Physical and Verbal Abuse in Ohio Nursing Homes

If you have visited someone in a nursing home, perhaps a family member, have you ever noticed injuries to their body—bruises or cuts–which the staff claims to be “accidental?” Is the nursing home resident exhibiting sudden, unexplained behavioral changes? Are caregivers not allowing you to have time alone with your friend or loved one so that he or she has an opportunity to speak privately with you?

All of these are just some of the signs physical abuse may be taking place. There are many quality nursing homes where residents receive excellent care, but unfortunately there are others living in residences where our most vulnerable members of society are mistreated. You should suspect abuse if:

  • There is little or no documentation of accidental injuries and it is not reasonably explained how the injury occurred. Legally, the nursing home must provide a safe environment for its residents at all times. If an injury does occur, the home should notify a family member or the resident’s physician and incorporate interventions into the resident’s care plan to stop the injury from reoccurring.
  • There are frequent injuries or evidence of past injuries such as bloody clothing. Frequent injuries may indicate nursing home patient care and supervision is lacking. Failing to prevent injury is also a form of physical abuse.
  • Injuries or bruises are occurring in the same general area on the same side of the body. This can be a sign of assault and/or systematic abuse.
  • The resident has broken bones and the explanation of how the injury occurred does not seem likely.
  • The resident has infections from cuts or infections in the genital area.
  • The resident appears dehydrated or suffering from malnutrition.
  • The resident does not appear to be clean and there are unsanitary conditions in his room or elsewhere in the facility. This is not the respectful living environment the home is required to provide.
  • The resident has broken possessions, such as eyeglasses. It is possible someone is trying to intimidate your loved one by not respecting what is valuable to them, or it is possible the resident may have been assaulted and has remained silent about the matter.
  • Your visits are delayed or refused. This is definitely a red flag unless there is something like a contagious disease in the facility.
  • You witness your loved one acting nervous or fearful around certain staff members.
  • Your loved one or someone else actually tells you that abuse has taken place.

Is verbal abuse considered a form of physical abuse?

Yes. Acts of verbal abuse often are not witnessed by anyone other than the victim and thus, they go unreported. A person being verbally abused in a nursing home generally does not have the freedom to leave the facility due to physical impairment or simply because it is against the rules to just walk out the door. Therefore, a nursing home resident cannot get away from verbal abuse as easily as many other members of society. They have limited contact with the outside world. They must endure the abuse and hope they are somehow rescued from it.

The reasons for physical and verbal abuse are numerous. If the staff is responsible for the abuse, it is often due to inadequate staffing on the part of the nursing home owners. Poor training on how to deal with the behaviors of the residents can also cause problems. It often requires patience, empathy and respect to work with the elderly and everyone does not have the level of patience and understanding it takes to do the job. Many elderly often live with continual discomfort and it is sometimes difficult for them to present a cheerful disposition.

Caregiver burnout is another reason frustrations are taken out on residents and there are also people who simply prey on the weaknesses of others. Obviously, these types of people should never be hired in a nursing home, but sometimes their behavior is not spotted until after they have started working at the facility.

If the abuse is from another resident, it should be reported immediately to the home supervisors. You can also demand that your loved one’s contact with the offending resident be limited as much as possible.

Ending verbal abuse

When attempting to end verbal abuse, report it and demand that it stop immediately. Ask to see facility policy manuals and logs that state that the facility’s policies are being followed. Ask how the home safeguards against hiring those with predatory personalities. Most nursing homes receive federal funding and are required by federal law to produce evidence that action was taken to safeguard against abusive behavior and that interventions were reasonably and timely completed. If flaws are found in the nursing home’s policies, administrators of the home may be found legally responsible along with perpetrators of the abuse.

Other types of abuse that may be occurring

Unfortunately, where there is one type of abuse, there is often another. It is hard to imagine such atrocities against a helpless person, but if you hear about or witness unexplained injuries or broken bones suffered by your loved one, that person may also be experiencing:

  • Some type of verbal humiliation, harassment or threats
  • Financial exploitation—checks being cashed without permission, property being stolen, or attempts to change a will
  • Sexual assault–unwanted sexual contact or rape

What you can do about suspected abuse

  • If accidents or injuries are not satisfactorily explained, start taking notes. Record the location of the injury and its condition when you first saw it. Note the date and take a picture if you can. Use a ruler for scale.
  • If your loved one is lucid, ask them what happened. It is possible they may not tell you, but give them a chance to explain.
  • If you think your loved one is in immediate danger, the first thing you must do is assure that they are safe. Call 9-1-1 and have them taken to a hospital for examination. You probably should begin to look for another home where they can live.
  • If the situation appears less serious, share your concerns with the supervisor on duty, the director of nursing or the nursing home administrator. These people are required by law to have a written policy concerning the patient’s care. When your loved one enters the home, you should receive a copy of this policy. It is probably reasonable to give administrators 24 hours to respond to your initial complaint unless you believe that your loved one is in danger.

If you do not get satisfactory results from the nursing home, you need to think about contacting national and state agencies. You can report the incident to the National Center on Elder Abuse which is associated with the Administration on Aging. Consult the state resources pages in your phonebook to locate the center. Other ways to report abuse are to:

You may also want to contact an attorney who specializes in nursing home issues. They will be able to tell you what your rights are and what the resident’s rights are and explain the time limits for filing a lawsuit.

If the assault is of a severe nature, it is possible criminal charges may be filed against the perpetrator. In this event, you would contact the local police where the nursing home is located. Even if criminal charges aren’t filed, you or your loved ones may be entitled to financial compensation for damages. You may not be seeking monetary reimbursement for what has happened to your loved one, but often this is the only way to hold accountable those who are responsible for the abuse and neglect of innocent people.

Why many assaults go unreported

Unfortunately, many types of assaults in nursing home facilities are not reported for various reasons. Sometimes the residents are incapable of describing what has happened to them and are not aware of who they should tell. They may have been threatened by the perpetrator and may be afraid they will be hurt again if they report the assault. Some see their caregivers as a surrogate family and despite the fact the resident has been hurt by the “family member,” the resident is afraid he will get someone in trouble or may even be forced to leave the home which is the only home he has at the time.

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