Nursing Home Abuse


By: Bill Haggerty and Sara Haggerty

The elderly deserve honor, respect, and dignity for their productive, fruitful, and successful lives. After raising children, leading prosperous careers, and enduring life’s hardships, they have justly assumed pride in their accomplishments.

Often the respect they have earned and deserve is seized from them in their later years. Why are seniors often dismissed, neglected, abused, and abandoned?

Nursing facilities offer the skill, the personnel, the time, and the desire to care for our parents since we are frequently incapable of fulfilling all of their needs as they mature. Therefore, we instill the highest degree of trust in those caregivers, which they sever as abject elder abuse occurs.

Seniors do not forsake their rights as individuals when a nursing facility admits them or when they employ assisted care. In fact, the law not only entitles them to a standard level of care, but seniors have earned this right.

The elderly have maintained a standard level of care and quality of life of life for themselves, so we should apply the same criteria to the facilities, which care for them when they can do so no longer. We violate the pact we make as members of this society when we fail to ensure that we obey common laws of decency.

With approximately 1.6 million people currently residing in nursing facilities, the abuses endured by the elderly can no longer be ignored and disregarded.

The Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 serves as a watershed for protecting the rights of the elderly. Equipped with the necessary means to end elderly abuse and neglect, we are obliged to utilize this legislation to safeguard them. We must confront and challenge the institutions and individuals that abuse and neglect the elderly.

In recent years, several elder abuse and neglect cases have been discovered and subsequently have been brought to trial. Juries have empathized with the abused seniors and their families.

Engaged by the abuse and neglect committed by caregivers, juries have additionally awarded large verdicts to the seniors and their families.

The family of Bryan Sellers, an 80 year-old man dying of emphysema, brought his case to trial in Texas for nursing home negligence and wrongful death (Rhoades v. Sensitive Care, Inc.). After the nursing facility admitted him, his condition quickly deteriorated and he died of abuse and malnutrition.

In one instance, his daughter discovered his oxygen machine missing and none of the staff could locate it. The jury awarded the family $250 million in punitive damages.

The National Center on Elder Abuse identifies seven kinds of elder abuse: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial or material exploitation, neglect, abandonment, and self-neglect. Any refusal or failure to fulfill one’s obligations and duties to an elderly person constitutes negligence.

Neglect, the most prevalent type of abuse, encompasses situations such as allowing an elder to lie in bed sheets soiled by feces or urine or not ensuring that the elder receives the necessary fluids or food in order to subsist.

Warnings signs of abuse and neglect include, but are not limited to pressure sores, repeated falls or fractures, unexplained bruises, unsanitary conditions, poor hygiene, malnutrition, dehydration, lack of pain management, and chemical or physical restraints.

Licensed and certified nursing facilities are entitled to receive Medicaid and Medicare payments for care provided to qualified residents at the facility.

Therefore, those nursing facilities enter into a contractual agreement to uphold government regulations by accepting funds from them. These nursing faciltiies violate their contracts if they receive federal funds, but do not provide the standard level of care and quality of life.

However, more stringent federal and state inspections, mandating a certain level of care and quality of life, have exposed these trangressions.

The reprimand of nursing home facilities that fail to adopt those standards has engendered a greater awareness within the public sphere.

Federal investigators have revealed the depravities, namely physical, sexual, and psycholigcal abuse, which take place in nursing homes.

According to information from one reported investigation, an aide placed a full cup of wsater beyond the reach of a 75-year old wheelchair-bound man, plagued by intestinal cancer, which causes dehydration. The federal government is imposing a daily fine on the facility owners until the facility corrects these problems and treats the patients, as they deserve to be treated. _______________________________________________________________

This article was authored by Bill Haggerty and Sara Haggerty, July/August 2000. Haggerty Law Firm was founded by Board Certified Civil Trial Specialist Bill Haggerty to represent Auto Accident Victims and their families. A longstanding member of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and the National Board of Trial Attorneys, Mr. Haggerty has practiced law for over 25 years and has earned the respect and reputation necessary to speak with insurance companies to protect your rights.

Reprinted with permission of the Haggerty Law Firm.

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