It’s bad enough that many nursing home residents are abused. It’s worse when the victims are too afraid to complain to the nursing home management, a state ombudsman’s office, their family, or an attorney. Yet many residents are too afraid to file complaints out of fear that the nursing home or someone who works for the nursing home will punish any nursing home resident who dares to object to harmful conduct.
The USA Today reported in June of 2023 that a survey by a nonprofit organization, the Long Term Care Community Coalition, that advocates for nursing home residents and assisted living facility residents found that fear of retaliation from staff is a major reason why residents don’t complain. The survey reviewed 100 complaints by nursing home residents nationwide.
Eilon Caspi, an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention and Policy and the chief researcher of the survey studied complaints that were made between 2017 and 2022. His study is titled “‘They Make You Pay’: How Fear of Retaliation Silences Residents in America’s Nursing Homes.”
Retaliation can include many different types of unconscionable conduct including failing to discipline the abuser, allowing the abuse to continue or even to escalate, denying the resident certain rights such as the right to engage in activities with other residents, isolating the resident, and conduct that may include physical abuse, sexual abuse, and other types of harm.
Mr. Caspi hopes that the study will help advocates for seniors understand the depth of resident suffering. David Grabowski, a professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. States that the failure to report abuse means that the current data about nursing home neglect or abuse is often underreported and underestimated.
One of the possible solutions, according to a leading expert on elder abuse and geriatrics is to educate the nursing home or assisted living facility state about the harms of “retributive statements.”
One complaint found that residents at one California facility informed investigators that “they were afraid to voice concerns ‘because it backfires on you,’ as ‘staff became aggressive.” The investigators also found that there were complaints that retaliation included residents who sat in soiled conditions and staff members threatening the resident’s family if the family members complained to the state or an ombudsman’s office.
Caspi said that “You are dependent on staff members to provide you with basic care, continence, using the bathroom, the toilet, taking a shower. So you can feel very small, and there’s an inherent asymmetrical power… a power imbalance between residents and staff members.”
John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and the Butler Aging Center, said that part of the problem is an understaffed workforce that isn’t able to deal with some of the “toughest patients.” He added that the problem is also caused by staff members who are undertrained, depressed, and anxious.
The danger that the fear of retaliation prevents nursing home residents from speaking out is exacerbated by the reality that most nursing home residents need to be in nursing homes or assisted living care facilities. They can’t just leave because they need help and often there’s no place else to go.
How can family and friends help nursing home residents file complaints?
Children, siblings, other relatives, and friends can help nursing home residents who are being abused in several ways.
- They can take steps to recognize abuse.
- In-person visits. Family and friends should visit the seniors they care for regularly in person. These visitors should observe the resident to look for signs of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Relatives and friends should also review the surroundings – the resident’s room, the facilities, and the resident’s interactions with others. It helps to also review the needs of each resident such as daily prescriptions to ensure those needs are being met.
- Online video visits. If you can’t visit in person; online chats by Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, or other video services can help you see and hear whether there are signs of abuse.
- Phone calls. Regular phone calls let residents know how much you care which can help give your loved one the courage to speak about any abuse or neglect.
- They can learn the different options for reporting abuse. These options include:
- Filing a complaint with the nursing home. The residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have the right to file an internal complaint with the management of the facility where the reside lives. Nursing homes should investigate complaints and take corrective actions including discharging a staff member who abuses residents – without fear of retaliation.
- Filing a complaint with the state ombudsman. Every state has an ombudsman office that investigates complaints by residents and advocates for the residents. The ombudsman program:
- Identifies, investigates, and resolves complaints by or on behalf of residents
- Provides information to residents about their rights
- “Represents the interests of residents before governmental agencies and seeks administrative, legal, and other remedies to protect residents
- Recommends changes to the laws and regulations that protect residents
The best course of action is to encourage residents to discuss the abuse with our experienced elder abuse and neglect lawyers. At Garcia & Artigliere, our elder abuse and neglect lawyers work with nursing home residents, families, guardians, and other advocates for residents who suffer malnutrition, dehydration, bedsores, violations of their rights, and other misconduct.
We’ll review the quality of care the resident should be receiving and seek medical help where necessary. We’ll explain the resident’s rights which include the right to file complaints without retaliation and how to assert those rights before the ombudsman’s office and in court if necessary. We fight to restore the dignity and health of residents who have suffered abuse.
If you or someone you know is a victim of elder abuse, the elder abuse attorneys at Garcia & Artigliere are here to assist you. Our team is available to answer all of your questions and concerns. We’ll guide you through the legal process. We file claims for abuse and neglect. We also file claims for retaliation. Contact our firm to schedule your free and confidential case review today. We have offices in Long Beach, Los Angeles, Louisville, Phoenix, and New Orleans.
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Stephen M. Garcia represents victims of elder and nursing home abuse and is known as one of the leading civil litigators in the country. He is Senior Partner at Garcia & Artigliere, where the firm’s practice is focused on elder abuse, nursing home abuse, and wrongful death of the elderly.
Find out more about Stephen M. Garcia