We all want our parents and elderly relatives to live with dignity, integrity, and independence, even if we find ourselves having to place them in nursing homes. As an Atlanta Elder Abuse Lawyer, however, I know that nursing home residents sometimes face mistreatment and abuse. Because many of these nursing home residents have limited abilities to communicate, identifying potential abuse requires perseverance, careful monitoring and persistence.
Signs of mistreatment include unsanitary and unclean conditions, frequent illnesses, infections, bed sores, dehydration, excessive weight loss, unreasonable physical constraints, the use of chemical restraints or of medication for any purpose inconsistent with that authorized by a physician, as well as unusual behavior such as rocking, biting, or sucking, or wanting to be isolated from other people. While no one want to believe that their elderly love ones are being neglected by the nursing home staff (or, worse, abused), the sad fact is that this does happen more than one might be lead to believe. Many time, the abuse is the direct result of the nursing home not properly screening the staff hires, which results in someone being hired to care for your parents, who is not qualified to render care to elderly patients, or worse yet, has a criminal record and/or a checkered work past and who should not, under any circumstance be left alone with someone who is vulnerable. Still others are caused by a lack of adequate policies and procedures in place to direct the staff on how they need to care for the residents so that the level of care does not fall below that which is considered adequate under the circumstances.
If you are worried about possible mistreatment of your elderly relative, you can report your concerns to your state licensing and certification body, which is required to investigate complaints filed by family members, as well as the National Center on Elder Abuse. However, you should know that regulatory investigations take time, are not always very thorough, and rarely provide adequate relief for individual nursing home residents. Sometimes by the time an investigator interviews a victim of abuse, the injuries have healed and the resident has forgotten the details of the incident (especially where patients are suffering from memory loss or dementia), leaving the investigator feeling he has insufficient proof to write up the home for a deficiency.