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Nursing homes, along with assisted living facilities, are places where we expect our parents and loved ones to be safe as they advance in age and live out the remainder of their lives. Unfortunately, seniors are not always safe within the walls of these facilities. This is borne out by statistics that document the incidence of injury and or abuse that sadly happens in nursing homes or care centers.
For example, 20% of all deaths of persons 65 years or older result from slip and fall accidents that happen in a nursing home or assisted living facility. It’s been reported that at least half of nursing home residents will fall each year, with around 15 percent of nursing home falls resulting in a serious injury. Hazards within the nursing home, such as slippery floors, uneven surfaces, cause at least 16% of the falls in any given year. And about 1,800 residents in nursing homes will die from fall-related injuries, with others who live, having lasting, serious injuries. See: https://in.gov/isdh/files/CDC_Falls_in_Nursing_Homes.pdf
Falls are just one injury that can come from neglect in nursing home settings. Other nursing home injuries can include:
· Dehydration or malnutrition
· Head injuries or fractures
· Untreated infections
· Bedsores in various stages
· Issues stemming from poor hygiene
· Unexplained bruises, cuts, wounds, and welts
· Sexual assault injuries
· Injuries from over-medication (doping them out)
· Financial injuries
· Injuries from being allowed to roam without supervision
There are signs that concerned family members should be on the lookout for when their loved one is in an assisted living facility or nursing home. It’s important that you keep an eye on these signs and symptoms, as your loved one may have dementia and/or Alzheimer’s and have difficulty communicating with you. While physical signs are more obvious, also keep an eye on these mental signs of abuse, such as:
· Depression or anxiety
· Lack of desire to engage in favorite activities
· Anti-social or out-of-the ordinary behaviors
· Angry outbursts or uncharacteristic demeanor
· Suicidal actions or other self-harm actions
· Low self esteem
· Loss of appetite
· Not getting enough sleep
· Avoiding eye contact
Don’t ignore your loved one when they suggest they may have been abused or injured in a facility. This is probably one of the reasons why nursing home injuries are as pervasive as they are, as family members may think their loved one is simply “losing it.” No, take their complaints seriously and investigate any and all complaints they may be making.
If you feel like your loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms as a result of negligence or neglect on the part of the care facility, you should consider complaining to the facility and, as a last resort, removing them from the facility and transferring them to another. On this last point, you are not required to bring them home to stay with you, as there are other, competent facilities that can provide quality care and services.
If you do complain to the facility, take careful note on what they do to investigate and address the concerns. If it’s an issue of poor hygiene, make sure that the issue is promptly addressed. Lingering issues of poor hygiene can lead to bedsores and ulcers. If you think the issue is serious enough, contact the Utah Dept. of Health and make a complaint (see below). Too many people don’t complain about serious issues their senior family members are going through. If the state, or even a federal agency investigates, this is good evidence for later proving and establishing that the nursing home is operating below acceptable standards of care. If you suspect that your loved one has been sexually abused or assaulted by a staff person or another resident, don’t wait. Follow the instructions below so the state and/or law enforcement can investigate and/or prosecute those responsible.
Under Utah law, anyone who suspects that a vulnerable adult is being abused, exploited or neglected, is required to immediately notify Adult Protective Services. Their phone number is 800-371-7897. They’re available Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. If you can’t reach them, call 911. More information is available here. Link: https://daas.utah.gov/adult-protective-services/
Federal Law Medicare provides rights and protections to residents of nursing homes. All nursing homes are required to give new residents a copy of these rights. Family members of residents should be familiar with these rights as a violation of them should raise a red flag that the nursing facility may be cutting corners. These federal rights include, but are not limited to, the following:
· The right to be treated with dignity and respect.
· The right to be told about the services and fees a nursing home provides before you enter the nursing home.
· The right to manage your own money or the ability to choose someone that you trust to do this for you.
· The right to personal privacy and the right to use your own personal property, so long as it doesn’t interfere the rights, safety or health of others.
· The right to be informed about your medical condition and medications that may be administered to you and to see your own doctor. You additionally have the right to refuse medications and treatments.
· The right to control your own daily schedule, such as when you get up or retire, your activities and other things that are important to you.
· The right to an environment that is more like your home to maximize your comfort and which provides you with assistance so you can be as independent as possible.
Not all nursing homes are created equal. And while any nursing home can slip up and have a bad day, consistent or pervasive low scores are a good indicator that your loved one may not be getting the quality care they have a right to receive and deserve.
In Utah, there are over 100 nursing homes. In order for a nursing home to be reimbursed by Medicare for services provided, they have to agree with and submit to regular, random testing designed to insure that nursing homes are following the rules that help keep their residents safe. Click here to access the score card kept for Utah’s nursing homes. LINK: https://www.medicare.gov/nursinghomecompare/results.html#state=UT&lat=0&lng=0
The results can be filtered by location and overall grade level. There are five overall quality ratings that Utah’s nursing homes are grouped into, similar to a report card with an A-F grade rating. A review of this list shows that a good 25% of the nursing homes fall into the “below average” or “much below average” category. Some of the nursing homes that fall into the “much below average” group are graded so poorly that they have actually incurred substantial fines, some exceeding $100,000.
Some of the nursing homes that made Medicare’s naughty list include:
Because a nursing home will generally be classified as a “health care provider,” Utah’s medical malpractice rules govern how a claim is to be made. While it’s possible for someone to navigate the treacherous waters of Utah’s med/mal statutes, it is not advised to go it alone.
The first step to building a case is to make a complaint if you suspect that your loved one’s rights or health has been violated or compromised. Just like you should call the police after a car crash, you should report the incident to local authorities so that they can conduct an investigation. A nursing home case that starts out with a documented investigation will always be stronger than one that doesn’t. This is particularly true if the investigating agency finds violations that put the resident’s health in jeopardy. You of course, will also want to get your loved one out of harm’s way. If you’re convinced that your resident’s safety is at risk, you should make removing them from the nursing facility one of your top priorities!
All cases involve evidence, so to the extent that you can start documenting and collecting evidence that can help support the case, you will be in a much stronger position down the road. Evidence can include things like pictures, documents, policies, names of witnesses, police reports, video or audio recordings, etc. You’ll want to later provide this evidence to the attorney that investigates and/or takes your case.
Because Utah’s medical malpractice rules mostly govern the area of nursing home abuse, there are certain restrictions you should be aware of, such as a $450,000 cap on the amount of money allowed for findings of non-economic or general damages (sometimes called “pain and suffering.”) There are no caps on economic damages. Specific damage claims can include:
· Medical bills, past and future;
· Life care plans to help the resident deal with the effects of their injuries;
· Pain and suffering damages, such as loss of enjoyment of life, mobility restrictions, mental anguish, etc.;
· Lost income. (Not always available if the resident was not working);
· Punitive damages. These damages are meant to discourage or deter reckless or “wanton” conduct that caused injury.
At the Kramer Law Group, we can review the evidence you have collected and collect additional evidence ourselves to help prove the case. Once the case is filed, subpoenas can be issued and statements of witnesses can be taken under oath to help build the case. Documents and things, such as video surveillance, can be requested from the nursing facility that can additionally help the attorney to piece things together.
We offer a free consultation to help you decide if there is a case that’s worth pursuing. Not all bad things that happen in a nursing home are worth suing over, and we’ll tell it to you straight if we think yours would be a difficult case. We’re happy to meet with you at your home or even in the nursing facility. Give us a call at 801-601-1229 to schedule an appointment today.