Elder abuse cases in nursing homes are among the most under-reported crimes, with only 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse reported. Underreporting occurs because victims fear their own caretakers, and some may not even be able to verbalize what’s happened to them. Yet elder abuse cases in nursing homes are startlingly common.
According to the World Health Organization: “Rates of elder abuse are high in institutions such as nursing homes and long-term care facilities, with 2 in 3 staff reporting that they have committed abuse in the last year.”
Elder abuse in nursing homes can lead to serious physical injuries and long-term psychological consequences – and it’s likely to increase in places like the U.S. and in Georgia, where the population is rapidly aging.
Nursing Home Compare, the federal government’s detailed grading system of Medicare and Medicaid-certified nursing homes, reports that more than 25 percent of Georgia nursing homes received a one-star rating, which indicates the level of care is “Much Below Average.” The non-profit Families for Better Care gave Georgia an “F” grade for nursing home care quality. The state ranks 50th for direct care staffing and 49th in professional nursing staffing.
At Apolinsky & Associates, our Atlanta nursing home abuse lawyers are committed to advocating for elderly victims of abuse and neglect – obtaining compensation for the damage caused and accountability for the wrong done.
Why Does Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes Occur?
Elder abuse can be a single or repeated act (or lack of action) that occurs when there is an expectation of trust that is violated, resulting in physical harm or emotional distress to an elderly, vulnerable person. It can involve physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse, as well as financial abuse, abandonment, and neglect.
One study of elder abuse in nursing home statistics published in The Lancet Global Health journal revealed that nearly 16 percent of people over the age of 60 were subjected to some form of abuse.
In a nursing home, acts of elder abuse can include:
- Physically restraining patients
- Chemically restraining patients
- Withholding medication from patients
- Depriving them of dignity (i.e., not changing their soiled clothing)
- Intentionally depriving elderly patients of sufficient care
A 13-year longitudinal study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association revealed premature mortality rates were twice as high among victims of elder abuse compared to those who weren’t victimized.
Factors that can put patients at higher risk of elder abuse in nursing homes include:
- Poor physical/mental health of the patient.
- Caregivers who have mental disorders or substance abuse problems.
- Social isolation of the victim (a particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic and the governor’s shelter-in-place order for the medically fragile, which restricts visitors and non-essential staff).
- Lack of care facility standards.
- Poorly-trained and/or overworked caregiving staff. (Lower levels for certified nursing assistants and registered nurses is directly tied to the number of lawsuits filed against multi-state chain nursing homes, according to Health Services Research.)
- A deficient physical environment.
- Nursing home policies that take into account the needs/interests of the facility/organization before the patients.
What Laws Protect Against Georgia Nursing Home Abuse?
Georgia has several laws enacted to protect elderly nursing home residents from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Among those:
- O.C.G.A. § 30-5-1, the Disabled Adults and Elder Persons Protection Act. It requires any doctor, hospital, medical personnel or others with reasonable cause to believe an elder person has been neglected, exploited or physical injuries caused by something other than an accident must report these concerns to the proper authorities. The law also lays out criminal penalties for the abuse, neglect or exploitation of any disabled adult or an elder person, a felony carrying a minimum mandatory 1-year prison sentence with a maximum of 5 years. Any mandated reporter who doesn’t file a report is guilty of a misdemeanor.
- O.C.G.A. § 31-8-80, the Long-term Care Facility Resident Abuse Reporting Act. This law stipulates that any administrator, manager, doctor, nurse, nurse’s aide, orderly, or other employee at a hospital or facility with knowledge that a long-term care facility resident is being abused or exploited to report it to local law enforcement and then to the state. Retaliation for such reports is prohibited.
Beyond these protections, Georgia allows for civil remedy through the courts. Plaintiffs in these cases can sue owners and operators of nursing homes and long-term care facilities for:
- Breach of contract. These are claims that address the nursing home’s failure to perform some part of their contract (i.e., providing proper care) resulting in harm to the patient.
- Tort claims. These would include wrongful acts such as negligence, negligent supervision, negligent hiring, vicarious liability (for wrongful acts of employees) and more.
- Intentional tort. These are civil claims that could be filed directly against the abuser, whose deliberate actions caused wrongdoing. These claims are less common because often, those accused have few personal assets that might be used to ultimately pay a judgment if the plaintiff is successful.
If your loved one has been a victim of Atlanta nursing home abuse or neglect, our dedicated, compassionate team of civil trial lawyers can help.
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.