When an act of abuse or negligence that is committed in a nursing home results to harm to a patient or resident elder, the injured individual or his/her family can pursue legal action to hold legally responsible the person who committed the act, the owner and/or operator of the facility, and probably even the state Health Board.
Negligence is failure to use reasonable care that results to damage or injury to another. When committed in a nursing home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines it as “failure by a caregiver or other responsible person to protect an elder from harm, or the failure to meet needs for essential medical care, nutrition, hydration, hygiene, clothing, basic activities of daily living or shelter, which results in a serious risk of compromised health and safety.”
The most common types of nursing home neglect include: lack of proper care; failure to properly manage medication; isolation; Failure to maintain adequate health and safety policies, and keep the premises reasonably safe and free of hazards; and delayed treatment of residents who fall or injure themselves. These acts are most rampant and widespread in facilities that are understaffed and where there is negligent hiring of employees (due to this specific fault, even individuals with records of abuse get hired as nursing aides or registered/licensed nurses – the very persons who are guilty of unjust and cruel acts against nursing home patients and residents).
Families of nursing homes residents (which include elders, usually 65 years old; individuals who, because of an illness, like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, require extra care and assistance; and, those needing rehabilitation therapies) should know that they are empowered by the law to file a lawsuit against perpetrators of abuse or neglect. This right is established in the Nursing Home Reform Act which was made a federal law by the U.S. Congress in 1997. This Act specifically addresses facilities receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to provide services and activities that will help attain or maintain the highest possible physical, mental, and psychosocial well-being of every resident in accordance with a written plan of care. The Act also mandates that residents should be free from corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion and all forms of abuses, including, but not limited to, verbal, physical, mental abuse, and sexual abuse.
Other than being designed to prevent incidences of nursing home neglect and abuse, the Act also addresses important issues, such as sufficiency of staffing, individual patient assessment, and assurance of hygiene and nutrition. Furthermore, it establishes the “Residents’ Bill of Rights,” which is a list of residents’ rights, especially in the face of neglect and/or abuse.
The federal law, even state laws, do not and will neither tolerate nor excuse acts of negligence of nursing home staff. Any act, be it abuse or negligence, can be a federal offense. Many nursing home facility current and former employees have already been put behind bars; it depends on families of abused or neglected residents to make their own legal move which, hopefully, will punish the guilty and save others from becoming future victims.