A look at the state and federal laws that govern abuse in long-term care facilities
The decision to move a loved one into a nursing home is one of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever have to make. One of the reasons the decision is so difficult is the fear that your loved one won’t be treated with the respect, care and compassion they deserve.
Unfortunately, this fear isn’t altogether unfounded. In Indiana, more than 40,000 cases of nursing home abuse occur every year.
Who’s at fault when a loved one is abused in a nursing home? What state and federal laws are in place to protect your loved one?
In this article, we’ll take a look at these questions and more.
What is nursing home abuse?
The term “nursing home abuse” refers to any act or failure to act (neglect) that causes harm to a person in a long-term care facility.
Though not everyone in a nursing home is elderly, the vast majority of residents are over the age of 64. Because of this, the terms “nursing home abuse” and “elder abuse” are often used interchangeably.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognizes 6 common types of nursing home abuse:
- Physical abuse. This type of abuse occurs when a resident experiences illness, pain, or injury as a result of the intentional use of physical force. Examples include hitting, kicking, pushing, slapping, and burning.
- Sexual abuse. This type of abuse involves forced or unwanted sexual interaction of any kind with a resident. This may include unwanted sexual contact, penetration, or noncontact acts such as sexual harassment.
- Emotional or psychological abuse. This type of abuse refers to verbal or nonverbal behaviors that inflict anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress on a resident. Examples include name-calling, humiliating, destroying property, or not letting the resident see friends and family.
- Neglect. The failure to meet a resident’s basic needs constitutes neglect. These basic needs include food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care.
- Financial abuse. This type of abuse involves illegally or improperly using a resident’s money, benefits, belongings, property, or assets for the benefit of someone other than the resident. Examples include taking money from a resident’s account without proper authority, unauthorized credit card use, and changing a will without permission.
Nursing home abuse statistics
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could harm a vulnerable person in a nursing home, but every year more than 40,000 cases of elder abuse and neglect occur in Indiana.
This number is even more alarming when you consider the following facts:
- Only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are actually reported
- Almost 45,000 people ages 65 and older live in Indiana nursing homes
- Approximately 33% of nursing homes in Indiana were cited for an abuse violation over a 2-year period
Though anyone can be the victim of nursing home abuse, consider the following statistics:
- The median age of nursing home abuse victims is 76.5
- The majority of nursing home abuse victims are female
- Approximately 65% of nursing home victims are white
- Approximately 21% of nursing home victims are black
- Approximately 9% of nursing home victims are Hispanic or Latino
Recognizing signs of nursing home abuse
One of the most heartbreaking aspects of nursing home abuse is that the abuse often goes undetected.
Nursing home residents may be unable or unwilling to report abuse due to physical or mental impairments, shame, or fear of retaliation. Consequently, it’s important to keep an eye out for signs of abuse.
Common signs of nursing home abuse
- The resident has trouble sleeping
- The resident seems depressed or confused
- The resident loses weight for no reason
- The resident displays signs of trauma, like rocking back and forth
- The resident acts agitated or violent
- The resident becomes withdrawn
- The resident stops taking part in activities they used to enjoy
- The resident has unexplained bruises, burns, or scars
- The resident looks messy, with unwashed hair or dirty clothes
- The resident develops bed sores or other preventable conditions
- The resident lives in an environment that’s unsanitary
- The resident smells of feces or urine
- The resident appears fearful
Nursing home abuse reporting laws in Indiana
In Indiana, anyone who suspects that a resident is being abused is legally obligated to report the abuse to:
- A law enforcement agency,
- Adult Protective Services (800-992-6978), or
- Child Protective Services (800-800-5556).
Additionally, Hoosiers are encouraged to report suspected instances of abuse to the Patient Abuse and Neglect group using the hotline (800-382-1039) or their website.
The Patient Abuse and Neglect program is an investigative branch of the Office of the Indiana Attorney General. Staff members work with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute cases of abuse in residential care facilities, including nursing homes, group homes, and psychiatric care centers.
Legal rights of nursing home residents
Every state, including Indiana, has a set of laws intended to protect older adults and adults with disabilities who are in long-term care facilities. In Indiana, these laws can be found in Title 12, Article 10, Chapter 3 of the Indiana Code.
Additionally, there are a number of federal laws, including the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), that provides residents with certain rights, including the right to:
- Be treated with dignity
- Be free from neglect, abuse, and mistreatment
- Be free from restraints
- Refuse treatment
- Have access to personal medical records
- Review their care plan
- Communicate freely
- Be informed about changes in treatment
- File complaints without fear of retaliation
If any of these state or federal rights are violated, nursing home residents (or family members acting on their behalf) can file a civil lawsuit to recover money damages.
Who’s liable for nursing home abuse?
Nursing homes have an obligation to exercise due care to avoid harming residents. If the nursing home breaches this duty of care, the nursing home may be held liable.
Examples of situations where a nursing home can be held liable include:
- Negligent training of staff
- Negligent hiring of staff (for example, failure to perform background checks)
- Failure to provide adequate security
- Charging for unnecessary treatment
- Failure to implement procedures to protect against viruses and other diseases
- The imposition of unreasonable or dangerous physical restraints
Keep in mind that a nursing home can be held liable for the negligent actions of their employees under the doctrine of respondeat superior so long as the employee was acting within the scope of their employment at the time of the negligent action.
Thus, for example, a nursing home would not be held liable if an employee intentionally hit a resident, because hitting a resident isn’t within the scope of employment. In such a situation, the employee could be sued individually.
Contact an Indiana personal injury attorney
If you believe abuse has occurred, a personal injury lawyer can help you work with the appropriate state agencies to investigate the abuse and to seek financial compensation.