Nursing Home Neglect or Abuse – Be Watchful – Part Two of Three

In my immediately previous post, I wrote of the steps that family members must take on their own, to assure that their loved one in a Massachusetts nursing home or extended care nursing facility is well cared for.  If you haven’t read that post yet, I’d suggest that you take a look at it.  Family members cannot rely on state regulators to asusre their loved one’s proper care – and it is far more important to prevent nursing home neglect or abuse, than to deal with it after it has been discovered.

In today’s follow-up post (sorry, I meant to post this last week, but have been preoccupied with a very busy trial) I’m going to address the common warning signs of nursing home patient neglect or abuse.

First, let’s define what, legally, constitutes “neglect” or “abuse” in a nursing home setting:

Abuse:  This is an intentional and knowing infliction of physical or emotional harm to a patient.  It can also be evidenced by unreasonable confinement, physical or mental intimidation, depriving the patient of care or needed services, or some type of ‘punishment’ that results in physical harm or pain– no matter how slight – or  mental or emotional distress.

Neglect:  This is a failure, whether intentional or unintentional, to provide a patient with the medical and/or nursing care or services necessary to ensure that the patient is free from harm or unreasonable pain.  It can also constitute a failure on the part of staff to respond promptly to a potentially dangerous situation, which results in physical harm or mental anxiety to the patient.

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect Can Take a Variety of Forms:

  • Physical assault and/or battery (this includes pushing, shoving, slapping, pinching, shaking,  kicking and threatening the patient with verbal or emotional abuse)
  • Substandard care for obvious medical problems
  • Prolonged or regular deprivation of food or water (the definition of “prolonged” may vary from patient to patient, but it should be obvious to most observers.)
  • Any form of sexual assault or battery or rape.
  • Physical restraint or seclusion that is unreasonable or not ordered by an attending physician (This is far more common that most people suspect. A look inside any nursing home will show you this patients that are strapped into wheelchairs and placed in front of TV’s or anything else to distract them.)
  • Use of any psychoactive/psychiatric medication for any purpose not authorized by a physician. (This awful practice is otherwise known as “doping” a patient, is especially common, and has been the subject of several successful lawsuits, ordering that it be stopped.)

In my next post in this series, I’ll discuss what common signs & symptoms of nursing home neglect & abuse to be watchful for. In the meantime, if you suspect that a nursing home patient that you care about is being neglected or abused, contact a very experienced Massachusetts nursing home neglect attorney.  Don’t assume that a complaint lodged internally at the nursing facility will be acted upon properly.

And while you should also – as a matter of documentation – report any such events to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health – please do not fool yourself into thinking that state regulators will ride to the rescue.  For reasons discussed in my previous post, the sad reality is that state and federal agencies are simply too under-staffed and over-worked to respond effecively to individual complaints.