nursing homes

You Should Know: The Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

Choosing nursing home, assisted living or in-home medical care is complicated, difficult and often an emotional process. The last thing on your mind is the possibility that those responsible for the care of some of our most vulnerable citizens would abuse or neglect their patients. But it does happen all too often, which is why you should know the signs of elder abuse and how to find quality care for the older loved ones in your life

Protect the elderly in your life by learning the signs of elder abuse.

Protect the elderly in your life by learning the signs of elder abuse.

As U.S. Population Ages, Reports of Nursing Home Abuse also on the Rise

National data on cases of abuse in America’s 15,600-plus nursing homes and other elder-care programs is hard to come by. But several recent studies by government investigators, advocacy groups and the news media have chilling implications.

According to the National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS), 14,258 (7.6 percent) of approximately 188,599 complaints reported to state ombudsman programs in 2014 involved abuse, gross neglect or exploitation. Another study of nursing home staff throughout the country found that 36 percent had witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse of an elderly patient in the previous year, 10 percent committed at least one act of physical abuse, and 40 percent admitted to committing psychological abuse. It gets worse: A CNN special investigation aired in February found that the federal government cited more than 1,000 nursing homes for mishandling or failing to prevent alleged cases of sexual assault and abuse from 2013 to 2016.

Given that 1.4 million aging adults already live in nursing homes and that the number of Americans 65-plus will double from 2010 to 2050, this issue will only become more pressing.


Keep a Watchful Eye

Financial abuse is often overlooked, costing older Americans more than  $36 billion a year .

Financial abuse is often overlooked, costing older Americans more than $36 billion a year.

Abuse can encompass a wide range of behaviors, including physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse and neglect. Beyond the physical scars left by abuse, neglect and mistreatment have dangerous effects on the quality of life left to an aging person. Elders who have been abused have a higher risk of early death compared to those who have not been mistreated. If your loved ones are in a nursing home or other elder care program, watch for these warning signs:

  • Broken bones or fractures
  • Bruising, cuts or welts
  • Bed sores
  • Frequent infections
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Mood swings and emotional outbursts or unusual depression
  • Reclusiveness or refusal to speak
  • Refusal to eat or take medications
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor physical appearance or lack of cleanliness
  • Caregivers that do not want the patient to be left alone with others
  • Sudden changes in financial situation or missing personal items

Protect Your Most Vulnerable Loved Ones

For a family member or caregiver choosing a care facility, the risk of abuse can be overwhelming and traumatic. The best way to prevent elder abuse is to choose the right care facility, which is not always easy given location or financial constraints. Nevertheless, here are factors to consider:

  • Talk to residents or other patients. Observe their physical well-being and behavior. Also visit with residents’ families if possible, and learn whether they have experienced problems with the facility.
  • Avoid facilities that have restricted access.
  • Meet with key personnel (nurses, aides, social workers, administrators and doctors).
  • Read contracts carefully before signing and look for a forced arbitration clause. The rights of your loved one may be denied even if they are abused.
  • Visit frequently. Vary your visits to different times of the day and evening to assess the care provided during the day, night, weekends and holidays.
  • Trust your gut. Pay attention to whether residents appear clean, well fed and free of bruises or other wounds. Also note if the environment is peaceful and feels safe.
  • Document in writing the details about any problems or concerns.
  • Compare facilities. Look up state survey reports here.

This article appeared in our April 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

Tell Congress to Protect Your Case and Your Rights!

Congres

From the American Association for Justice:

Congress is pushing legislation that will make lawsuits brought by injured patients, nursing home residents, and their families nearly impossible to pursue. The so-called "Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017" [H.R. 1215] will rig the system against individuals like you and tip the scales in favor of the health care and insurance industries. We need to send a strong message to Congress that they must protect patients and reject this bill. 

What to Know about H.R. 1215

• Affects medical malpractice, nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and drug and device issues.

• Eliminates joint and several liability, caps attorneys' fees, limits periodic payment of future damages, and gives immunity to health care providers who prescribe or dispense prescription drugs by prohibiting them from even being named in product liability lawsuits.

• Directly preempts state law by capping noneconomic damages in lawsuits against health care providers to $250,000 in the aggregate, even in wrongful death cases involving multiple defendants. The cap purports to be flexible and not preempt states that have higher damage caps, but the cap would apply to states that have struck down damage caps, and states with an overall damage cap could also now have the $250,000 cap.

If you agree that it is unacceptable for Congress to eliminate your rights to hold the parties that harmed you or your loved ones accountable, we urge you to contact your Congressperson and Senators today. Tell your representatives to stand up for you and your family and vote NO on this offensive bill.

We urge you to call your representatives’ offices and send them a letter. Please visit www.takejusticeback.com/ProtectPatients to find contact information for your elected officials in Washington.  You will also find a sample letter you can send to your Representative and Senators.

Please take action today! Your elected officials need to hear from you that you want to preserve your rights to access the civil justice system.

Linda A. Lipsen
CEO
American Association for Justice

You Should Know: New Laws Weaken Protection Against Medical Malpractice

Restricting Your Rights Will Not Fix Medical Malpractice, Nursing Home Negligence

Jean Simmons kept moving her mother Betty from one nursing home to another after discovering mistreatment and neglect by her mother’s caregivers. When her mother died recently at a nursing home in East Texas, Ms. Simmons wanted justice for the woman who raised her while maybe preventing someone else’s parent from spending the waning years of life in misery.

But Texas – like more than 30 other states – has a cap on damages for medical malpractice and nursing home abuse cases, which effectively prevents Ms. Simmons from holding the nursing home company accountable. “It is a lose-lose, because your loved one is suffering and you don’t even want validation or money for it,” Simmons said. “You just want good care. And you still can’t get that.”  

Medical Errors Pegged as Third Leading Cause of Death

Our most vulnerable citizens are often the victims of medical and nursing home negligence.

Our most vulnerable citizens are often the victims of medical and nursing home negligence.

You’ve probably heard or read about nursing home abuse cases like that of Ms. Simmons, or stories about terrible mistakes at hospitals and clinics, or reports about medical devices that fail and cause serious injury or death.

So why in the world would anyone propose a new bill in Washington, D.C., that would make it nearly impossible for you to pursue lawsuits and hold insurance companies and big corporations accountable for these mistakes? But that’s exactly what this new legislation would do, capping damages on medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits to $250,000. Other restrictions would protect for-profit nursing homes, insurance providers and even caregivers who intentionally abuse a patient.

Supporters of these measures argue that they are necessary to deter greedy patients from exploiting doctors and health care facilities for personal gain. Many say that caps will keep health care costs down by reducing the amount of money paid out for medical malpractice lawsuits and insurance. But the experts tell a very different story.

  • Nearly half a million people die from preventable medical errors each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer. In addition, 10 to 20 times more people are seriously injured. Caps do nothing to make health care safer and instead protect the financial interests of big corporations and insurance companies rather than save you money.
  • Lawyers are not filling the courts with frivolous medical malpractice and nursing home abuse lawsuits. Medical malpractice lawsuits are rare and make up only 0.2 to 2 percent of all civil cases each year, and that number continues to decrease.
  • Instead of lowering health care costs, research shows that costs have actually increased by about 4 to 5 percent in states with damage caps.

And something else you should know about these laws: They allow the federal government to override state laws that protect consumers and patients in favor of laws that protect corporate health care at the expense of patient safety.  

Help Us Oppose Laws that Punish Those Who Have Already Suffered

The founders of this country knew how important it was to arm the average citizen with the right to hold powerful special interests accountable in a court of law. Restricting that right in cases of negligent medical and nursing home care will only punish those who have already suffered enough while actually reducing the incentive for big corporations and insurance companies to address the epidemic of preventable medical errors.

Later this month, the House of Representatives will take the first step in restricting this right for all Americans by voting on House Resolution 1215. If passed, the bill will then move on to the Senate and eventually the President's desk. We urge you to take a closer look at this legislation, and if you feel the same way as we do, contact your members of Congress and make your voice heard on this important issue.

This article appeared in our March 2017 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.

You Should Know: America’s 2015 Top Safety and Justice Stories

It was a busy year for those who fight for the health, safety and legal rights of all Americans. While this short list is by no means exhaustive, here are some of the top stories we were watching in 2015:

1. Forced Arbitration Is Forced Injustice

Many Americans are signing away their right to a day in court.

Many Americans are signing away their right to a day in court.

There’s a legal land mine buried deep in thousands of consumer and employment contracts called a “forced arbitration” clause that threatens our right to hold major corporations accountable for wrongdoing. This loophole prohibits Americans from taking companies to court and instead forces them into secretive arbitrations, which are typically stacked in favor of the company. An investigation by The New York Times has focused renewed scrutiny on the harm caused by forced arbitrations in claims of medical malpractice, sexual harassment, hate crimes, discrimination, theft, fraud, elder abuse and wrongful death. You can join others in petitioning Congress to ban forced arbitration right here.

2. Food That Sickens Rather Than Nourishes

Major cases of food contamination at Chipotle Mexican Grill and Blue Bell Ice Cream this year illustrate the growing problem of foodborne illness. According to a new report from the American Association for Justice, 48 million people fall sick, 128,000 are hospitalized and at least 3,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Questionable production techniques and cost-saving measures, combined with weak state and federal oversight, threaten to make the situation worse. Litigation helps shed light on dangerous practices and hits companies back hard with large financial penalties and damaged reputations.

3. Cost Savings Creates Deadly Defect in Guardrails

Trinity Industries installed 220,000 guardrails throughout the country that may spear cars on impact.

Trinity Industries installed 220,000 guardrails throughout the country that may spear cars on impact.

Trinity Industries modified its highway guardrails to save money but instead created a deadly hazard, all of which didn’t come to light until it was sued by a whistleblower and those who suffered injuries as a result of the defect. Rather than slow down a vehicle when impacted, the Trinity guardrails spear through the passenger compartment. A federal judge recently ordered the company to pay $663 million in penalties for concealing the design modification from federal officials. At least 14 lawsuits blame the guardrails for causing injuries in crashes, including five deaths, according to The New York Times.

4. Exploding Airbags Seriously Injure Motorists

Airbags made by Takata and installed in vehicles from 12 different automakers can explode when deployed, injuring or even killing occupants. A report published in The New York Times alleges that Takata knew of the defects for years but failed to take action. Since then the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has recalled 19 million vehicles in the United States, fined Takata for failing to cooperate with its investigation and handed down a record civil penalty of $200 million.

5. New Regulations Protect Nursing Home Residents

Proposed regulations would improve nursing home safety.

Proposed regulations would improve nursing home safety.

The federal watchdog for nursing home safety has proposed sweeping new regulations designed to improve patient care and safety for more than 1.5 million Americans living in long-term care facilities. Such regulations are long overdue, according to patient safety advocates, family members and nursing home lawyers, who report numerous cases of abuse and neglect. If the regulations are finalized, “unnecessary hospital re-admissions and infections would be reduced, quality care increased and safety measures strengthened,” according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

6. VW Trumps GM as Most Untrustworthy Car Maker

The scandal at Volkswagen over rigged emissions in more than 11 million cars worldwide reminds Americans once again that car manufacturers are often willing to jeopardize the health and safety of consumers to protect their profits. News of the VW scam comes just over a year after GM admitted it had covered up a defect in an ignition switch that has been blamed for at least 124 crash deaths. Both companies might have gotten away with their misconduct if not for a wrongful death lawsuit (in the case of GM) or a chance discovery by a small research team at West Virginia University (in the case of VW). Meanwhile, some in Congress are considering a bill that would bail out VW: learn more and tell Congress to vote no here.

7. Defective Products Create “House of Horrors”

Toxic drywall, failing sprinklers, leaking windows and even bursting toilets ... these are just a few of the defective and dangerous products that are featured in the “House of Horrors,” an informative infographic from the American Association for Justice. Each case demonstrates how consumers have fought back against shoddy manufacturers through class-action lawsuits, a right that is threatened by forced arbitration clauses as discussed above.

8. Toys Still Injuring Kids

Nearly 260,000 kids visit emergency rooms each year for toy-related injuries, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. And sadly, 11 children under the age of 12 died while playing with toys in 2014. The most common injuries include poisoning, choking, ingesting magnets or falling from riding toys. While regulators, safety advocates and the parents of injured children have succeeded in ridding store shelves of many unsafe toys, too many still get through. Learn more.

 This article appeared in our December 2015 "You Should Know" e-newsletter.