Nursing homes are a part of the fabric of society today. Many families rely on nursing homes to provide much needed care for their loved ones for a variety of reasons. Nursing homes are supposed to be safe havens for our seniors to be cared for in a caring environment which does not subject them to unnecessary safety and security risks.
However, the opposite is becoming all too common in Ontario nursing homes and virtually in such places around the world. It is, unfortunately, not unusual to read about cases of nursing home residents because neglected, beaten and even sexually assaulted by nursing home staff. In fact, staff-to-resident abuse in long-term care homes are up a massive 148% from the numbers reported just a few years ago in 2011. The news articles on this topic are frightening and give families good reason for concern in keeping their loved ones safe as residents of nursing homes.
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What are the risks to nursing home residents?
Nursing home residents are often more vulnerable
One of the issues that complicates the safety of loved ones who are nursing home residents is that often such residents have dementia or other cognitive impairments that make it difficult for the resident to communicate when things go wrong. This also makes nursing home residents especially vulnerable to abuse because staff members know that they can engage in behavior that would otherwise not be tolerated by residents who had full cognitive abilities.
Staffing ratios are often inadequate
In light of the fact that more nursing home residents have dementia or other cognitive impairments, many nursing homes have not adequately increased their staffing levels to appropriate levels to handle the extra care and security concerns that arise when caring for cognitively impaired nursing home residents.
Security systems may provide additional security and safety to residents, but they’re not universally implemented
Some nursing homes have instituted greater levels of security systems to protect both residents and staff as well. However, the cost of doing so on a whole scale basis is substantial and there is a fundamental concern about interfering with a resident’s right to privacy. At present, security systems including cameras are not adequate to fully protect residents.
Staff screening processes cannot catch everything
While there are certainly background screening requirements that apply to employees in nursing homes, those processes are only good at catching previous legal violations that might be of concern. There is no guarantee that staff members who have previously engaged in abuse of residents at another facility which went undetected will not be employed by a subsequent facility. There is a trend also that often when nursing homes do discover problem employees, they do not properly report abuse or other violations to law enforcement as they should. This simply makes the problem worse for all involved.
Medication errors are common
Another significant cause of injuries and deaths in nursing homes is medication errors. Sometimes staff do not pay sufficient attention to the dosing of medications or ensuring that the correct patient receives their prescribed medications.
Another very common complaint of nursing home residents and their families is simply a failure to provide adequate care. This can be as simple as answering a call light, providing adequate nutrition and hydration and ensuring that a resident’s basic needs are met. This can be particularly frustrating for families who are paying substantial sums of money for a high level of care, yet their family member’s basic needs are not being met.
If a resident of a nursing home is injured or the victim of nursing home abuse, how can a family go about having such abuse addressed in the legal system?
In some cases, depending on the nature of the allegations, criminal charges may be appropriate. If a family member becomes aware of serious allegations of abuse involving his or her family member, those should promptly be reported to law enforcement as well as the nursing home management.
A high profile and well publicized case involving a famous Canadian Portrait Artist Danae Chambers hits home how serious these situations can be. Ms. Chambers, who suffered from dementia, was sexually assaulted at the hands of a nursing home employee who was a registered practical nurse in the facility where she lived. The incident was discovered by another employee who then reported it. Particularly troubling in this case was that other staff had noticed that this employee had often been unaccounted for during his shifts for extended periods of time. Clearly this is something that the nursing home should have investigated when information was received that put management on notice of serious concerns.
In this case, the perpetrator faced criminal charges and the nursing home also faced civil liability for failing to protect its resident in this case.
Nursing homes can be liable for negligence in connection with the care of its residents. They owe a duty to exercise reasonable care on many fronts including the hiring and supervision of employees, ensuring that conditions in the nursing home are safe and not presenting conditions that create an unreasonable risk of harm.
An unfortunate issue in this area of the law is so often many claims go unreported either by family members or the nursing homes themselves. This can lead to additional instances of residents being assaulted or injured.
In light of the Chambers matter referred to above, there was a great push to increase reporting and investigation of nursing home abuse complaints. However, this still depends greatly on nursing homes adequately reporting incidents when the occur. Thus, it is not a perfect system and nursing homes have every incentive to cover up problems that occur.
Seeking help in the face of nursing home abuse
If you or your family member are injured in a nursing home, it is critical to seek out competent legal advice as soon as possible.
Investigations may need to be undertaken to determine what types of negligence claims exist and the process for pursuing those claims.
Depending on the type of claim involved, there are many potential options available to families of nursing home patients for addressing wrongs that they have suffered in nursing homes.
All nursing home residents deserve to be cared for in an environment that will not cause harm to them. The legal process available to families to remedy such injuries is designed to not only compensate victims and their families but to also ensure that other families do not face the same issues at the hands of nursing homes.