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Nursing Home Complaints: How To Report Abuse or Neglect

The decision to move a loved one into a nursing home is always difficult. On the one hand, you're comforted by the presence of nursing home staff members. They are available to provide necessary care and supervision. But, you wonder just how well trained and supervised those staff members are. These are valid concerns, especially in light of recent reports. Research has shown that nearly one in three nursing homes have reports of abuse.

Victims of abuse who are already in a vulnerable position are often unable to protect themselves. They rely on loved ones or family members to intervene. In some cases, this requires filing a nursing home complaint. Below is a general overview of how to report nursing home neglect or abuse.

Emergency Safety Measures

Legal claims can take years to resolve in civil court. In the meantime, your elderly loved one may be in imminent danger. If a problem involving nursing home abuse or neglect is severe and ongoing, you may need to take emergency safety measures. Unlike a civil legal claim which requires evidence and time to resolve, an emergency phone call to the authorities works much quicker.

Regardless of where you live, you can always report nursing home abuse or neglect to your local law enforcement agencies. Toll-free 911 calls are available for situations requiring immediate attention. But, each state and territory also has an Adult Protective Services (APS) agency, many of which have 24-hour hotlines to report abuse. Contacting APS will trigger an investigation. It may lead to possible referral to law enforcement if there is criminal activity.

Gather the Facts

When you report an incident of nursing home abuse or neglect, it's important to provide basic information to help guide investigators. This will allow them to determine if the client needs immediate action, particularly in situations involving physical abuse or financial exploitation. Providing enough information to investigators helps them decide whether a resident needs immediate hospital care or help in blocking access to bank accounts.

When collecting information for a nursing home complaint, document, if possible:

  • The statements of the victim and those of any witnesses (staff or other residents)
  • Locations and a timeline of events
  • Any injuries with descriptions and pictures
  • The victim's finances
  • Statements of nursing home supervisors about the incident
  • Statements of the victim's medical providers (at the nursing home or off-site)
  • Statements from the resident's other doctors and care providers in connection with helping you or monitoring the patient's health
  • Medical records and medical expenses related to the victim

Emails or letters from staff or medical providers are a good way to document their statements in their own words. If they speak with you in person, you can always send an email after the conversation. It helps to have writing confirming what they told you and allowing them to correct the record as needed.

Remember, your initial complaint could serve as the basis for criminal prosecution down the road or even a civil case to recover damages for the victim. The more accurate information you can document early on, the better.

 

Where Do You File a Nursing Home Complaint?

After you've contacted APS, consider calling your state attorney general's office. State attorney general offices are able to investigate nursing home complaints and bring criminal or civil actions as warranted. The California Attorney General's Office, for example, has a separate bureau dedicated to addressing complaints of elder abuse. Going through your state attorney general can also lead to increased state oversight of a nursing home as well as suspension or revocation of its license to operate.

Each state also has a Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, which provides nursing home residents with advocates to resolve their complaints. The program also helps improve their quality of care and life, usually free of charge. Ombudsmen are able to:

  • Listen to the concerns of residents or family members
  • Inform residents of their rights and legal protections
  • Provide information on different nursing homes
  • Work with nursing home staff and management to make changes
  • Involve law enforcement if required

Once you've given a nursing home complaint to authorities, ensure the information is complete and organized. It's important to provide all the information you have on any specific incidents, even information that you learn after filing the complaint. This will ensure that a resident receives the protection they need.

You can also hire an attorney to sue in civil court. Civil lawsuits allow your elderly loved one to recover financial compensation for their suffering and related expenses. For example, a long-term care facility may have committed medical malpractice or some form of negligence that falls below the legal standard of care. Sometimes this can cause the wrongful death of the patient. Or perhaps an assisted living facility has committed sexual abuse or another form of tort (civil wrong) against a resident. In these situations, civil legal action against a nursing home is appropriate.

Should I Report a Nursing Home?

You may have concerns about your loved one but aren't sure if you should act on it. It's understandable that you would want to avoid the risk of putting a resident in danger of retaliation. Or perhaps, whatever you saw might be normal or not a big enough deal to warrant escalation. Still, your gut feeling is that something is wrong.

Some situations are more obvious to read than others. If you've seen clear signs of mistreatment or poor medical care, you should file a report. For example, suppose you saw an elderly resident who was suffering from:

  • Malnutrition
  • Broken bones
  • Ulcers
  • Bedsores
  • Sepsis

Suppose also that you contacted the nursing home facility or asked a caregiver about the victim's health care situation. Instead of explaining these serious injuries, they denied that any signs of abuse existed. They might have made a nonchalant statement about providing basic needs. Concerned for the well-being of the patient and left without a clear answer, you may worry about these unexplained personal injuries.

In these situations, it's better to be safe than sorry. If you call APS, you can always share your concerns with them. If they feel that your suspicions are reasonable, you can leave it to them to investigate your report. While this is definitely an area where you'd be happier to know you were wrong, think of the dangerous potential that a crime could go unreported. If your concerns are reasonable, contacting the authorities doesn't hurt.

Nursing Home Abuse Cases: Related Resources

Get an Evaluation From a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer

If you have concerns about nursing home conditions, time is of the essence, especially when the victims are in a fragile state. There are a variety of resources available. But perhaps the most effective way to stop the abuse is by enlisting the help of personal injury lawyers. If you're still not sure whether you have a valid claim, consider getting a legal evaluation from a nursing home abuse attorney.

Keep in mind the disclaimer that suing a nursing home for negligence has a statute of limitations. This means that if you don't timely file your claim, you might not be able to forever. Considering that many attorneys provide free case reviews that are only a phone call away, act quickly. Initiating your nursing home lawsuit with legal help ensures that you'll be able to secure financial compensation for victims.

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