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Five Things You Can Do To Prevent Nursing Home Abuse

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One death at an Iowa nursing home in March of 2022 encapsulates the horrors that occur behind closed doors in many U.S. nursing homes. According to a devastating story by the Iowa Capital Dispatch, a resident acquired and died of COVID within months of admittance. Inspectors determined that a positive test for COVID was ignored for days, and then none of the treatments prescribed by the doctor were performed, leading to the resident’s death of COVID-related pneumonia. That was the tip of the iceberg. Inspectors poured through medical records, interviewed staff and residents, and they found:

  • Numerous incidences where doctors’ orders regarding treatments and medications were not performed, including blood-sugar regulation
  • A fly problem so bad that residents began carrying fly swatters
  • Food so disgusting it was inedible
  • Staff reports of physical abuse of patients by their colleagues
  • A staff member had an overnight shift with only two staff members caring for 43 residents, and when she complained about the overwhelming situation, the nursing director simply shrugged her shoulders

After violating 21 federal standards of care and two state standards of care leading to a preventable death, Care Initiatives of West Des Moines was fined a mere $19,250. The nursing home owner will likely pay a fraction of that amount whether or not they appeal.

Don’t let this happen to your loved ones in nursing homes. Here are five ways to prevent nursing home abuse and neglect.

1) Check In and Visit Often 

Isolation is a key factor in nursing home abuse and neglect. Residents who get lots of phone calls and visits from loved ones are much happier and healthier, and they tend to get a better level of care. The consistent presence of a loved one often puts staff on their best behavior. Most of all, by checking in and visiting, you can see the warning signs of abuse and neglect, both emotional and physical. If your loved one seems depressed, anxious, or withdrawn, try to find out why. During visits, keep an eye out for sudden physical changes, such as unplanned weight loss or dehydration, unexplained bruises or injuries, poor hygiene or unsanitary conditions, and unattended medical needs (e.g., bedsores). Some of these signs might have a reasonable explanation, but you should listen to your loved one and don’t be afraid to ask the staff uncomfortable questions.

2) Get to Know the Staff

The staff at nursing homes are underpaid and overworked. Get to the know the people who care for your loved ones. They might be able to tell you about problems and challenges that your loved one can’t or won’t discuss with you. Most nursing home workers are doing their best, but understaffing makes it impossible to fully meet the needs of every resident in a timely manner. Let them know that you support them and ask if there’s anything you can do or provide (e.g., snacks) to help them. It’s never a bad idea to show you care for the people who are caring for your loved ones.

3) Install a Camera

The problem of nursing home abuse and neglect has led to the use of so-called “granny cams.” The idea is to put a camera in your loved one’s nursing home room so you can check on their safety and ensure they’re being cared for properly. The camera doesn’t need to be hidden—in fact, a camera in plain view is often a deterrent to abuse or neglect. State laws vary, but in Maryland, you need to be careful regarding privacy rights. You should never record audio due to wiretapping laws. If there’s a roommate involved, it gets more complicated because of that person’s privacy. You will need to get permission from that roommate and/or their family. There are also security concerns regarding how you get and store the videos you record. Many facilities have strict policies about the use of cameras, so before installing a camera, you must consult the nursing home or perhaps an attorney.

4) Keep Track of Medications

The Iowa tragedy shows how an overwhelmed nursing staff can forget or skip vital medications and treatments. In some cases, medication is stolen by staff or other residents. Also, be aware of chemical restraints, which is when nursing homes use drugs (e.g., sedatives) to control patients by putting them to sleep or making them groggy. Chemical restraints are a form of physical nursing home abuse. If you have access to your loved one’s medical care (sometimes requiring a medical power of attorney), you can and should keep track of their medications.

5) Pick a Good Nursing Home

The best thing you can do for your loved one is to put them in the highest quality nursing home you can afford. Studies have shown that, on average, nonprofit facilities provide a higher level of care than for-profit nursing homes. Medicare, which supervises most of the country’s nursing homes, has a website that provides a star ranking system for nursing homes, but far too many bad nursing homes are able to get good ratings. However, if you see a facility with one or two stars, that’s a major red flag. Also, the website provides some details on inspections and violations of the facilities within the rankings if you dig deep enough. Still, the best way to assess a nursing home is to visit the facility. Is it clean? Do the residents seem happy and well cared for? What is the staff-to-patient ratio? Ask residents and staff how they like being there. Even if the rooms and the food look great, make sure you are considering the social component to ensure your loved one stays physically and mentally engaged with a sense of community.

If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect…

Trust your instincts and get the truth. Until the nursing home industry makes a profound priority shift and begins taking the necessary steps to protect vulnerable residents, there will continue to be avoidable injuries and deaths due to their negligence. Our attorneys at Brown & Barron, LLC focus on representing the victims of nursing home abuse/neglect and their families. We know first-hand how these facilities function, and just how vulnerable residents are to injuries. If you believe you or a family member has suffered as a result of medical nursing home negligence, we invite you to contact our team as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and options. To contact our team, call (410) 698-1717 today for a free and compassionate consultation.