Elder abuse and neglect are reaching epidemic proportions in the United States, affecting an estimated…
The condition of nursing homes in Oklahoma is among the worst in the country. Oklahoma nursing home facilities ranked in last place for the number of registered nurse hours worked per resident per day. Underfunded and understaffed facilities create the potential for neglect and abuse.
As many as one in ten nursing home residents are victims of neglect, abuse, and mistreatment. Only about one-third of those victims will tell someone. Whether you are a family member, friend, neighbor, or a stranger, there are ways to identify and report elder abuse to keep our loved ones and communities safer.
Recognizing the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
The signs of elder abuse may not be glaringly obvious. They might start off subtle and gradually escalate. Something may seem just a little “off.” However, it can be difficult to prove neglect or abuse in a live-in care facility because the residents are often already in poor health. Some warning signs of abuse are also signs of dementia and physical deterioration. Even if you don’t have hard evidence of nursing home abuse, it is better to report what you’ve seen through the proper channels than to say nothing at all.
When you begin to suspect your loved one may be in a harmful situation, it can be difficult to keep a clear head and approach the issue pragmatically. To gather evidence of suspected elder abuse, be aware of the different kinds of elder abuse and the warning signs of each kind. Document everything as specifically as possible. Beware of any caregiver that does not want to leave the elderly person with you alone.
Oklahoma state law allows you to place video and audio recording devices in a nursing home resident’s room to monitor for abuse. Although the resident or guardian must consent to the recording device, the nursing home does not have to give consent. The evidence obtained from these video and audio records are admissible in court. If you suspect mistreatment in your loved one’s nursing home, a small discrete electronic recording device may bring you some peace of mind.
Signs of Neglect
Neglect can be intentional, but often it happens inadvertently when a facility understaffs and overworks their caregivers. When they leave residents alone to fend for themselves, they become susceptible to falls and other injuries. Neglect in a nursing home or assisted living facility can also manifest in the following ways:
- Bed sores
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unclean living area
- Dirty or soiled clothes and/or bedding
- Being left unwashed and dirty
Signs of Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse of the elderly includes nonconsensual sexual contact, undressing the individual, flashing, or forcing the individual to watch sexual acts/material. It can be difficult to detect sexual abuse among those that can’t report it, but some signs may include:
- Repeated urinary tract infections
- Genital rashes, redness, or bleeding
- Developing symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases
- Torn or bloody underwear
Signs of Physical Abuse
Physical abuse happens in nursing homes more than you would think. A resident may be a victim of physical abuse if she has:
- Unexplained bruises, broken bones, or other injuries
- Unexplained pain
- Sudden onset of a mental or physical impairment
- Marks on wrists, arms, legs, or ankles that indicate restraint
- Appeared to be under (or over) medicated
Signs of Emotional Abuse
Residents in nursing homes may be nonverbal, easily confused, or have a poor memory. For this reason, it can be difficult for them to report emotional abuse or other forms of mistreatment. Unlike the visible signs of neglect and physical abuse, we are unlikely to witness emotional abuse personally. Examples of emotional abuse include:
- Bullying, threats, and intimidation
- Humiliation and ridicule
- Social isolation
If your loved one seems unusually fearful, angry, or depressed, they may be the victims of emotional abuse. Be on the lookout for major personality changes and tenseness around caregivers.
Signs of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse. It describes the exploitation of the elderly’s finances by a caregiver or scam artist. Financial abuse may reveal itself through:
- Missing cash, checks, or valuables
- Unpaid bills
- Suspicious charges on credit cards and other accounts
- Unusual changes to the resident’s last will and testament
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse in Oklahoma
When you witness a health and safety infraction, you should first address the issue with the management of the nursing home or assisted living facility. If the facility’s supervisors fail to correct the problem, you may file a complaint with the Oklahoma State Department of Health by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, and calling OKDHS at (800) 747-8419.
When you report suspected abuse, be as specific as possible. You should report every specific instance of abuse you witness, as this will help build an overall case history. If your loved one was seriously injured, or passed away due to suspected neglect or abuse, you should also reach out to an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer.
How is Nursing Home Abuse Investigated?
Both state and federal laws regulate nursing homes and other long term care facilities. The entities that monitor and investigate nursing homes include the Oklahoma State Department of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Medicare and Medicaid. State and federal agents conduct annual surveys to ensure the facilities are abiding by the state and federal guidelines.
All long-term care facilities are inspected on a yearly basis. Nursing homes with complaints or previous infractions are subject to more frequent, unannounced inspections. When a complaint is made, it is investigated by the state health department. If a violation is found, the care facility must submit a Plan of Correction detailing how they intend to resolve the issue.
If there is an “immediate threat” to resident safety, federal and/or state officials will take corrective measures of their own. These measures include imposing fines, appointing new management, suspending the acceptance of new incoming residents, or shutting down the nursing home temporarily or permanently. Although nursing homes and assisted living facilities are regularly monitored, elder abuse is still all too common.
Filing a Lawsuit for Nursing Home Abuse
When you or a loved one is injured or killed by nursing home abuse, you may be entitled to compensation for the damages you suffered. A skilled personal injury and wrongful death attorney with experience in nursing home abuse cases will be able to evaluate the situation and advise you on the right course of action.
Keep in mind the statute of limitations for personal injury and wrongful death claims in Oklahoma. A statute of limitations is a law that sets a limit on the amount of time someone can seek legal recourse for a particular matter. Like other personal injury cases, the statute of limitations for nursing home abuse claims is two years. If you miss this deadline, you will forever be barred from seeking compensation through the court system for this claim.
Filing a lawsuit for nursing home abuse allows you to seek financial compensation for the damages you suffered because of someone’s intentional or negligent behavior. This includes economic (special) damages, noneconomic (general) damages, and punitive damages. The damages for which you can seek recovery will depend on who files the legal action, and whether it is a personal injury claim or a wrongful death case.
Special damages are the damages for which you can assign a specific dollar value. Examples include hospital bills and ongoing or future medical expenses relating to the injury. General damages are the damages that do not have a tangible economic value, such as pain and suffering. An attorney can advise you on how much your general damages may be worth in your specific case. Additionally, punitive damages may be awarded to punish a defendant in cases of especially egregious behavior.
Who Can Sue a Nursing Home?
To file a lawsuit against a nursing home for neglect, negligence, or abuse, you must have a specific relationship with the victim. An action can be brought by:
- The resident herself;
- The individual’s guardian;
- A representative of the estate if the victim is deceased; or
- A person/organization acting on the resident’s behalf with the resident’s or guardian’s consent.
If an elderly person survives a situation of nursing home abuse, she, a guardian, or designated representative can file a lawsuit in her case. Unfortunately, many times nursing home abuse is only discovered after it leads to the death of the individual. In these cases, a person’s heirs (spouse, children, grandchildren, etc.) can file a lawsuit for wrongful death, as a representative of the deceased’s estate.
Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Attorneys in Oklahoma City, OK
If you have lost a loved one due to improper care at a nursing facility, we are very sorry for your loss. An experienced and compassionate wrongful death attorney may be able to help you in this difficult time. If you suspect a family member received poor treatment or abuse at a nursing home, and suffered as a result, please contact Hasbrook & Hasbrook for a consultation.