Nursing Home Abuse is on the rise even though less people are entering nursing homes with debilitating conditions according to recent data. The true number is probably much higher but The National Center on Elder Abuse estimates at least one in 20 nursing home patients has been the victim of abuse. There are nearly 1.4 million Americans that are living in nursing homes right now.
Unfortunately, a nursing home is not always the place of respite and healing it should be. According to the National Center’s study, 57% of nurses’ aides working in long-term care facilities admitted to witness, and even participating in, acts of nursing home abuse. The report sites systemic problems within the nursing home industry, like inadequate pay for workers and chronic understaffing, as contributing to the epidemic of abuse.
Neglect is the most common form of abuse. Residents in soiled beds and clothes, or those suffering from bedsores and frozen joints are most likely victims of neglect. Indications that a patient is over or under medicated can also signal neglect.
About 2500 cases of physical abuse or rape are reported each year.
Neglect is often caused by understaffing at nursing homes. However, this does not mean that neglect is more benign than other forms of abuse. In fact it can be deadly, as it was for an Alzheimer’s patient living at the Atrium I Nursing Home in Pennsylvania. The 88-year-old woman was allowed to wander away from the facility and died from exposure. The nursing home administrator was later charged and convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the patient’s death.
Because this type of abuse can easily be covered up by staff, the true number is not really known. Elderly people can often be victims of falls, so sometimes, bruises, sprains or factures do not alarm a patient’s loved one. However, if these injuries cannot be fully explained, or if they are occurring frequently, further investigation is probably needed.
One of the most insidious forms of nursing home abuse is sexual abuse. According to a 1996 Medicaid Fraud Report, 10% of all physical abuse cases in nursing homes are of a sexual nature. Sexual predators will usually take advantage of disabled patients who are physically unable to tell anyone about their assaults. Often, this type of abuse is only discovered when a patient shows evidence of sexual contact, perhaps in the form of a sexually transmitted disease. In Illinois the repeated rape of a mentally disabled woman wasn’t discovered until she became pregnant. A nurses’ aid was charged and plead guilty to sexual assault in that case last month.
Because its victims are so helpless, nursing home abuse is one of the most underreported crimes in our nation Families of nursing home patients must become aware of the signs of abuse, and they must be willing to advocate for their loved one. Often, family members are the only people who can prevent a tragic outcome for a long-term care patient.