According to recent statistics compiled by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1.4 million Americans are currently long-term residents in nursing facilities. Many people spend years in nursing homes due to old age or physical disability. Unfortunately, residents of these facilities may be at risk for abuse. The vulnerability of nursing home residents can make them targets of neglect or mistreatment.
Resident abuse is a serious problem in many nursing homes
Incidents of resident abuse in Chicago nursing homes are tragically common in the case files of any personal injury lawyer. Common abusive acts in long-term care facilities include all of the following:
- Assault and physical attacks
- Unnecessarily rough treatment
- Verbal abuse or emotional coercion
- Sexual assault
- Financial exploitation
Resident abuse is a serious obstacle to the health of people in nursing homes. In extreme cases, mistreatment of this kind can be life-threatening.
Many people face a shortened life span because of improper treatment in long-term care facilities. According to a CBS report, one out of every four American nursing homes was formally cited during 2000 for directly causing serious injury or early death to at least one resident. Several hundred thousand residents are in severe danger of abuse at any given time.
Primary risk factors for resident abuse
The risk factors for nursing home resident abuse are complicated. The most common factors include insufficient staffing, lack of training, a poorly maintained physical environment and burnout among employees. Abuse is also more prevalent when patients are seriously disabled. The symptoms of dementia and dependence can put residents at risk for inappropriate treatment, especially when staff are overworked and do not know how to meet the needs of their residents in an efficient way.
When nursing facilities take the time to recognize these risk factors, they can battle the growing problem of resident abuse. A Chicago personal injury lawyer knows that long-term care providers should pay attention to the following three principles in their effort to keep patients safer and more comfortable.
Prevention strategy #1: Increase resident involvement and family involvement
When residents are involved in their own care, they are at a much lower risk of abuse. CDC studies show that residents are healthier and less susceptible to mistreatment if they have control over the details of their daily life. Many residents are capable of choosing their own mealtimes, their own bedtimes and their own hygiene schedules. Patient independence can decrease conflict between staff and residents.
Residents are also safer when their families and friends are involved in their care. Many cases of abuse take place among residents who rarely or never receive visitors from outside. Family involvement is an important strategy for fending off the risk of abuse. If there is no family present, an ombudsman should visit the resident regularly and speak up about any possible concerns.
Prevention strategy #2: Offer stress management and training to all staff
All people who work in a nursing facility must be appropriately trained for the job. Training is an ongoing effort, not a one-time course. Many cases of abuse take place when staff are faced with an unexpected or threatening situation, such as a patient with advanced dementia who becomes uncooperative or even physically combative. Learning communication skills and non-violent care techniques can substantially cut the risk of abuse in stressful situations.
Avoiding employee burnout is also a crucial part of fighting nursing home resident abuse. When a staff member is forced to help too many residents in too little time, there may be a danger of rough treatment or neglect. Staff have the right to a manageable workload. They also have the right to learn skills for coping with the stress of handling difficult residents.
When nursing home staff are expected to deal with aggressive people on a day-to-day basis, they should be as thoroughly trained as law enforcement professionals who must restrain and negotiate with violent suspects. The more options available to staff, the less likely they are to resort to abuse.
Prevention strategy #3: Build a strong policy on abuse prevention
Abuse of elderly nursing home residents is a problem that is often hidden. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, only one out of every 14 cases is reported to the appropriate authorities. When nursing facilities build a strong policy directed toward abuse prevention, they can keep their patients safer.
A robust abuse prevention policy should include all of the following points:
- Regular meetings of staff, supervisors and consultants
- Consistent use of checklists to identify symptoms of abuse
- A zero-tolerance policy for abuse of residents
- Investigation of all injuries, serious falls and unexpected deaths
- Standard protocols for reporting all cases of suspected abuse
All staff must be trained in these points. Their training should be updated regularly as needed. Temporary staff must also receive appropriate training, even when they are only employed in the nursing facility for a period of a few weeks or months.
Protecting vulnerable residents
Nursing homes are designed to protect vulnerable residents and help them live their lives with dignity. Abuse prevention is an absolutely crucial part of this project. By following these three basic steps to prevent abuse, facilities can create a safer environment for their residents.
Families who suspect nursing home neglect or abuse in a Chicago facility may find it helpful to speak with a personal injury lawyer.