Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

nursing-home-litigation.jpgMany of us will face the extremely difficult decision of whether to place a loved one in a long term care facility at some point in our lives. This decision is never easy, nor is there any way to determine if it is the right decision. An even more daunting task is making sure that a loved one receives the proper care and safe living environment that he or she deserves. The statistics are alarming and reveal that nursing home abuse and neglect is not nearly as uncommon as we would like to believe. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect in nursing homes and assisted living facilities remain persistent problems in New Jersey and nationwide. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 2.1 million seniors suffer some form of abuse each year in the United States. As our State’s “Baby Boomer” population approaches their golden years, the need for change in the quality of care and treatment in nursing homes and assisted living facilities could not be clearer. Knowledge is power and the only way to truly make a difference and improve the conditions of these facilities is to know your rights, bring incidences of abuse and neglect to light and hold the facilities accountable for their actions. It is also absolutely necessary to recognize that while our state’s elderly are among the most vulnerable, they have very specific rights and protections granted by both Federal and State laws.

Federal Regulations for Nursing Homes

nursing home litigationNursing homes are federally regulated by the Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA), enacted by Congress as part of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987 (OBRA). (42 U.S.C. § 1395; 42 C.F.R.. § 483). The NHRA contains strict standards for nursing homes participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs. Pursuant to the Act, a nursing home must “attain and maintain the highest practical mental and psychosocial well-being of each resident.” Among the rights guaranteed to residents under the Act is the right to be free from neglect and abuse. Nursing homes are also required to complete a comprehensive individual assessment for each new resident within two weeks of admission. Family members are often asked to assist in developing the care plan. Unfortunately, some nursing homes choose to only follow the plan partially or not at all and it is necessary for family members to ensure that the plan is being carefully followed.

New Jersey Nursing Home Law

In addition to the protections afforded by the federal government, New Jersey residents are protected by the New Jersey Nursing Home Responsibilities and Rights of Residents Act. (N.J.S.A. § 30:13-1 et. seq.). While the New Jersey Act is similar to the Federal Act, it differs in that it specifically allows for a private right of action by or on behalf of someone who has been the victim of abuse or neglect in a nursing home or assisted living facility. In order to deter abuse and neglect from occurring, the New Jersey Act also permits recovery of actual and punitive damages (increased damages designed to deter future wrongdoing), as well as recovery of attorney’s fees and costs. The Act defines a nursing home to include “any institution, whether operated for profit or not, which maintains and operates facilities for extended medical and nursing treatment or care…” Most importantly, the Act sets forth the responsibilities of nursing homes and establishes a Bill of Rights for nursing home residents. Upon admission to a nursing home, a Bill of Rights is typically given to each resident and his or her family. In addition, New Jersey requires mandatory reporting of elder abuse in institutional settings such as a nursing home. The State has appointed an official, known as the Ombudsman (derived from a Swedish term meaning “people’s advocate”) for the Institutionalized Elderly, to investigate complaints of abuse and exploitation of persons over the age of 60, residing in long term care facilities within this State.

Types of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Nursing home abuse and neglect occurs when a care facility causes injury to a resident because of improper care. Abuse and neglect of the elderly is often labeled a “silent crime” because those who are victimized do not complain about the abuse or neglect for fear that they will lose the support that they have and that their complaints will trigger reprisal. Furthermore, although every nursing home is required to immediately inform the resident’s guardian of any significant change in physical or mental health, or any other meaningful problem, this unfortunately does not always happen. Because of these issues, it is necessary for family and friends to be aware of the signs of abuse and neglect and ensure that a loved one is receiving the care he or she is entitled to. Nursing home negligence can appear in the following forms:

• Bed Sores
• Unexplained Bruising
• Fractures, dislocations or sprains
• Falls
• Unexplained Injuries
• Malnutrition or Dehydration
• Medication Errors
• Sudden Weight Change
• Assault
• Sexual Assault
• Wandering
• Unsanitary conditions or poor hygiene
• Infections
• Inadequate staffing or supervision
• Defective Equipment
• Unnecessary physical or chemical restraint
• Verbal, mental or emotional abuse
• Exploitation (illegal taking, misusing or concealing of funds or assets)
• Burns
• Unexpected death

If you suspect abuse or neglect, you should immediately notify the nursing home administrator and contact the State Office of the Ombudsman (James W. McCracken, M.H.A., P.O. Box 852, Trenton, NJ; Toll Free Telephone #877-582-6995). When a loved one has suffered abuse or neglect while in the care of a nursing home or other healthcare facility, the impact can be devastating. If you or someone you know has been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, please contact the law firm of Keefe Bartels for a free consultation today.