Some Notes About Abuse in the Nursing Home

All nursing home residents have the right to live in a safe environment that supports each resident’s individuality and ensures they are treated with respect and dignity. Nursing homes are required to ensure the safety of all residents and investigate reports of abuse.  Abuse is the willful infliction of physical, sexual, verbal, or mental harm, causing physical injury, pain, or mental anguish.

If you fear for your loved one’s safety and suspect your loved one is being abused in the nursing home, first look for signs of abuse:

Potential signs of physical, sexual, and mental abuse:

  • Significant, sudden change in behavior (e.g. agitation, withdrawn, fearful, lack of appetite).
  • Panic attacks or emerging post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.
  • Dramatic physical changes (e.g. weight loss, decline in mobility).
  • Unexplained injuries or bruises.
  • Unusual behavior between the victim and the abuse suspect.
  • Suicide attempts.

Additional potential physical signs of sexual abuse:

  • Bruises around inner thighs, genital area, breasts.
  • Unexplained genital infections, venereal disease, or vaginal or anal bleeding, pain and irritation.
  • New difficulty sitting or walking.
  • Torn, stained or bloodied underclothing.

Here’s what you can do if you believe your loved one may have been abused:

  1. Contact the nursing home administrator immediately and demand 1) he/she investigate your concerns about potential abuse of your loved one and 2) he/she meet with you to discuss the matter as soon as possible (i.e. that day or the next day).
  1. Call the local police, Department of Public Health (DPH), and the LTC Ombudsman Program and ask them to each launch an investigation. Also as appropriate based on their procedures, file a formal complaint with each.
  1. The Ombudsman can also help you navigate all reporting requirements and provide support to your loved one and you as you’re going through this process.
  1. Maintain contact with the nursing administrator and the corporate office/owner and notify them of the harm your loved one suffered and the actions you’re taking.
  1. Maintain a notebook/log of detailed notes including any related information (names, dates, times of incidents, discussions with nursing home, etc.) to give to authorities and have as “back-up” for complaints.
  1. If your loved one was sent to the emergency room, make sure the police and DPH crosscheck emergency room medical reports with nursing home records to ensure that the hospital’s detailed medical examination and subsequent conclusions are considered in any investigation.
  1. Consider hiring a lawyer specializing in nursing home issues to bring a perpetrator to justice and/or to initiate legal action against the nursing home. See Hiring a Lawyer – Some Options.

An Additional Thought on Surveillance Cameras

The use of surveillance cameras in nursing home resident rooms is becoming more popular among some consumers and policymakers, but it comes with a range of potential positive and negative implications.  The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care developed the following fact sheet in partnership with The National Center on Elder Abuse: Balancing Privacy & Protection: Surveillance Cameras in Nursing Home Residents’ Rooms. The fact sheet presents an overview of the balance between safety and security, taking into consideration the privacy of residents and their roommates, current state laws and guidelines on surveillance cameras in resident rooms, and important questions to consider before installing a surveillance camera.

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