According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1.5 Million older adults live in nursing homes, a rate that will likely double in the next 15 years. The CDC further reports that between half and three-quarters of nursing home residents fall each year, often causing or aggravating serious injuries.
Nursing home injuries have been a growing concern over the past several years as the demand for nursing beds has grown at a greater rate than availability. While a large number of injuries are the result of the older population being more fragile and susceptible to injury, there is also deliberation as to whether or not the elderly are getting a satisfactory level of care in all nursing home facilities.
Recent years have seen an increasing number of lawsuits against nursing homes and their staff related to injuries resulting from minor neglectfulness to gross negligence and even abuse. While a preponderance of nursing homes are run in a safe manner, if you have a loved one residing in a nursing facility it is prudent to stay diligent and watch for signs of injuries caused by facility neglect.
While many of the following injuries are the result of true accidents caused by falls, trips, or other innocent misfortune, the possibilities of these injuries being due to nursing home negligence are greater and warrant a diligent inquiry on your part.
Injuries to a Bed-Bound Patient
If you notice unexplained signs of injury on a patient that has limited mobility or has to stay in bed, you should ask questions. Dehydration or malnutrition can be signs that the staff is not adhering to an adequate nutritional schedule. Severe infections or bedsores, as well as unexplained bruises, cuts, signs of restraint or other injuries may be the result of neglect or even abuse. The less mobile a patient is, the less of a chance that they will experience legitimate injury, so be on the lookout.
Over or Under Medication
Nursing home injuries are often the result of over or under medication. A patient who has been overmedicated or undermedicated may exhibit physical or behavioral changes such as confusion or fatigue, chronic pain, or physical illness. If you see a swing in your loved one’s mood or a sudden, unexplained change in their health, it’s time to explore the reasons for the change.
While the neglect causing nursing home accidents may not be intentional, understaffing and overcrowding in many nursing facilities can result in damage. Be on the lookout for signs of neglect in the nursing home environment, including dirt, soiled bedding or clothing, inadequate clothing for the weather, or elders sitting alone and unattended for long periods of time.
Injuries from Falls, Slips, and Trips
The CDC estimates that about 1,800 people die from nursing home falls each year. While many falls are caused by muscle weakness and frailty of the elderly, environmental hazards, such as wet floors, low lighting or incorrectly fitting medical equipment also contribute to a large number of nursing home falls.
It can be difficult to know what actions to take when you notice your loved one has suffered unexplained nursing home injuries. You don’t want to overreact and accuse the facility or its staff unduly, but your senior deserves protection if there is any neglect or abuse taking place. Here are some actions you can take.
Talk to People
Ask your loved one how they sustained the injury. They may have an immediate answer that seems to be credible, in which case you may want to be extra diligent for a while just to confirm the incident was isolated. If you don’t feel comfortable with the answer you received from your loved one, ask other patients and even staff what occurred.
Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open
As you walk through the nursing facility keep your eyes open for signs of neglect or evidence that the staff is not taking the care with patient safety that they should. Is there adequate staff in the hallways and public areas to watch patients as they move about? Observe the bed and other equipment in your senior’s room and stick around when the staff comes in for treatments in order to observe their approach. Do they take care in transferring your loved one in and out of bed?
Escalate the Problem
After you have observed the lay of the land, you may feel that the nursing home injury does indeed stem from more than a common accident. At that point, you should feel comfortable in escalating the problem by reporting the possible abuse.
Confide in a trusted doctor or alert the authorities who can get you in touch with the proper contacts to further investigate the facility. When you report possible elder abuse, you want to be as specific as you can to help the investigators to understand the situation and expedite the investigation. Once you have reported your suspicions, an investigation should commence by the social services agency responsible.
Contact an Elder Care Law Attorney
In addition to escalating the investigation in order to protect all of the patients in the nursing home, you may want to contact an attorney that specializes in elder care law. They will be able to help you determine if legal action against the nursing home is advised. In most states, victims of nursing home negligence or abuse can file civil lawsuits for pain and suffering and medical negligence. An experienced elder law attorney can help ensure your legal rights are protected.
As the United States population ages, nursing homes are taxed to their limits. It is a sad but true fact that injuries are common in nursing facilities, both from normal age-related accidents or illnesses and from dangerous conditions, neglect or even abuse. If you have a loved one residing in a nursing home, stay alert and be diligent to ensure their safety is a top priority of the nursing home staff.