Nursing Home Abuse: Why Does It Happen and Who Is Responsible?

Nursing home abuse is a serious and widespread problem that affects the health, safety, and dignity of elderly residents in long-term care facilities. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, nursing home abuse can be defined as “intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder” . Nursing home abuse can take many forms, such as:

  • Physical abuse: inflicting pain or injury through hitting, slapping, pushing, restraining, or using excessive force
  • Verbal abuse: using harsh or demeaning language, threats, insults, or humiliation
  • Sexual abuse: forcing or coercing sexual contact or behavior without consent
  • Mental abuse: causing emotional distress through isolation, intimidation, manipulation, or harassment
  • Involuntary seclusion: confining a resident to a room or area against their will

Nursing home residents have the right to be treated with respect and dignity, and to receive quality care that meets their physical, mental, and social needs. The Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA) is a Pennsylvania law that protects residents from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and abandonment . The law also requires employees and administrators in care settings to report any suspected cases of abuse to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging or local law enforcement .

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse is not uncommon in Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, there were 3,466 complaints of nursing home deficiencies in 2019, of which 1,021 were substantiated . Some of the most egregious cases of abuse include:

  • A nursing home in Philadelphia that failed to protect residents from sexual assault by a staff member who had a history of sexual misconduct 
  • A nursing home in Lancaster that failed to prevent a resident from choking to death on a plastic bag that was left in his room 
  • A nursing home in Scranton that failed to provide adequate care and supervision to a resident who suffered from multiple falls, infections, and bedsores 

The purpose of this blog is to inform you about the causes of nursing home abuse, the legal remedies available for victims and their families, and how to choose a qualified and experienced nursing home abuse lawyer.

Causes of Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse can be caused by various factors that affect the quality of care and the relationship between staff and residents. Some of the common causes of nursing home abuse include:

  1. Understaffing: when there are not enough staff members to provide adequate care and attention to residents
  2. Lack of training: when staff members are not properly trained or qualified to handle the medical and personal needs of residents
  3. Poor supervision: when staff members are not monitored or evaluated for their performance and conduct
  4. Cost-cutting: when facilities reduce spending on equipment, supplies, food, or maintenance to increase profits
  5. COVID-19 pandemic: when facilities face increased challenges and risks due to the spread of the coronavirus among staff and residents

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially devastating for nursing homes across the country. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), there have been over 800,000 confirmed cases and over 130,000 deaths among nursing home residents and staff as of December 2020 . The pandemic has also increased the risk of nursing home abuse and neglect due to factors such as:

  • Reduced visitation: when family members and friends are not allowed or limited to visit their loved ones in nursing homes due to infection control measures
  • Reduced oversight: when state agencies and ombudsmen are not able to conduct regular inspections or investigations of nursing homes due to health concerns
  • Reduced staffing: when staff members are sick, quarantined, or overwhelmed by the increased workload and stress caused by the pandemic

Despite the pandemic being under control in some parts of the world, the effects on the elderly population remain a concern. Nursing homes, in particular, are still grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic, including increased isolation, reduced staffing, and continued risks of abuse and neglect. The pandemic has highlighted the need for better support and care for our elderly population, as they continue to be one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.

Nursing home abuse can have serious and lasting consequences for residents and their families. Abuse can cause physical injuries, infections, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), loss of trust, loss of dignity, and even death. Therefore, it is important for family members and friends to be vigilant and aware of the signs and symptoms of nursing home abuse, such as:

  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, burns, fractures, or sprains
  • Frequent infections or illnesses
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Bedsores or pressure ulcers
  • Poor hygiene or sanitation
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Changes in mood or behavior
  • Fear or anxiety around staff or other residents
  • Withdrawal or isolation
  • Unusual or sudden changes in financial situation

If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, or if you have any concerns about the care or treatment of your loved one in a nursing home, you should take action immediately. You should report the abuse to the facility administrator, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, or local law enforcement. You should also seek legal advice from a nursing home abuse lawyer who can help you protect your rights and pursue compensation for your damages.

Legal Remedies for Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home staff and administrators have a legal duty to provide a safe and comfortable environment for residents and to report and prevent any cases of abuse. The OAPSA requires that any employee or administrator who has reasonable cause to believe that a resident is being abused, neglected, exploited, or abandoned must make an immediate oral report to the local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) . The law also requires that a written report be submitted within 48 hours of the oral report. Failure to report abuse is a criminal offense that can result in fines and imprisonment.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is responsible for licensing and regulating nursing homes in the state. The department conducts annual surveys and complaint investigations to ensure that facilities comply with federal and state standards of care. The department can impose sanctions on facilities that violate these standards, such as fines, penalties, citations, or revocation of license. The department also maintains a website where you can search for information on nursing home performance, inspection reports, and enforcement actions .

In addition to reporting abuse and seeking regulatory action, victims of nursing home abuse and their families can also file civil lawsuits against nursing homes for damages. Civil lawsuits can be based on various legal theories, such as:

  • Negligence: when nursing homes fail to exercise reasonable care in providing services or supervision to residents, resulting in harm
  • Wrongful death: when nursing homes cause or contribute to the death of a resident through negligence or intentional acts
  • Violation of resident rights: when nursing homes violate the rights of residents as guaranteed by federal and state laws, such as the right to privacy, dignity, respect, quality care, etc.

Civil lawsuits can help victims and their families recover compensation for their economic and non-economic losses, such as:

  • Medical expenses
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of consortium
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Punitive damages

However, filing a civil lawsuit against a nursing home can be complex and challenging. Nursing homes often have powerful insurance companies and lawyers who will try to deny or minimize your claim. You may also face legal obstacles such as arbitration clauses, statutes of limitations, or caps on damages. Therefore, you need a skilled and experienced nursing home abuse lawyer who can help you navigate the legal process and fight for your rights.

How to Choose a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer in PA

Choosing a nursing home abuse lawyer is one of the most important decisions you will make after discovering that your loved one has been abused in a long-term care facility. A good lawyer can make a significant difference in the outcome of your case and the amount of compensation you receive. Here are some tips on how to choose a nursing home abuse lawyer:

  • Look for a lawyer who specializes in nursing home abuse cases. Nursing home abuse law is a complex and specialized area that requires extensive knowledge and experience. A lawyer who focuses on nursing home abuse cases will be familiar with the relevant laws, regulations, standards, and evidence that apply to your case.
  • Look for a lawyer who has a proven track record of success. A lawyer who has successfully handled similar cases in the past will have the skills and strategies to achieve the best possible results for your case. You should ask the lawyer about their previous cases, settlements, verdicts, and testimonials from former clients.
  • Look for a lawyer who offers a free consultation and a contingency fee arrangement. A free consultation will allow you to discuss your case with the lawyer without any obligation or cost. A contingency fee arrangement will allow you to hire the lawyer without paying any upfront fees or costs. The lawyer will only get paid if they win your case or obtain a settlement for you.
  • Look for a lawyer who is compassionate and responsive. A lawyer who cares about you and your loved one will treat you with respect and empathy. A lawyer who is responsive will communicate with you regularly and keep you updated on the progress of your case. You should feel comfortable and confident with the lawyer you choose.

At Rankin & Gregory LLC (RG Injury Law), we are dedicated to helping victims of nursing home abuse and their families in Pennsylvania. We have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients through settlements and verdicts. We offer free consultations and work on a contingency fee basis. We are compassionate and responsive to our clients. Don’t hesitate to contact us today, we are here to help you get the compensation your loved ones deserve.


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