In 2004, 36.3 million Americans were over age 65. By 2050, that number is expected to grow to 86.7 million, or 21% of our total population. Of those, 1 to 2 million have reported abuse or neglect. However, studies published by the National Center on Elder Abuse indicate that only 1 in 14 incidents are actually reported. In addition, as many as 5 million older Americans are victims of financial exploitation. The same studies estimate only 1 in 25 exploitation cases are reported.
60% of elder abuse and neglect incidents are by known perpetrators, usually family members. 30% of those are spouses or intimate partners, 17% are adult children. Seniors aged 80 years and older are abused and neglected 2 - 3 times more frequently than citizens aged 65-79. The law requires workers in medicine, law enforcement, and social services to report suspected cases of abuse. Elder abuse accounts for nearly 70% of Adult Protective Service agencies' annual caseloads. 16.3% of all reports came from physicians or health care professionals 21.7% from service providers, 13.7% from family members. A 1998 study by the National Center on Elder Abuse shows the prevalence of types of abuse. These numbers are based on the year's 115,110 substantiated cases.
National Center on Elder Abuse, 1998 The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study: Final Report Washington, DC: Administration for Children and Families & Administration on Aging, US Department of Health and Human Services
Elder abuse is any action that harms or risks harm to a vulnerable adult. Abuse comes in many different forms, including:
Physical signs of abuse and neglect include scrapes and bruises, broken bones, pressure marks, bed sores, unusual weight loss, and poor hygiene. Emotional signs are unexplained withdrawal from social activities, depression, or sudden changes in alertness.
An estimated 1.5 million people live in licensed nursing homes, and another 900,000 live in residential care facilities. National Center on Elder Abuse, www.ncea.aea.gov. While reports suggest an epidemic of abuse, neglect, and theft from these residents, the exact numbers are difficult to determine. Fewer than 10% of America's nursing homes are adequately staffed to care for patients (CNN Interview - 2/23/2002). According to the Health and Human Services Department, patients in understaffed nursing homes are more likely to suffer from such problems as malnutrition, bed sores, serious blood born infections, pneumonia, weight loss, and dehydration. By 2030, the population of people aged 85 or older is expected to hit 8.9 million -- more than double the current population. These numbers indicate that the serious problem of nursing home abuse will only increase with time.
Nursing home abuse cases are chronically under-reported. Police are seldom called out to investigate, and when they are, it's often between 2 days and 2 weeks after the incident occurred. Residents are reluctant to report abuse out of fear. Nursing home staff is also reluctant to report either because they are not certain abuse occurred, or they fear for their jobs. By the time police are called in to investigate, residents have often forgotten the details, or evidence has been tampered with. A 2002 study by the US General Accounting Office found that reporting problems such as these cause difficulties in prosecuting abusive staff members.
Nursing home abuse refers to the emotional or physical abuse of elderly or vulnerable adults occurring in long-term care residential facilities or nursing homes. It is sometimes referred to as institutional elder abuse. Nursing homes are required to follow strict requirements to protect their residents from abusive employees. Illinois nursing homes must conduct background checks on their employee applicants, and are strictly prohibited from hiring anyone who has previously been convicted of abuse. Homes must verify the credentials of their licensed staff, including Registered Nurses and doctors.
Nurse aids, who interact with nursing home residents the most, must complete an approved training and competency evaluation program within 4 months of beginning work in a nursing home. A finding of abuse, neglect, or theft by a nurse's aid must be reported to a state registry, and the aide is thereby banned from employment in nursing homes. The US and Illinois have also created statutory rights for residents of nursing homes. However, while these Acts are certainly beneficial, many states lack the authority to pursue other staff members, such as maintenance or kitchen staff, who may abuse residents but are not subject to the same training and licensing procedures.
The Illinois legislature has enacted an important piece of litigation titled The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act. The Act grants extraordinary remedies to those who have been abused and neglected in nursing homes. The remedies available under the Act are not otherwise available in civil negligence actions, as in medical malpractice and product liability cases. Our nursing home attorneys know how to best use these tools when nursing home employees have injured residents and their families.
The Illinois Nursing Home Care Act defines abuse and neglect as:
Abuse -- any physical or mental injury or sexual assault inflicted on a resident other than by accident.
Neglect -- a facility's failure in a facility to provide adequate medical or personal care or maintenance, which results in physical or mental injury to a resident or in the deterioration of a resident's physical or mental condition.
Living Arrangements - a nursing home cannot force you to share a room with someone of the opposite sex. Also, if you and your spouse live in the same facility, the home must allow you to share a room unless a room is not available or a doctor prohibits it.
Religion - you have the right to practice the religion of your choosing, and the facility administrator must arrange for you to attend religious services if you wish.
Medical Care - you have the right to choose your own doctor at your own expense, or to refuse treatment if you wish. Should you refuse treatment, the facility must explain all potential consequences. The doctor and facility must provide you with all of your medical information in a way that is easy to understand. The facility must also keep your personal and medical information private.
Restraint - A facility cannot restrain you absent an emergency or the consent of you or your guardian. Such restraint must be the least restrictive form necessary, and the facility may not administer drugs if their only purpose is to subdue you.
Communication - Facilities cannot unreasonably restrict your right to mail and telephone communication except to protect you or others from harassment or harm. The facility may not admit any visitors into your room without your consent.
Finances - Facilities must allow you to manage your own funds unless the facility receives written consent from you or your guardian. If the facility does manage your funds, it must provide you or your guardian with a quarterly written statement of all transactions.
Abuse - you have the right to live free of abuse and neglect.
You can file a lawsuit against the facility if your rights are violated, or if you are injured by wrongful action of the facility or staff. A judge may award you compensation for your losses, as well as attorney's fees and court costs. If you file a lawsuit, the facility cannot evict, transfer, harass, or retaliate against you.
The rights under the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act are much the same as under the Illinois law. Residents in residential facilities or nursing homes are entitled to quality treatment and an environment that maintains or improves their overall physical and mental health. Available services must include rehabilitation and nursing services, comprehensive health care and assessments, dietary services, and a full time social worker if the facility has more than 120 residents. This Act imposes a certification requirement that all facilities must satisfy. In the event of a violation, a person may file a complaint against the facility, and sanctions may be imposed.
However, despite these safeguards, abuse and neglect are still the most common types of elder mistreatment in care facilities. Abuse and neglect committed in residential facilities or nursing homes are considered crimes. Staff, residents, volunteers, family members, visitors, guardians, and others violate state and federal law when they abuse or neglect a resident of such a facility. Seek out more information about nursing homes, selecting a home and proper care at a home, at any of the following links:
Nursing homes and residential facilities that fail to deliver treatment in a professional and compassionate manner may be held liable for claims brought by patients or their loved ones. The federal government, and Illinois, protects the elderly from abuse by providing a legal cause of action. Health care providers and staff, including those at nursing homes and residential facilities, proven not to give reasonable care to patients, can be guilty of medical malpractice.
If you know someone who has been abused, neglected or injured in a nursing home, please contact our office as soon as possible to help ensure preservation of evidence necessary to prove the claim. Often, those injured lack the ability to communicate with family and attorneys. This should not prevent you from pursuing an injury negligently caused in a nursing home. By timely obtaining the medical records, witness statements and other valuable evidence, we can prove most of these claims. Please do not delay in contacting our firm. Every claim has a statute of limitations, which will bar the case if not filed before it expires. Our firm has handled cases in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and other surrounding Illinois counties. Therefore, prompt attention is required in order to best insure that you receive just compensation for your injuries. If our firm cannot represent you, likely we can direct you to a firm who will properly handle the matter or we will explain, in as much detail as necessary, why we cannot assist you or refer your matter elsewhere. The information provided on this website does not constitute legal advice nor does it constitute an attorney client agreement. You are not considered a client until we have accepted your case and a retainer agreement is signed. Please read our full disclaimer.