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NM nursing home chain lawsuit – an instance of a national problem

by Ron Bell | Jun 8, 2017 |

As Americans continue to age, nursing home abuse becomes a growing yet underreported concern

For many families, making arrangements to place a loved one under the care of a nursing facility may be a heartbreaking development. In any such situation, the decision is surely weighed carefully and a considerable amount of planning and research goes into choosing the nursing home with the best possible care. Understandably, then it would be incredibly distressing for the family to discover that the facility their loved one had been moved to had a record of negligence, fraud, and deceptive marketing tactics. Unfortunately, these are the types of charges that have been brought by New Mexico Attorney General against several nursing homes operated by a Texas-based company, Preferred Care. The lawsuit alleges that the chain of nursing facilities collected about $185 million in Medicare/Medicaid funds since 2008, yet that their homes are reported to be so severely understaffed that the residents were deprived of the basic care to which they were entitled. Attorney General Hector Balderas affirms that due to those shortcomings, many elderly patients suffered and some eventually died. About a dozen witnesses whose family members received nursing services in one of the Preferred Care homes are expected to testify in the trial that is scheduled for next year.

Sadly, nursing home abuse is a national concern, and a growing one. According to the statistics maintained by the specialists in the field, the problem affects nearly 10 percent of elderly Americans. Annually, more than 2 million cases of abuse are reported in the US and the issue can concern up to 30 percent of all nursing home residents. A study conducted in 2007 showed that the average number of complaints regarding the quality of care in nursing facilities in that year was 20. Moreover, it is suspected that only a fraction of all the cases of elderly abuse come to light. For example, one study showed that as little as “20 percent of cases of neglect, exploitation, abuse or self-neglect are reported”. What makes the matter even more alarming is that, as American society keeps aging, the problem can only be expected to grow in size and scope. In the past five years, the number of nursing homes increased in 19 states. It is projected that by 2050, 19 million Americans will be will be ages 85 and older. Taking all these facts into consideration, the families whose relatives are the residents of a nursing home facility will do well to learn what exactly constitutes elder abuse, how to identify it, and how the families can protect their aged from it.

How to identify elder abuse

Specialist literature identifies at least four 4 types of abuse in the setting of nursing facilities: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. According to some studies, physical abuse is the most common. Any instance of using force against an elderly resident in order to hurt or cause pain is physical abuse. Thus, restraining someone against their will or forcing them to eat- whether by inserting a tube into the throat or not – are examples of physical abuse. Inflicting pain on a nursing facility resident will inevitably result in emotional suffering, too. However, emotional abuse can take much subtler forms and does not have to entail the use of physical force. Violence and aggression can be verbal – and throwing insults or using humiliating and condescending language against an elderly person can cause considerable emotional pain as well. Other actions that are aimed at causing anguish, such as ostracism, are likewise considered emotional abuse. Sexual abuse can involve any non-consensual sexual acts, but also includes situations in which an elderly person is not able to give consent or is not in the state of mind to understand the situation clearly. Finally, neglect is a breach of duty to provide the care needed – both physical and emotional. Therefore, if the legitimate needs of an elderly person are ignored by the staff of a nursing facility or a caregiver, it constitutes a case of neglect.

How can a family discover if their relative might be a victim of unreported abuse? If suspicions arise, the family should look for signs and clues, such as unexplained injuries (physical abuse), sudden mood or personality changes (emotional or sexual abuse), or poor personal hygiene, sores or rashes (neglect).

What the family can do

If any of such symptoms are observed, or if any other details related to the care in a nursing home give rise to doubts, the family can look to specialized state and national institutions for help. One such institution is the Adult Protective Services agency. This agency has staff who work closely with law enforcement agencies and are qualified to identify and respond to cases of elder abuse in nursing homes. It is also vital to recognize that in some states, the criminal law specifically penalizes elder abuse, while in others the punishment may be more severe if the victim is an elder. Cases of neglect that do not merit criminal charges may still justify a civil liability lawsuit.

Committing an elderly family member to the care of a skilled nursing facility is a reality that many American families have to face. Many nursing homes provide excellent care and adequate support for the elder. Nevertheless, being properly informed on the topic of elder abuse and knowing how to respond in the face of it will help the families whose loved ones are residents of nursing homes to protect them.

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