This is a guest post written by staff writer Ryan Collins.
Moving a loved family member into a nursing home is often a heartbreaking decision. During this difficult time, nursing home abuse is typically the last thing on the minds of family members.
This was certainly the case within my family. Throughout my childhood my uncle Tommy lived with me, my mother, father and sister. My uncle Tom had Down Syndrome and could not live independently, so he stayed with us. If you know someone with Down Syndrome, then you understand how loving and uplifting their personalities are.
Having my uncle Tom living with me as I grew up was a true gift, and undoubtedly helped shape me into the person I am today.
Yet as my uncle aged he began to struggle with his memory. At first he would forget to do the laundry, or misplace something simple like his shoes. However over time his memory got worse, until one day he forgot my name.
His memory and ability to take care of himself continued to diminish as the months and years went by. Our family came to the conclusion that Tommy was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I did not really understand what this meant at the time, but for my mother and father the news of Alzheimer’s proved utterly devastating.
Caring for my uncle soon became overwhelming for my family. For my mother it became a full-time job. As the weeks and months rolled by the situation only worsened.
After many family meetings, my mother and her siblings made the difficult decision to move my uncle Tommy to a nursing home. The burden that Alzheimer’s had brought to my family had become too much for us to handle on our own.
Nursing Home Abuse
Once my uncle settled into a Massachusetts nursing home, we began visiting him on a regular basis. We acquainted ourselves with the staff of nurses, care takers and providers. I even became friends with some of the other residents. For the first few months things were difficult emotionally, but I felt relief knowing that the day-to-day burden no longer rested on my mother’s shoulders.
However a new burden soon emerged when my mother noticed bed sores developing on my uncle. Bed sores often develop when people are left lying in bed for too long. My uncle was supposed to be moved from his bed to a chair during the day. Clearly this was not occurring.
My mother then began “surprising” the nursing home staff by visiting my uncle at odd times. Instead of visiting Tommy in the evening, she would stop in at 6AM. Or my mother would cut out of work and surprise the staff by showing up mid-afternoon. At this point, my mother knew the schedule that my uncle was supposed to be on. By schedule I mean that my mother knew when my uncle should be in bed, in his chair, in his wheelchair, at dinner etc.
Sadly, my mother would routinely find my uncle still in bed during the afternoon. Often times he had not been bathed or brought to the bathroom. Because of the nursing home staff’s negligence, my uncle would commonly remain in soiled clothes, lying in bed for 15 hours or more.
I recall one day in particular when we found my uncle in a contorted position, with circulation to his arm cut off and his face a mere four inches from the wall. Tommy had been left in this uncomfortable position, completely helpless and staring at the wall for over 12 hours.
This sort of treatment became more and more routine as Tommy’s nursing home stay progressed, and his ability to speak for himself diminished.
What to Do?
By now my family had established what we thought to be close ties with nursing home staff. Yet approaching them about the poor conditions that my uncle was routinely being left in proved awkward and difficult.
On one hand we wanted to scream at the staff for being so incompetent. Yet on the other hand we knew that my uncle would be left alone with them – so we did not want to anger them and subsequently cause more nursing home abuse.
At this point I recall being much more aware of how other residents at the home were being treated. Overall I remember care being minimally adequate. The staff did the bare minimum and showed little empathy for the residents and their difficult conditions.
The truth of the matter is that nursing homes do not attract top-notch talent. Of course there are exemplary nursing homes throughout the nation with competent employees. Yet most nursing home employees are underpaid, overworked and burnt out. Turnover in this industry is extremely high, which negatively impacts care. I believe this in part leads to increased incidents of nursing home abuse.
According to a study published by Masters in Health Care:
- 92% of all nursing homes employ at least 1 criminal
- One nurse may be responsible for the care of up to 30 residents
- 90% of U.S. nursing homes have staff levels that are too low for adequate care
Resident-to-resident nursing home abuse is also common. Alzheimer’s and dementia patients in particular are subject to uncontrollable physical outbursts. I witnessed firsthand how combative and dangerous these situations can be. In many instances the resident has to be physically constrained.
The roommates of these combative residents are at a high risk of abuse. Often times resident-to-resident nursing home abuse goes undetected, because it may happen during the middle of the night in the privacy of their own room.
Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers | Reasons to Seek Help
My family never sought legal assistance as we progressed through my uncle’s nursing home ordeal. My mother assumed that trying to prove nursing home abuse, when the victim could not even speak for themselves, would be impossible.
Instead my family spoke with management, who then did their best to cover up any evidence of abuse. This of course caused more turmoil once staff found out that we had complained to their supervisors.
What we found to be most saddening were the residents who were abused and had no family visiting them. A resident who cannot vocalize their discomfort and has no family routinely visiting them, is a target for nursing home abuse. These residents are often bumped down to the bottom of the list and are in some instances literally forgotten.
If you witness nursing home abuse, I urge you to consider seeking legal counsel. The way I view it, victims of nursing home abuse need someone to speak for them. If you and I do not speak up, then nobody will.
While you and I may not be able to fix America’s nursing home problems, we can make a difference one case at a time. The impact of such a case may be exactly what we need to spark positive change in the nursing home industry.