- Loss of trust in others
- Personality changes (like depression, anxiety, or fear)
- Substance use or abuse
- Suicidal thoughts or actions
- Unpaid bills or other debts
In the most severe cases, nursing home neglect results 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 dissatisfied with the quality of care at the facility. Complaints included that elders went long hours without food or changes of clothes. Some residents even went months without showers.
Consequences for Nursing Homes
The contract between a nursing home and a patient is often a legally binding document. Failing to provide proper care can result in civil or criminal penalties.
Staff members or facilities that have neglected patients may lose the ability to care for others. In addition, they may be subject to steep fines.
Facilities that allow staff to neglect elders also leave themselves open to costly nursing home 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. This means it can often be prevented with planning and care.
To reduce the risk of neglect, make sure a facility has:
- 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 as needed. For example, a resident who accidentally sets fire to their kitchen may need more supervision than they are receiving.
- 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: Nursing home staff should know the process for reporting concerns, including neglect. In addition, residents or family members who come forward with abuse allegations should be taken seriously.
In addition, friends and family can regularly check in on their loved ones in nursing homes. Regular visits mean they may be able to spot 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 deadly consequences. It’s critical that all cases are reported. This helps ensure the victim’s safety and puts pressure on nursing homes to improve their standards of care.
A good place to start when reporting nursing home neglect is to contact a long-term care ombudsman. A local ombudsman is an advocate for nursing home residents and can help investigate claims of neglect.
Family members and others who report elder neglect can include numerous authorities if desired. Law enforcement, Adult Protective Services (APS), and social workers can all help resolve cases of neglect.
Finally, you may want to report abuse to a nursing home abuse 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.