The decision to move a family member into a nursing home may not be an easy one. A lot of care and thought goes into making sure the right place is chosen and finding a home where your loved one will be comfortable and looked after.
The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) maintains records of deficiencies found during nursing home inspections, as well as a rating system of the more than 650 nursing homes in Florida based on these inspections. Unfortunately, details of abuse or neglect are all too common, as reported.
What are some signs of nursing home neglect? If you suspect a loved one is being neglected in a Florida nursing home, what can you do? Let’s look more closely at suspected nursing home abuse cases and the options available to you.
The Rising Problem of Elder Abuse
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), elder abuse is a major problem in the United States. It is estimated that elder abuse, including neglect and exploitation, is experienced by 10 percent of people over the age of 60 who live at home. This number is likely much higher, as the issue is not always reported.
Common types of elder abuse include:
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Physical abuse
- Medical abuse
- Emotional abuse
The effects of elder abuse can be devastating, both emotionally and physically. Any cases of suspected abuse should not be taken lightly.
Signs of Potential Nursing Home Neglect
Since nursing home abuse or neglect can sometimes be difficult to detect, it is important to know what warning signs to look out for in order to keep your family members safe.
Bedsores, otherwise known as pressure ulcers, happen when there is pressure on the skin for an extended period of time. This is often the case when a person is bedridden or confined to a wheelchair.
While certain nursing home residents are at a higher risk for developing bedsores, there are ways to prevent and treat them. Development of bedsores, especially more serious cases, can be a sign of neglect indicating that staff have not taken necessary precautions to prevent them, or that the resident has not been closely monitored to detect and treat any developing sores.
In the later stages, bedsores can become especially dangerous. When left untreated, the sores reach into deeper layers of the skin, eventually reaching the muscle and bone. Bedsores can take months to heal, even when properly treated. Due to the high risk of infection, the complications of bedsores can be fatal.
Providing nutritious, balanced meals is essential for happy and healthy residents. The food offered should include necessary vitamins and ingredients, with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Florida statute 59A-4.110 requires that the facility’s Director of Food and Nutrition Services have specific qualifications. The law states, “If the Director of Food and Nutrition Services is not a qualified dietitian, the facility shall obtain consultation from a qualified dietitian.”
Part of the director’s responsibilities include:
- Assessing the nutritional needs of the residents
- Developing and evaluating regular and therapeutic diets to meet the specialized needs of residents
Food that is overly processed, poorly prepared, or lacking nutrition can discourage residents from eating. If a resident’s nutritional needs are not being carefully monitored and cared for, he or she can experience weight loss, low energy, and depression.
One of the main responsibilities a nursing home has is to ensure the residents’ medical needs are being fulfilled. When there are over 100 residents, each with their own medication needs and schedules, it can be easy to neglect the needs of each resident.
Medical neglect can include failing to provide medication at the right time or providing nursing home residents with the incorrect medication or wrong dosage. Neglect in these areas can have severe consequences.
Some warning signs of neglect can be missed medication times, inaccuracies in medication labels, or medication mixups.
Falls are one of the largest sources of injury for older adults. True, falls cannot be entirely avoided. However, there should be systems in place to prevent residents from falling.
For example, residents should have access to necessary mobility aids, such as walkers or wheelchairs as needed. In addition, activities that carry a higher risk of falls, such as bathing and toileting, should be assisted by a qualified worker as required.
At times, a fall happens due to an unqualified healthcare worker lacking skill or experience, or when unsafe methods are used for assisting a resident.
Another warning sign of nursing home neglect is poor hygiene, either of a resident or the facility. Cleanliness is very important in any healthcare facility, but it is especially essential where there are residents with weakened immune systems and who are at risk of spreading and developing infections.
Areas that need particular attention include the areas where food is prepared and served, as well as the resident’s bedding, clothing, and bathing. If you notice a lack of hygiene in any of these areas, it may be a sign of neglect.
While it may seem minor, neglect in these areas can lead to serious issues including illness and infection.
Factors Related to Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Unlike outright abuse, neglect in nursing homes is often unintentional. However, whether the neglect is intentional or not, the consequences can be serious and even fatal.
Some common factors that contribute to nursing home neglect include understaffing and inadequate training.
One of the largest factors in nursing home neglect is understaffing. Unfortunately, for-profit nursing homes are often exactly that – they work for profit, not for the well-being of their residents.
In most cases, staffing is the largest expense for a nursing home. In an attempt to cut costs and increase profits, facilities will often look for ways to reduce staff as much as possible. Of course, the less staff available, the easier it is for resident care to end up neglected.
According to Florida statute 400.23(3)(a), the minimum level of staffing must include:
- Weekly average of 3.6 hours of care by direct care staff per resident per day
- 2.0 hours of direct care by a certified nursing assistant per resident per day
- 1.0 hours of direct care by a licensed nurse per resident per day
In addition, a nursing home must have a minimum of one certified nursing assistant per 20 residents, as well as one licensed nurse per 40 residents. Clearly, even if a nursing home operates under the minimum amounts outlined, each resident may not be receiving the level of care that he or she requires each day.
Inadequate training and underqualified workers
The lack of sufficient training is another major factor in nursing home neglect. Most workers at a nursing home must have a minimum level of education related to the job. However, at times, underqualified workers are expected to complete tasks that they are not trained to complete.
In addition, even if a worker has the appropriate education, consistent training and refresher courses are often necessary.
In Florida, according to Rule 59A-4.106, nursing homes must conduct annual staff education on areas such as:
- Prevention and control of infection
- Fire prevention, life safety, and disaster preparedness
- Accident prevention and safety awareness program
- Residents’ rights
- Federal laws
When a nursing home facility does not respect a regular staff education program, resident neglect tends to happen.
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect in Florida
All nursing homes are subject to regular inspections to ensure that they are following all regulations. However, often, it is concerned family members and friends who notice signs of neglect or abuse and report it to the proper channels.
Suspected nursing home abuse or neglect can be reported in a number of ways:
- The Florida Abuse Hotline (available 24/7 by phone or online)
- The Florida long-term care ombudsman
- The Florida Department of Health through the online Health Care Complaint Portal
Of course, if you have reason to believe the neglect or abuse is a medical or criminal emergency, or a resident is in immediate danger, 911 should be called.
If one resident is experiencing abuse or neglect, it is likely that there are many others who are suffering as well. Reporting suspected nursing home abuse and neglect is essential in ensuring nursing home residents are kept safe and healthy.
Your Rights in a Nursing Home Neglect Case
In addition to reporting nursing home abuse, you may have additional legal options. Under Florida statute 400.023, the resident, guardian, or representative has the right to sue a nursing home related to nursing home abuse.
A nursing home abuse lawsuit can be filed against a facility that fails to care for the needs of its residents.
Compensation can be awarded for:
- Medical bills
- Funeral expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
In addition, if the facility acted with “intentional misconduct” or “gross negligence,” punitive damages may be awarded as well. An attorney with experience handling elder abuse cases can help you better understand the options for compensation, specific to the circumstances of your case.
If you believe that a family member is being abused or neglected in a Florida nursing home, a nursing home abuse lawyer at Gordon & Partners can help. We take cases of suspected abuse seriously, and we want to hear your story. Schedule a free consultation with our firm to learn more about your rights.