In Canada, there are over 160,000 seniors living in long-term care or assisted living homes. This number is increasing steadily every year. You are trusting that the healthcare professionals working in the facility are properly trained, compassionate, and will provide adequate care to protect their health and safety of all patients. Unfortunately, there are systemic issues in the healthcare system that can give rise to situations involving nursing home neglect or elder abuse. The recent COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the deeply rooted issues in the nursing and long-term care system, and the substandard living conditions of many residents.
Residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities are entitled to live in dignity. They have a right to a high-quality standard of living as they age towards the end of their lives. Nursing home abuse lawyers can help families and loved ones seek justice when these situations lead to serious injuries or illnesses.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
A nursing home is a skilled facility for the care of elderly or senior people. They may also be referred to as long-term care facilities. They provide a wide range of medical and personal care services. Some also provide housing and housekeeping, or specialized programming.
Oftentimes, seniors need to be placed to a nursing home for reasons outside the family’s control. The medical and personal care needs of an elderly person can exceed the capabilities of a family, especially where that senior is sick or dealing with symptoms of a neurodegenerative disease, like dementia. Many lack the resources to afford at-home care and need to place their loved one in a nursing home.
Senior abuse and senior neglect are two distinct concepts. Senior abuse can take the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, or financial abuse. Neglect is the lack of proper care or appropriate action. Elderly people are especially susceptible to abuse and neglect because of their vulnerable position under the care and control of others, typically with overlying physical or psychological impairments and limitations.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
The abusers in nursing homes can be any employee of the long-term care facility. Perpetrators of abuse can include nursing staff, long-term care staff, or any general caregivers. The following are five of the most common categories of nursing home abuse in Canada.
Physical abuse is most easily identified and straightforward. Any act done by a nursing home staff that falls outside of their standard of care owed to the patient that causes harm or serious injury can fall into this category.
Examples or indicators of physical abuse include:
- Unexplained injuries bruises, scratches, or cuts
- Broken bones
- Unusual marks on the body
- Missing hair or bald spots
- Uncharacteristic pain.
Physical abuse can also occur during medication administration, for example, a drug overdose would qualify as physical abuse.
Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse, threatening, harassing, controlling, intimidating, or negatively affecting the mental state of a nursing home resident. Emotional abuse is more difficult to identify.
Warning signs of emotional abuse are:
- Emotional stress
- Anxiety, irritability, and agitation
- Emotional withdrawal
- Sudden changes in behaviour
- Attempts to flee the facility
- Aversion to being touched
- Acting frightened
- Lack of interest or enjoyment
- Behaving differently around caregivers
Sexual abuse includes inappropriate physical contact with a nursing home resident. It can span from groping to sexual intercourse with a patient who is not capable of consenting or did not consent.
Physical signs that can indicate sexual abuse include:
- Pelvic injury
- Trouble sitting or walking
- Bleeding or discomfort in the genital area
- Torn, bloody, or lack of undergarments
- Aversion to being touched
- Contraction of an STI
Financial abuse is the mishandling, defrauding, or denial of a nursing home resident or senior access to financial resources belonging to them. The risk of financial abuse is heightened where there is capacity and decision-making issues with the senior. Financial abuse can occur at nursing homes and long-term care facilities where staff and caregivers create special relationships with the residents in vulnerable positions.
Signs of financial abuse are:
- Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts
- Changes to legal documents
- Unpaid bills
- Sudden changes in spending
- Big purchases that are unnecessary or never materialize
Neglect is the intentional or unintentional deprivation of care or treatment that a resident needs, such as nourishment, medication, or hygienic or personal care assistance.
Signs of neglect can include:
- Messy or unclean appearance
- Unusual odor
- Weight loss
- Unexplained pressure/bed sores
- Dehydration or malnutrition
- Overmedication or chemical restraint (see Overmedication in Nursing Homes link).
Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Certain health conditions make nursing home residents more vulnerable to senior abuse. Alzheimer’s or dementia, mental illness, or physical disabilities come with limitations that render elderly people reliant and vulnerable to their caregivers. Identifying nursing home abuse can be particularly challenging when the resident has a health condition that impairs their capacity to communicate, make decisions, or understand their circumstances. It is especially difficult to identify abuse where a resident cannot speak for themselves and there are no witnesses to the abuse.
In addition to the signs of nursing home abuse listed in the categories above, poorly maintained property can be a sign of neglect. Elderly people are more likely to experience a slip and fall accident compared to other demographics. Additionally, many elderly people use mobility aids such as wheelchairs or walkers to move and function within their facility. If the nursing home or long-term care facility is poorly maintained, with cluttered, messy, or unkept surroundings, then the risk that a resident using a mobility aid will slip, trip, or fall is increased. Hazards also extend to outdoors areas (for example, uncleared snow or icy patches outside of a nursing home entrance).
Other hazardous issues that could lead to accidents in nursing homes include:
- Wet or recently mopped floors
- Loose tiles or uneven carpet
- Uneven surfaces
- Poor lighting
- Broken or missing handrails on stairs
- Improperly maintained driveway or sidewalks outside the home
Common injuries sustained by seniors in slip and fall accidents include:
- Fractured bones
- Broken hips
- Back and neck injuries
- Concussions or traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal injuries
If your family member or loved one has injured themselves at their nursing home because of a hazardous maintenance issue, regardless of whether they use a mobility aid, contact a personal injury lawyer at Valent Legal to discuss your legal options.
When is a Nursing Home Liable for Elder Abuse?
Many nursing home abuse lawsuits involve abuses or neglect resulting from improperly trained staff. There are widespread systemic issues in the nursing home industry that have resulted in understaffing. Many facilities can only afford to pay staff minimum wage and operate on a low budget. Operational costs often fall to the wayside while facilities fight to keep up with costly medical services necessary for elderly care.
Common causes of nursing home abuse include:
- Negligent hiring
- Lack of management or supervision
- Inadequate training
- Lack of funding
A nursing home, nursing staff, or caregiver employed by a nursing home can be liable for nursing home abuse where there is failure to meet the standard of care causing harm to the resident. The standard of care owed will depend on the field of the treatment provider and the circumstances of the resident. Determining the factors related to acceptable standards of care can be complicated in nursing homes where the medical issues are complex and overlapping. A breach of the standard can be caused by any number of factors, such as improper training, lack of management or supervision or staff shortages.
What to Expect When Working with a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer
By filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit, you may be able to hold the abusers accountable, pursue compensation, and potentially prevent others from experiencing the same abuse.
Establish the Facts
A nursing home abuse lawyer will do an initial consult and review the relevant information available to determine the essential facts and elements of your claim.
File the Case
Once the facts are established and the nursing home abuse lawyer determines you have a viable case, they will file a lawsuit within the two-year limitation period to bring the claim.
A nursing home abuse lawyer will then gather additional information to support your claim. This information can be in the form of medical expert opinions, medical records, investigation reports, or oral evidence given at discovery.
Negotiate a Settlement
A nursing home abuse lawyer will help you negotiate a settlement with the Defendant (the party being sued) by claiming damages for pain and suffering, emotional distress, psychological injury, or medical expenses. In wrongful death cases, a lawyer will claim for your loss of care and companionship.
If a settlement is not possible, a nursing home abuse lawyer will represent you at a trial.
How Much Does a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Cost?
A nursing home abuse lawyer at Valent Legal operates on a contingency fee basis. Contingency means that the lawyer only gets paid if they are successful in negotiating a settlement or winning you an award for damages in court. They do not charge fees upfront.
If you or your loved one has suffered a injury, physical or emotional, due to nursing home abuse or neglect, book a free consultation to speak with a personal injury lawyer at Valent Legal today.