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Reporting Nursing Home Abuse

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According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, at least 70 percent of people over age 65 will need long-term care services at some point in their lives. Oftentimes, nursing homes do a wonderful job providing 24-hour skilled nursing care and a safe environment to those who need it. Unfortunately, however, this is not always the case. Because the nursing home population is more vulnerable to abuse and neglect — particularly in facilities with underqualified and/or insufficient staffing — stringent safeguards are required.

Nursing Home Abuse Claims

There are several different legal theories that may be employed in a nursing home abuse case. If a resident is harmed as a result of a violation of a federal or state statute protecting residents' rights (such as the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act), or of a common law theory (such as assault and battery), there may be grounds for abuse. Examples of potential claims include:

  • Negligent supervision of a patient who was hurt while wandering.
  • Misappropriation of funds for charging fees for services not performed.
  • Nursing home abuse or neglect for failing to report a pressure sore.
  • Emotional abuse for refusing to take a resident to social activities.
  • Physical abuse for over-sedating a patient for the convenience of the staff.

It is estimated that for every reported case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation or self-neglect, five more cases go unreported. This may be attributable to the fact that some residents are unable to prevent nursing home abuse or even unaware that they are being abused. In other cases, the type of nursing home abuse may be difficult to detect and/or the resident may not have family members or other independent advocates involved in their care. If you suspect you or someone you know has been a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, it is critical that you take action right away to stop the abuse and to preserve your legal options. In addition, you may wish to speak with a personal injury lawyer who can help you negotiate the reporting process and determine whether you may have grounds to pursue compensation for harm suffered by filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit.

Who, What and Where

Often nursing home residents are unable to tell anyone they are being abused because of illness, dementia, shame or even fear of retaliation. Family members need to be vigilant about watching for warning signs such as:

  • Changes in physical appearance like cuts, bruises or pressure sores
  • Changes in mental state such as agitation, confusion or depression
  • Missing cash or property

Nursing Home Surveys

Ninety-seven percent of all nursing homes accept Medicare and/or Medicaid and must be certified as meeting certain federal requirements. States license nursing home facilities and perform surveys for the federal government to ensure the facilities comply. Areas addressed in these surveys include:

  • Medical, nursing, and rehabilitative care
  • Dietary and nutrition services
  • Activities and social participation
  • Sanitation, infection control, and the physical environment

Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid

If you are concerned about the immediate safety of your parent or loved one, call 911. You also should strongly consider having them moved to a different facility. In addition, to protect other residents, it is very important that you document and report the abuse as outlined below.

Documenting the abuse. If a resident has made an accusation of mistreatment, or if you suspect the resident is being abused, talk to anyone who may have knowledge of the abuse, including other residents, their family members and staff. Collect and document as much information as possible, including:

  • The names of everyone involved, including yourself, the victim, the facility, caregivers and specific persons you believe are abusing or neglecting the nursing home resident and other persons who may have knowledge of the abuse.
  • The time, place and date of the incident(s).
  • Any injuries, medical issues or other signs of abuse.
  • A history of your observations and complaints from the resident.
  • Photographs, medical records, financial records and other supporting documentation.
  • Contracts, admission documents, bills, receipts and any other papers you received from the facility.
  • Any other pertinent information.

Reporting the abuse. Allegations of abuse should be reported right away. In fact, in many states certain persons (e.g., nursing home staff, social workers or clergy) are legally required to report knowledge of abuse. Generally, reports should be made to the following people and entities:

  • A social worker, director of nursing or nursing home administrator. This should be done immediately, and you should follow up with a complaint in writing to the administration of the nursing home.
  • A long-term care ombudsman (an individual who is trained to help resolve problems and complaints on behalf of nursing home residents and their families). Every state is required to have a long-term care ombudsman program.
  • State agencies such as Adult Protective Services, Department of Social Services and the State Survey Agency (see sidebar).
  • Law enforcement such as the police department or the district attorney. Again, if you feel your loved one's life is in immediate danger, call 911.
  • Citizens Advocacy Groups.
  • An attorney specializing in elder abuse, nursing home abuse, consumer fraud and/or personal injury. Generally, nursing home staff, public officials, social workers, counselors, and emergency personnel are required by law to report abuse; in recent years, many jurisdictions have extended this responsibility to help stem the tide of abuse.

Once you have initiated the reporting process, it is equally important that you follow up with the resident and the facility to make sure the abuse has stopped.

Your Legal Rights

Victims of nursing home abuse may be entitled to compensation for pain and suffering, medical expenses, diminished capacity and reduced quality of life. If the resident has died, the family may be able to recover damages for wrongful death, including funeral expenses, medical expenses and emotional distress. Though no amount of money can undue the harm, it can ease the financial burden on residents and their families and may serve as a deterrent for future perpetrators of harm. Contact an attorney to learn about your legal rights.

Did You Know?

A recent study found that most claims of nursing home abuse are initiated by the children of nursing home residents, followed by their spouses and residents themselves.

Source: The Rise of Nursing Home Litigation: Findings from a National Survey of Attorneys


The age group comprising people 85 years of age and older is the fastest growing population in the United States.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Projections, 2008