Trusting your loved one’s health and happiness to strangers is never easy. Whether your elderly loved one can no longer safely live alone and unassisted, or they are already moved into a nursing home, you’re understandably concerned about the level of care they receive.
Sadly, far too often that fear is justified by nursing homes who abuse and neglect residents. And unless you can point to unmistakable injuries like broken bones and your loved one tells you they were hurt by an employee (or another resident), it can be difficult to prove abuse or neglect.
However, there are several major warning signs you can look out for when visiting a nursing home to determine whether or not they may be abusing or neglecting their residents.
Red Flags to Watch Out For
When visiting your loved one in their nursing home or touring nursing home options for your elderly loved one, look out for these signs that something is badly wrong.
- Evasive answers to questions – “I don’t know but I can get back to you,” is fine every once in a while, but should not be the answer to every question, especially if it’s simply used as a stalling tactic, and the staff never actually get around to getting back to you with the answer. Deflecting questions or changing the subject are also causes for suspicion.
- Inadequate staff – Take a look around you; are there enough staff present to accommodate the needs of the residents? When workers are stretched too thin, neglect is more likely to occur.
- No helpers present in the dining area – Many elderly and disabled individuals may need help eating. If you see residents sitting in the dining hall with a full plate in front of them but not eating, this may be a sign that they aren’t being given the help they need.
- High staff turnover – Do you never see any of the same workers there when you visit your loved one?When staff aren’t around long enough to get to know the residents, they won’t know the specific type of care each resident needs, and it’s easier for residents to be forgotten and neglected.
- Constantly ringing phones – This is another sign that there are not enough staff to adequately run the facility. Many nursing homes cut staff and resources in order to save money.
- Cleanliness of the facility – Unsanitary living conditions are bad for both physical and mental health of residents. Pay special attention to the cleanliness of the bedroom, bathrooms, and kitchen when you inspect the facility.
- Cleanliness of the residents – Are the residents you seewell-groomed and fully dressed? Or do they appear disheveled and lack personal hygiene? Residents who are being neglected may be wearing dirty clothes, have untidy hair and nails, and may smell like urine or feces.
- General disposition of residents – Do the residents you observe in common areas appear happy? Residents who appear timid around staff may be being abused. If residents appear disoriented, it may not be dementia but may be because they are being overmedicated.
- Lack of Privacy – Observe how staff behave around residents. Do they knock before entering private rooms? Are residents subjected to bathing or other private activities in front of a roommate? This violates the residents’ rights.
- Lack of social programs or physical activities – Social and physical activities are important to maintaining residents’ emotional and physical well-being and should be considered a requirement, not a “nice to have,” in any nursing home. Otherwise, residents may spend long periods in bed or seated and at risk of developing bed sores.
- Lack of updates – A good nursing home should be constantly looking for ways to improve, not only doing so when forced to. Ask what has been updated recently, what updates are planned, or how long an update you were informed was underway has until completion.
- Poor reviews – Want a way to check a nursing home without visiting? Check online reviews or the Medicare star rating to see what others have to say about the quality of the facility. Inspection reports for nursing homes are also publicly available and should tell you if the facility has had any code violations in the past.
When You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse, Contact a Lawyer
Nursing home abuse and neglect are hard to prove on your own, and even harder to stop on your own. Some nursing home staff may simply shrug off neglect as simply “something that can’t be helped,” but this could not be further from the truth.
Nursing home residents have the legal right to live in a caring environment free of abuse, mistreatment, and neglect, and nursing home staff must do everything possible to make sure these rights are not violated or ignored.