Protecting Abused Nursing Home Residents Who Can't Speak For Themselves

The daughter of an elderly nursing home resident got extremely upset when she walked into the emergency department and saw the dark bruises on her 88-year-old mother's face.

She immediately demanded to know what caused the injury to her mother, a long-time resident of a nursing home, but she's still awaiting answers.

"She had a bruise from her temple all the way down to her lower earlobe," said the daughter. "Her eye was black and was swollen."

Injuries can happen during routine activities if procedures aren't properly followed. For example, a resident can fall if one staff person tries to move her to a toilet or bath when the job really requires two people, said a state long-term care ombudsman.

If you are concerned about abuse of any kind, she says to immediately talk to the administrator of the facility.

She also suggests that relatives observe how their resident reacts when different people come into the room. A resident's agitation at the sight of a particular staffer can be a red flag.

Private interviews with staff or other residents also can produce results, social services officials said.

Early on a Monday morning, the injured woman was taken from the nursing home to the hospital for a gastric problem. No one said anything about an injury to her mother's face that occurred two days earlier.

The woman has for years been unable to walk or even roll over because of advancing dementia, making it unlikely the older woman could have injured herself in a fall. Nursing home officials have suspended an unidentified employee but deny any abuse occurred. Under state law, abuse includes both the willful infliction of physical pain or injury and the willful deprivation of services by a caretaker.

Like hundreds of other older and disabled nursing home residents who are injured each year, the woman is unable to tell her own story.

"You have these elderly and fragile adults who cannot communicate," said one social worker.

The family's situation illustrates the difficulty of tracking down the facts, let alone assigning responsibility, when older people get hurt and are unable to tell what happened to them.

The state ombudsman for long-term care, says the reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation are on the increase and will likely continue to rise. In part, that's because the number of people older than 60 in the state will increase to nearly 2.9 million by 2030, an 87 percent increase. But it's also because their children are less likely to accept a facility or caregiver's lack of explanation for injuries or neglect.

"We now have the baby boomers emerging as the sandwich generation and as caregivers for their elders," Wilder said. "Their nature is to ask more questions and to want more answers. They are more willing to contact whoever they need to to get answers." For more, read the story.


Robert W. Carter, Jr. is a Virginia attorney whose law practice is dedicated to protecting the rights of the victims of nursing home and assisted living neglect and abuse in Richmond, Roanoke, Norfolk, Lynchburg, Danville, Charlottesville, and across Virginia. 


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