A nursing home is for individuals who do not need hospital care but cannot be cared for at home. Nursing homes provide 24-hour, long-term nursing care, along with short-term options for adults who need extra help following a hospital stay before they go home. Many residents only need assistance to complete daily activities but are otherwise healthy. In Pennsylvania, more than 700 nursing homes are responsible for the care of more than 80,000 residents. We would all like to think that places like these take their responsibilities seriously, but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
In general, a nursing home’s responsibility is to ensure that each resident receives the care they need, be it physical, emotional, or medical. Nursing homes are also expected to keep residents safe from their environment, caretakers, other residents, and themselves.
Unfortunately, sometimes nursing homes do not keep their promise to provide safety and care to each resident. Sometimes a single individual fails in their responsibility, and sometimes an entire facility sets itself up for failure, despite the best efforts of staff to care for residents.
Ordinary negligence is the most common form of abuse within a nursing home. This type of negligence is usually the result of carelessness, forgetfulness, laziness, or an innocent mistake, but the consequences still can be catastrophic. Negligence like this is not malicious in nature, and the offender does not necessarily realize the consequences of their actions at the time the negligence occurred.
Gross negligence, on the other hand, is a much more serious form of negligence. When an individual or organization is guilty of gross negligence, it means that they’ve ignored the standard of care to such a degree that their actions are practically intentional. It means that they’ve shown a complete lack of care and have acted (or not acted) deliberately, recklessly, and without regard for safety and human life. When instances of gross negligence occur, the offender does not necessarily intend for harm to come to their victim, but the neglect itself is intentional, and harm is foreseeable.
Nursing home practices, unfortunately, form the perfect storm for instances of negligence. Almost 70 percent of nursing homes in this country are for-profit organizations, and many sacrifice healthy residents for a healthy bottom line. That, coupled with the fact that most residents have Medicare and Medicaid, which offer lower reimbursement rates than many private insurances, it’s easy to see why some nursing home administrators think it’s okay to spend less on patient care if it means that profit margins will improve.
A standard method of cutting costs is to change hiring or training practices. Many nursing homes pay their aides and cleaning staff very poorly, making it challenging to attract qualified applicants who will truly care about residents' well being. Training may also be rushed, with little care given to whether the employee understands. Many nursing homes have difficulty retaining their employees, and staff often feel overworked and underappreciated. Unsurprisingly, overworked, underqualified, underpaid employees are unable to provide proper care.
Another common tactic to cut back on costs is to reduce the number of employees working at any given time. The federal recommendation is that each nursing home resident is given, at a minimum, at least 4.1 hours of one-on-one care per day to ensure their needs are safely and appropriately met. Currently, in the state of Pennsylvania, only 24 percent of nursing homes meet that recommendation. In fact, Pennsylvania law only requires that nursing homes provide 2.7 hours of care each day. With so little care given for the safe and appropriate care of residents, it’s no wonder that neglect is so rampant.
With so many factors increasing the likelihood of neglect, harm may not be intended, but it's an obvious and utterly foreseeable outcome. When hiring under-qualified staff, providing inadequate training, and staffing nurses and aides well under the recommended number of hours per resident, any neglect that results is a deliberate, reckless disregard for residents' safety. And that isn't even taking into account the possibility of an individual intentionally causing harm.
This question is difficult to answer. Surprisingly few studies have been done on elder abuse in the nursing home setting, but we do have some information about abuse in the community. Nationwide, as many as 5,000,000 elders are abused each year. In 2010, gross negligence accounted for 14 percent of abuse complaints filed against nursing homes, which is consistent with the percentage of negligence complaints filed in the community at large. Tragically, people with dementia are at much greater risk, and it’s estimated that around half of people in this group are neglected or abused.
The best way to protect a loved one from neglect (or any sort of abuse) in a nursing home is to be aware of the signs. The following symptoms may be indicators of physical or medical neglect:
The environment can also be a source of potential problems, so watch for the following indicators of environmental negligence:
While witnessing one or more of these situations doesn’t prove neglect, it’s certainly grounds for further investigation.
If you are concerned that a family member is a victim of negligence, it’s important to report your concerns to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging as soon as possible. For every complaint, a caseworker will interview the victim and perform a surprise inspection of the nursing home where they reside. When a nursing home is neglecting a resident, it’s almost a certainty that other residents are also affected. Alerting the authorities may save others from the same abuse that your loved one is experiencing.
Your next step is to contact an experienced attorney who understands the complexities of elder abuse. When someone is a victim of gross negligence, and their health suffers, the cause isn’t always clear. The evidence is often incomplete and may be altered or falsified to protect the nursing home or its employees. An experienced legal team can help uncover the truth and ensure that abusers are held accountable.
When your loved one suffers the gross negligence of a nursing home professional, the consequences can range from uncomfortable to catastrophic. When serious injuries, prolonged suffering, or death results from another's negligence, the responsible party must be held accountable.
The legal team at Ross Feller Casey knows how complex nursing home negligence cases can be, and we’re ready to help bring justice to you and your loved one. Our team has recovered more than $2 billion in personal injury cases, including more than 50 $10-million-plus verdicts and settlements. Our cases are handled on contingency, which means we don’t get paid unless you win your case. Contact our office today for a free consultation.
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