Nursing homes are not always ideal places to spend one’s golden years

The Marquette Elder's Advisor observes that nursing homes have become the only practical option for many aging Americans. As the elderly live longer, and grow to constitute an increasingly large segment of our population, it is estimated that almost 7 million individuals will be residing in nursing homes by 2050. Nursing homes should be "safe havens" for the elderly to spend their remaining years in peace, quiet and relative comfort. Unfortunately, as pointed out by Elder's Advisor, nursing homes do not always live up to the "ideal of safe, happy places for the elderly to live out their golden years." In many instances, nursing home residents lack either sufficient physical or cognitive ability to protest or stand up against nursing home negligence and abuse.

The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care says that nursing home neglect could be intentional or, more likely, as the result of poorly trained, indifferent or careless nursing home staff members. Some of the typical neglect problems found in a nursing home are:

  • Lack of toileting or changing of disposable briefs resulting in incontinence and skin irritation.
  • Lack of assistance in eating.
  • Lack of assistance when walking.
  • Lack of bathing leading to poor hygiene and indignity.
  • Poor hand-washing techniques by staff potentially causing infections.
  • Ignoring call bells or cries for help from patients.

According to AARP, common problems caused by neglect are dehydration, malnutrition, bed sores and stiff muscles resulting from lack of use. Falls can also occur if there is a lack of assistance when walking.

Abuse could take the form of the intentional infliction of physical pain on patients such as pinching, shoving, force-feeding or slapping. Patients could be unnecessarily subjected to physical or chemical restraints. Finally, there could be verbal abuse designed to intimidate nursing home patients in order to make them more submissive.

A report prepared for the Justice Department on elder abuse concluded that there were situations where a patient's medications might be diverted by staff for personal use. For example, water could be substituted for morphine in capsules intended for a patient. Drug diversions can cause nursing home patients to experience unnecessary pain.

Resolving problems

According to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, if you have a loved one in a nursing home, it is crucial to maintain good communications with the staff and administration on a regular basis. In addition, you should strive to develop and maintain good relationships with the nursing home staff. If a problem arises:

  • Address the problem as soon as possible by bringing it to the attention of the staff.
  • Attend regularly scheduled care planning meetings as often as possible.
  • Voice concerns calmly and factually.
  • Ask the nursing home staff to explain what and why certain care is being provided or not provided.
  • If discussing the matter with the nursing staff is not effective, talk to the administrator or the social worker.

Suing for injuries

If you have a loved one in a nursing home or a long-term care facility, and you believe they have suffered physical injury due to abuse or neglect, you should contact an attorney. Colorado law affords legal remedies for those who suffer injuries from harm intentionally or negligently inflicted upon them. An attorney experienced in handling personal injury and nursing home cases can look into the matter and offer you advise on your options under Colorado law.