Austin Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
Families often struggle with the decision to place a relative in a nursing home. When relatives need daily medical care, have severely limited mobility, or have cognitive impairments, a nursing home may be the best choice for long-term care.
Unfortunately, nursing homes are sometimes not the safest environments for elderly residents. Reports of abuse and neglect, intimidation, and deprivation of food cause many families to worry whether a loved one can truly be safe in a nursing home. Many abuse cases can be traced to a single person – an outlier not representative of a home’s overall level of care. But sometimes, the nursing home itself may be to blame for substandard care and dangerous conditions.
Patients in nursing homes may be afraid to tell their families when they’ve been mistreated, for fear a nursing home worker might find out and retaliate. So families have to be on the lookout for signs of abuse and encourage relatives to tell them when something is wrong.
The U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services collects data about nursing home safety violations, which includes abuse, as well as environmental conditions. Texas is fourth in the nation in the number of “serious deficiencies” per home, and the state leads the nation in the number of times the government has penalized homes by suspending payments for new admissions.
Individual reports collected by the Department of Health and Human Services point out some behaviors and errors that may shock families. One investigator’s report describes a patient who stopped breathing, and when a Certified Nursing Assistant told the Licensed Vocational Nurse on duty, the LVN refused to check on the patient. The CNA returned to the patient’s room and saw the patient still wasn’t breathing, so the CNA reported the problem again. Without going to look, the LVN said the patient was “just fine.” Finally, the CNA told the Certified Medical Assistant, who immediately went to the patient’s room to help, but it was too late – the patient had died.
Apathy regarding patients isn’t as easy to notice as aggressive physical abuse, and it may not be evident until something tragic happens. In Texas and three other states, families are allowed to install video cameras in patient rooms. Monitoring footage could help families identify behaviors that put their relatives at risk, but a camera can’t identify every potential threat throughout a facility.
Fear of Retaliation
Time magazine in November 2017 featured a horrifying story of a nun who was sexually assaulted in an Alabama nursing home. After she was attacked in her room, she delayed calling for help, because she was afraid that her attacker would come back. She instead waited until the next morning to report what happened.
Some nursing home residents who have complained about their care have reported subtle forms of retaliation, such as nurses delaying delivery of pain medicine or food, or ignoring call lights. But even these subtle acts are forms of abuse, and they create an environment that can be quite damaging, psychologically. Nursing home residents should feel empowered to voice complaints about their care, and nursing homes should take steps to address those complaints in an appropriate manner.
Malnutrition and Dehydration
Nursing home residents who are deprived of food or water can quickly succumb to malnutrition and dehydration. And residents who suffer from dementia may not recognize their own hunger or thirst, which is why staff must be attentive to residents’ needs.
Dehydration can cause a condition called hypernatremia, which is a dangerous increase in the body’s sodium levels. One study in the United Kingdom found that elderly nursing home residents admitted to a hospital were more likely to have hypernatremia than elderly people who weren’t living in nursing homes. The study did not establish a reason for that disparity, but some reports have shown that nursing home residents may deliberately avoid drinking water if they think staffers won’t get them to the bathroom in a timely manner. Another theory is that staffers withhold water from residents so they won’t wet the bed.
Many nursing homes ask families to complete a lot of paperwork when admitting a relative, and one of those forms might be a binding arbitration agreement. Families may not be aware that these agreements prevent them from filing a lawsuit against a nursing home if something should happen to their relative. Instead, families are legally bound to resolve disputes via private arbitration.
In an analysis of long-term care general liability and professional liability claims, Aon Risk Solutions noted that, in arbitration, settlements awarded to families are, on average, 21 percent less than what families recovered through litigation. And in 30 percent of cases where a binding arbitration agreement applied, families received no compensation.
Regulatory agencies recognize the need for changes in nursing home oversight. In July 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a new rule intended to make nursing homes safer.
The rule required nursing homes to:
- Train staff about elder abuse prevention
- Ensure staff has the skills to offer “person-centered care” – a term that means care should focus on a patient’s quality of life and changing needs and involve the patient in decision-making when possible
- Offer a greater variety of food choices
- Allow dietitians to write orders for patients, if authorized by the patient’s doctor and local law
- Update infection control and prevention policies.
The law also sought to prevent nursing homes from requiring residents and their families to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of admission. But that provision of the law may be removed.
Help for Families
If you believe your relative has suffered an injury because of a nursing home’s negligence, we may be able to help. Even when a binding arbitration agreement is in place, families can seek legal advice. Contact us today via our online form, or call us for a no-obligation consultation, at (855) 414-1012.