Using The Law To Make Your Life Better

Nursing Home Abuse: Legal Issues to Consider

David Sexton


During the last two blog posts, we discussed how to choose a nursing home and how to spot abuse and/or neglect against your loved one once your loved one is in a nursing home.  This blog covers a topic that no one wants to talk about, but is incredibly important; what do you do when you suspect nursing home abuse against your loved one?

One of the statements we hear from families of those whose loved ones have been a victim of nursing home abuse is "I reported the abuse to the Department of Health and expected them to do something about it."  Unfortunately, the Tennessee Department of Health is simply unable to follow up on every call they receive about possible abuse.  You can probably imagine just how many phone calls the Department of Health receives from upset citizens.  Your call to the Department of Health will be one of many and it will be up to an investigator, or sometimes just the employee answering the phone, to determine if your situation is legitimate and requires investigation, or if it is one of the many unsubstantiated claims.

Even if you can convince the Department of Health that your claim is serious and they decide to investigate, it does not necessarily mean that the nursing home will be penalized in any way or that your loved one will be taken care of.  The investigator will have to personally witness, or at the very least suspect, abuse during the visit.  While it sounds great that the State will send out an investigator to inspect the nursing home, especially if the inspection is random, inspections seldom reveal abuse.  Nursing home staff is often tipped off about the arrival of an investigator, which means they have time to fix the problems before they are ever inspected.  Surprisingly, we have uncovered evidence that the staff at a hotel near a well-known nursing home was receiving kickbacks for informing nursing home staff when a State investigator would arrive to the hotel before his investigation into the nursing home.  Once the administrators of one nursing home is made aware that an investigator is in the area, they warn the administrators of other nursing homes. This allows nursing homes to "be on their game" when the investigator arrives, negating any randomness of the investigation.

Another way I have heard that people try to deal with nursing home abuse when they discover it is to try and discuss the issue with a supervisor at the nursing home or with the Medical Director.  Families are typically shocked to discover that higher level staff at the nursing home have no idea about the day to day happenings between lower level staff and nursing home residents. The Medical Director is even further removed from the day to day care of residents and relies on nursing home staff to keep him or her updated with the wellbeing of residents.  Unfortunately, it is the nursing home staff who commit the abuse and/or neglect against residents and, therefore, it is easy to see why the staff are not quick to tell the Medical Director or higher level staff when issues arise.

The next logical question is: what can one do if they suspect or know of nursing home abuse against their loved one? Seek the help of a knowledgeable attorney who knows how to handle nursing home abuse cases.  The attorney will know the right questions to ask nursing home staff, will know the proper evidence to gather to prove your loved one was abused, and will be the best one to advocate on behalf of your loved one.

There is something to keep in mind about hiring an attorney to help your loved one; once a lawsuit is filed, you can expect the care of your loved one to greatly improve.  While this may sound appealing, it will hurt your case against the nursing home. This is because once you file a lawsuit, a defense attorney will step in to defend the nursing home. That defense attorney's first step in defending the nursing home will be to visit the nursing home, explain to the staff that they will be under continued examination until the case is concluded, and give advice on how improve care and prevent allegations of abuse.

Therefore, I always advise my clients to keep detailed notes regarding the facts surrounding their case, including important dates and specific reasons abuse was suspected. It is crucial that you and your loved one retain information and keep notes because the nursing home staff will, almost always, cover up the problems in the nursing home, leaving you and your loved one to rely only on your memories. Once the defense attorney gets involved and care begins to improve, it will become increasingly difficult to find new evidence of abuse.  While this benefits your loved one while a case is pending, once a case has concluded, care often deteriorates quickly, leaving your loved one a target for additional abuse.

If you suspect your loved one is experiencing nursing home abuse, contact our office for a consultation to discuss your loved one's rights.

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