Unveiling the Reality of Wrongful Death in US Nursing Homes
As we age, we face risks of declining health, cognitive function, and independence. Not everyone is equipped to care for their aging loved ones, so often, we rely on assisted living facilities and nursing homes to care for them in their golden years. So what do you do when these caretakers fail drastically?
The United States is facing a crisis of elder abuse. From domestic violence to neglect and abuse in nursing homes, the risks persist for our loved ones. Abuse and neglect can have lasting impacts on their physical and mental health; in the worst scenarios, it can kill them.
Our elders deserve better. In this blog post, we’re focusing on the types and signs of abuse, how we can protect our loved ones, and what to do if they pass before their time due to abuse.
A Brief Look at Elder Abuse
Elders can experience multiple types of abuse or neglect. The risks aren’t concentrated in nursing homes alone, despite systemic issues in the care system. Elders can be abused in their own homes and assisted living facilities as well.
Abuse can be physical, emotional, financial, or sexual; it can also include abandonment and neglect. Elders at risk for abuse include anyone with underlying health issues that affect their mobility or cognitive function, those who need help taking care of themselves, anyone who don’t have an active support network or family, and residents over 60.
Elders facing abuse or neglect may be too embarrassed or scared to confide in their family and friends, so it’s important to know the warning signs of abuse. Red flags can include unexplained changes in weight (loss or gain), new injuries, the development of STIs, bed sores, and sepsis.
Unfortunately, sometimes abuse goes undiscovered until an emergency develops, and specific emergencies like sepsis can be fatal.
Protecting Our Loved Ones From Abuse
There is no foolproof method to ensure our loved ones do not face abuse, but we can do our best to prevent their exposure to bad actors or neglectful situations. Here are a few things we can do:
Make a Plan
Call the family in charge of care together and make a plan. If your loved one still has full cognitive function or some independence, include them in the conversation. Discuss end-of-life wishes, medical wishes, power of attorney, and more. If you can have all of your forms complete and stored with a lawyer, your loved one won’t have to be worried about emotional or financial manipulation, such as being scammed into signing over their power of attorney or writing checks for false reasons. This way, you know their wishes are honored in their final years.
Research Local Facilities and Caretakers
Whether your loved ones need to move into a home or be cared for on their own, you need to perform due diligence on anyone who may care for them. Check recent news stories and legal battles involving elder abuse. Perform background checks on at-home nurses. Tour potential nursing homes and speak to the staff and other residents if you can. Make sure that facilities are in good condition, you don’t see any obvious safety concerns, and residents appear happy and cared for. Abusive conditions aren’t always readily apparent, so don’t feel guilty if you don’t catch anything amiss only to find out there was abuse.
One of the best ways to protect your loved one is to stay involved in their life. Talk to them often and keep an eye on their health conditions. Go to visit and check in with the staff on how your loved one is doing and how they are doing. Not only will this allow you to have a full picture of your loved one’s health, but you can keep an ear to the ground on working conditions to ensure staff have the support and training they need. If they know you are an ally to healthcare workers, they may be more willing to confide in you. Sometimes, nurses feel powerless in the face of administrative failures or staffing issues; paying residents and their families have more power to approach management, and you can do so confidentially without dropping the names of concerned staff.
Know What Can Lead to Abuse and Neglect
Elder abuse isn’t always malicious. AT times, it’s systemic issues in the administration, such as poor policy and procedure, poor hiring practices, lack of training, lack of accountability, lack of documentation, understaffing, and more. When staff are overworked and stressed, they can make mistakes— they’re only human. Other times, someone may snap at a resident or take out their frustrations on them.
In other instances, the abuse is purposeful and malicious. Abusers are known to seek positions of power over vulnerable people, and they are skilled at intimidating their victims into silence. That’s why it’s important to care for your loved one actively in an attempt to catch any warning signs.
What to Do In The Case of Wrongful Death
Having a loved one pass away unexpectedly can be devastating. Many families fall into the trap of blaming themselves, especially when they learn the death could have been prevented or that there were signs of abuse.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that the only person at fault is the abuser. You did everything in your power for your loved one. Sometimes our best efforts just aren’t enough. It is not your fault.
Once you’ve repeated that to yourself a few times, it’s time to go on the warpath.
Seek Legal Help
If your loved one showed signs of abuse or died from preventable sepsis, then those responsible should be held accountable. Get copies of the autopsy and medical report and any bills and statements from their medical care. Take your documentation to a nursing home abuse and wrongful death attorney for a free consultation. They will guide you on the next steps, but it generally includes some paperwork, filing reports to the proper authorities, and making a claim against the facility that failed your loved one.
Contact the Authorities
Organizations like Adult Protective Services will handle criminal investigations and lawsuits while your lawyer helps you with a civil claim. Civil claims allow families to seek compensation to cover the financial costs of losing their loved one, including funeral and burial costs, but most importantly, they provide peace of mind. Lawsuits hold abusers accountable and force them to face the consequences. They allow you to seek justice for your loved one and protect future vulnerable residents.
Other Things You Can Do
If a lawsuit doesn’t feel like enough, you can contact advocacy organizations fighting elder abuse across the nation for further ideas. The fight is ongoing and far from over; every active participant helps.
Did you lose a loved one to nursing home abuse or another preventable condition? Don’t hesitate to seek legal assistance and contact advocacy organizations for help. Your loved one deserves justice. Our elders deserve to have people fight to protect them. You can join the cause today.