Last May, a nursing home resident tragically lost her life when she wandered off the facility’s property. The victim was found two miles away from the assisted living facility the day after she was reported missing. The assisted living facility had previously been under investigation for nursing home abuse after the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) received a complaint alleging understaffing and a lack of supervision at mealtimes. Subsequent investigations revealed that the facility’s alarm system had been defective and non-operational for a long period of time and that residents were not being adequately supervised. The case remains under investigation.
Sadly, reports of nationwide nursing home abuse have become increasingly common. According to one congressional report, as many as 30 percent of nursing homes in the U.S., around 5,283 facilities, were issued over 9,000 citations for abuse over a two year period. Some of the most commonly reported violations included:
- Untreated bedsores;
- Inadequate medical care;
- Inadequate sanitation and hygiene;
- Physical violence; and
- Preventable accidents.
According to the study, in 1,601 of cases, the reported violations were serious enough to cause severe injury or even death. While federal health and safety standards were designed and put in place to address these problems and protect residents from abuse, enforcement requires state inspections and investigations, which are often delayed due to a lack of funding or understaffing. Many residents also fear the repercussions of telling officials or family members about the abuse and as a result, many violations go unreported or undocumented.
In South Carolina, the law requires that nursing homes comply with federal regulations and obtain proper licensing. During the application process, facilities must pass a two-part examination before they can qualify for a license. The first part of the test ensures that the residential facility meets the national standards put in place by the federal government. The second portion requires an analysis of whether the nursing home is in compliance with state law.
As part of the state compliance analysis, licensing boards must ensure that all nursing homes in South Carolina are adhering to the Bill of Rights for Residents of Long-Term Care Facilities, which states that upon admission, each resident must be informed of certain facts about the facility, including:
- The types of services offered;
- Whether there is a refund policy; and
- The cost of becoming a resident.
The Bill of Rights also states that each resident’s guardian has the right to be involved in the resident’s affairs by:
- Choosing a personal attending physician;
- Participating in planning care; and
- Remaining informed of any changes to a resident’s treatment or care.
According to state law, nursing home residents are also afforded certain rights, including the rights to:
- Be free from mental and physical abuse;
- Be free of physical or chemical restraints unless ordered by a physician;
- Have their personal possessions stored in a secure location where they cannot be stolen or damaged;
- Be treated with dignity and respect; and
- Be assured privacy during treatment.
Although South Carolina has passed and implemented a variety of laws aimed at decreasing nursing home abuse, an alarming number of violations still occur. The consequences of violating state and federal nursing home standards include:
- License revocations;
- Mandatory payment of fines; and
An experienced attorney can help a victim’s family members report the abuse to the appropriate authorities and will launch an in-depth investigation of the nursing home and its staff. By filing a lawsuit alleging nursing home abuse, victims can obtain compensation for:
- Medical costs incurred to treat injuries caused by abuse;
- Pain and suffering; and
- Reimbursement of fees paid to the facility.
Some residential facilities may be willing to reach a settlement, which can save the victim from enduring a time-consuming and stressful trial, while ensuring that he or she obtains compensation.
Nursing home abuse can take a number of different forms, but some of the most common warning signs that a loved one is being abused include:
- Bruises, welts, and cuts;
- Unexplained weight loss;
- Torn clothing;
- Missing personal items;
- Complaints from residents;
- Extreme agitation;
- Emotional withdrawal;
- Unusual behavior, such as rocking or sucking;
- Bruises around ankles or wrists that suggests restraints are being used;
- Poor hygiene;
- Wandering from the facility, which is often a sign of improper supervision;
- A sudden change in medication or dosage; and
- A lack of explanation for a deteriorating physical state.
Careful observation is often key to discovering nursing home abuse as many residents are too fearful to report abusive staff.
In response to the increasing number of reported instances of elder abuse, the South Carolina Senate Medical Affairs Committee passed a law in 2014 that allows nursing home residents to install monitoring devices in their rooms. The evidence obtained from these recordings can be invaluable in building a case against a nursing home. It is also important to document suspected abuse in other ways, including by:
- Recording instances of observed abuse in writing, including specific dates, times, and the names of potential witnesses;
- Photographing visible injuries or damaged clothing;
- Reporting concerns to nursing staff verbally and in writing;
- Maintaining copies of all information provided to or received from the nursing home staff;
- Recording the testimony of residents, family members, visitors, and other witnesses; and
- Compiling all of the resident’s medical records.
How We Can Help
We place an enormous amount of trust in nursing home administrators and staff to ensure that our loved ones are cared for in their twilight years. A failure to adequately care for residents is a devastating breach of trust and can have serious and sometimes deadly consequences for residents. Those who commit nursing home abuse can and should be held accountable for the harm they cause. If you live in South Carolina and you believe a loved one has sustained abuse at the hands of nursing home staff, please contact the dedicated nursing home personal injury attorneys at Connell Law Firm by completing a standard contact form that includes your name, email address, phone number, and a brief description of your case and we will help you schedule an initial consultation.