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Recent Research Reveals Ongoing Abuse and Neglect in US Nursing Homes

Written by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Sadly, a report issued this year from the Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC) reveals the pervasive fear of retaliation in reporting poor care and mistreatment in the nursing home setting.  This problem is all too common, as one study revealed approximately one in four residents expressed worrying about retaliation if they were to report a complaint or concern.  As the report authors explain, “Residents and their families, afraid of the consequences, are discouraged from reporting on care concerns, filing grievances, and filing complaints with the nursing home, state survey agencies, and law enforcement.”

The lead researcher on the report, Eilon Caspi, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy, explained that there is an inherent asymmetrical power imbalance between residents and staff members because “[y]ou are dependent on staff members to provide you with basic care, continence, using the bathroom, the toilet, taking a shower.”  Examples of alleged and reported consequences that residents fear include threats to delay or not provide services and care to residents, threats to neglect and abuse residents, threats of physical violence against residents, threats of retaliation if a resident reported being sexually abused, and threats to discharge residents from the nursing home.  For instance, a resident alleged that “[a]n administrator threatened to discharge a resident (e.g., to be escorted out of the building by police, to be put on the street, and to be discharged to a homeless shelter) after mistakenly thinking the resident slammed the door loudly when he left the room.”

In addition to concerns about abuse, neglect in nursing homes is also a pressing issue.  A recent Washington Post exposé on the tragic effects of neglect in nursing homes reveals that dozens of assisted-living residents have died after those entrusted with their care did not observe them wandering away.  For instance, in January 2022, 77-year-old Alzheimer’s patient Lynne Stewart wandered through an exit door of an assisted-living facility in Iowa, causing automated texts to ping the iPads of two caretakers working the night shift and the phones of an on-call nurse and the facility’s director every few minutes.  The on-call nurse said she ignored the door alerts because she was with her family and the caretakers, who did not do their hourly safety checks on the memory-care residents, stated that they did not see the iPad alerts.  Eight hours later, Ms. Stewart was found covered in ice on the ground near the exit and she passed away shortly thereafter.  Although facilities in most states are required to report missing residents and preventable deaths, regulators have cited facilities for failing to report missing residents more than 200 times since 2018.  Facilities and senior managers largely have not faced serious consequences, and in Connecticut, regulators do not have power to levy fines at all.

To prevent neglect and abuse, John Rowe, professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Butler Aging Center, recommends evaluating staff conditions.  Rowe explained, “This sector of the American health care system is underfunded. It’s understaffed. It’s undertrained. . . . [O]ne of the reflections of that is some level of elder abuse and neglect by an anxious, depressed, overworked, undertrained workforce. . . . We need to fix that.” Indeed, more must be done to protect the elderly and to ensure that nursing homes are safe for residents and staff alike.

What Can You Do if You or Your Loved One Suffered from Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect?

If you or a loved one suffered an injury from abuse or neglect in a nursing home, you should reach out to an attorney right away.  Contact the experienced attorneys at Berkowitz and Hanna, LLC if you have any questions about your legal rights regarding this concern.  To schedule a free, no-obligation consultation, call 203-324-7909 or contact us online today.