The latest figures from the National Coalition on Aging reveal elder abuse has reached epidemic proportions, with 1 in every 10 Americans over 60 having experienced some form of abuse. That’s nearly 5 million elder abuse cases annually. Worse, these estimates are low, considering a National Research Council conclusion that just 1 in 14 of these cases are reported to authorities.
Atlanta injury attorneys note that not all of these involve nursing home claims specifically. However, several of the factors known to make one more susceptible to elder abuse are more common among nursing home residents than those living independently. These include namely:
- Social isolation. Lack of regular contact with friends, family or acquaintances.
- Physical disability. Inability to manage basic hygiene, toileting and mobility are common among elder abuse victims.
- Mental impairment. Most frequently, this included Alzheimer’s/dementia.
Collectively, this all makes sense, as these are among the most vulnerable, wholly reliant on their caretakers and either too afraid or unable to speak out.
At Apolinski & Associates, our civil injury attorneys take seriously our role as their advocate.
We understand these cases are often difficult and, especially in the early stages, families may still be trying to piece it all together themselves. Nursing home abuse red flags that should prompt you to consider contacting an attorney:
- Injuries requiring hospitalization, particularly if staffers are vague with explanations or seem reluctant to discuss
- Head injuries
- Bone fractures
- Pressure ulcers, bedsores and skin breakdown
- Falls (especially those that are serious or when it has occurred more than once)
- Unexplained bruising, cuts, welts, wounds or other injuries
- Extreme emotional withdrawal, upset or agitation
- Sudden and/or odd changes in behavior (biting, rocking, fear of being touched)
- Reticence to talk to you in front of nursing home staff
- Sudden death, particularly after a fall or other injury
If you fear your loved one may be in imminent danger, don’t hesitate to call law enforcement, and then an attorney experienced in nursing home injury law.
Georgia Nursing Home Staffing Contributes to Atlanta Nursing Home Abuse Claims
The Marietta Daily Journal reported Medicare data last year showed almost half of Georgia nursing homes were inadequately staffed with registered nurses at rates either below average or much below average. Federal law requires all nursing home facilities to have an R.N. on duty at least eight hours daily. Yet at the nearly 350 rated nursing homes in Georgia, 47 percent failed to meet that standard the first three months of this year.
What does fewer nurses on the floor have to do with nursing home abuse?
In general, nursing home neglect and abuse claims tend to spike when there are staff shortages. Any worker who is tired, stressed, burned out and underappreciated will be prone to mistakes, more likely to cut corners on safety possibly more prone to lash out. Plus with fewer eyes on each patient, there is the potential for abuse to go unchecked – whether it involves a staff member, visitor or another resident. (In each case, nursing homes owe a duty of care to protect patients.)
Fewer RNs on the floor – especially at levels below the already paltry federally-mandated levels – is especially concerning because they are highest-trained direct caregivers nursing homes must staff. They supervise licensed practical nurses (LPNs), certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and aides. Their training uniquely qualifies them to recognize changes in patient condition, which includes signs of abuse. (RNs, like all nursing home/assisted living employers are mandated reporters under Georgia law, required to report suspected abuse or neglect to the appropriate authorities.)
This isn’t to say all RNs are wholly above the influence of unethical administrators or couldn’t possibly abuse patients themselves (sadly, there have been cases). Generally though, their presence improves patient safety. Their absence could well put patients at higher risk.
Nursing home understaffing has become a bigger problem as the nursing home industry has shifted to profit-dominated models from non-profit structures. A 2018 study published in the journal Gerontology shows residents in for-profit nursing homes fared worse than those in non-profit facilities, and were at almost double the risk of suffering health problems as a result of substandard care.
Atlanta nursing home abuse lawyers at Apolinsky & Associates also know for-profit facilities have gotten very good at shielding themselves from legal consequences when a patient does suffer abuse or neglect. The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported on this not long ago, detailing ways in which Georgia for-profit nursing homes establish their corporate structure specifically to distance owners from day-to-day liability and mandate arbitration agreements for better odds at reduced payments and quieter settlements.
Systemic problems in Georgia’s nursing home abuse prevention and response oversights are unfortunately nothing new.
Lapses in Georgia Nursing Home Abuse, Neglect Response Detailed
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in late 2017 that Georgia nursing home patients at high risk of serious injury or death due to abuse or neglect haven’t historically been able to count on state authorities to intervene with swift investigation and action. Journalists cited a federal watchdog review ranking Georgia one spot shy of dead-last for state regulator response to reports of suspected endangerment at nursing homes.
Federal regulations give state regulators 48 hours to launch an on-site investigation of any report indicating a nursing home patient might be in immediate danger. While almost every state met that deadline, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tallied counted several hundred Georgia safety complaint investigations that took 15 days or more to initiate. At the time, the Georgia Department of Community Health had a backlog of nearly 150 nursing home abuse claims. That has since been cleared.
In another OIG report on nursing home deficiencies released in February, seven of nine state nursing home regulators nationally failed to verify that nursing home safety deficiencies outlined in inspection citations were indeed corrected, relying solely instead on the word of nursing home administrators.
In March, NPR reported new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services figures showing the average government fine for nursing home safety deficiencies fell from $41,260 in 2016 to $28,405 this year. Interestingly, regulators are issuing more total nursing home safety citations than before, but facilities are no longer fined based on out-of-compliance days per violation as the previous administration had done. Instead, the government now issues a per-citation penalty, regardless of how long the problem persisted. “Industry prodding” was the catalyst for the policy change, the outlet reported.
Trust the Atlanta nursing home abuse attorneys at Apolinsky & Associates to be your advocates in an injury or wrongful death claim stemming from neglect or mistreatment in a nursing home.
The foregoing answers are not legal advice and are merely a general overview. You are advised to consult a lawyer to address your specific situation regarding your situation. For more information or to inquire about a free consultation, contact Stephen D. Apolinsky, an experienced Atlanta injury attorney, at Apolinsky & Associates at (404) 377-9191 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.