Placing a loved one in a nursing home is never easy. When you make that decision, you entrust the staff at the nursing home to take care of your loved one as they would their own. Sadly, this is not always the case. Research continues to show that nursing home abuse is a serious problem in the United States. With an increasingly growing elderly population and a shortage of qualified healthcare workers, the nation is simply not providing the level of care expected of these facilities.
Because of its warm weather and low cost of living, Florida has always been a popular destination for older adults. Approximately 20 percent of Florida’s population consists of residents over the age of 65. By 2030, one in four residents will be a part of this age group. As these numbers continue to rise, the need for quality nursing homes will continue to increase as well. As such, it is of utmost importance that these residents receive the highest level of care.
Every year, Adult Protective Services receives complaints alleging abuse from all parts of Florida. Some of our most vulnerable citizens are not receiving the care that they deserve. Compounding this issue is that a large percentage of these cases go unreported, either because the victim is unable to report the abuse or is afraid to come forward. At Viles & Beckman, we believe there is no excuse for tolerating nursing home abuse.
About Viles & Beckman
At Viles and Beckman, we believe in delivering justice for our clients. With over 40 years of experience, we know the tactics that the defense uses to try to dismiss a claim. We understand that a legal proceeding can be emotionally draining for everyone involved, and our job is to minimize the emotional impact as much as possible. We have seen success in using mediation and negotiation to secure our clients fair and just settlements. While these methods often get clients the resolutions they are looking for, our team of experienced trial lawyers is ready to take your case to court if necessary.
As active members in the Fort Myers community, we care for the citizens of our state. We believe that all citizens should be treated equally and should not be intimidated by big corporations or insurance companies. Though our offices are in Fort Myers, our lawyers have worked with residents from all over Florida. Regardless of where you are located in Florida, if you would like to talk to a lawyer about possible nursing home abuse, contact our offices at 239-334-3933.
What Constitutes Nursing Home Abuse?
Florida nursing homes have a responsibility to provide a minimum standard of care. Unfortunately, various factors, including improper training, understaffing, and personnel problems, contribute to a failure to meet these standards. When this happens, residents can become victims of abuse or neglect. Even if the mistreatment is not intentional, a nursing home can still be held liable.
Though many people think of nursing home abuse as bedsores and bruises, abuse and neglect can present in many different forms. Remain vigilant and report any signs of abuse or neglect. Common types of abuse include:
- Physical abuse: Physical abuse is dangerous and can lead to serious injuries or death. Injuries may result from physical assault, improper use of restraints, or improper treatment. Report any suspicious marks or repeated injuries immediately. Unwanted sexual contact is illegal and constitutes physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse: Emotional abuse can be harder to detect than physical abuse. It can include verbal abuse, name-calling, intentional embarrassment, threats, and isolation. While the outward signs may not be visible, emotional abuse can be just as damaging and can lead to mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Severe emotional abuse may present with physical symptoms, including headaches, pain, fatigue. Changes in your loved one’s physical health, absent any underlying conditions, could be a sign of emotional abuse.
- Neglect: If a care facility fails to meet their obligations in providing for a resident’s basic needs, they may be guilty of neglect. Failure to administer medication, missing or inadequate meals, poor medical treatment, or improper hygiene qualify as neglect. Neglect is just as serious as abuse and can quickly lead to illness and injuries. It is also the care provider’s responsibility to make sure they take the necessary precautions to make sure residents do not wander off from the facility.
- Financial abuse: The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that financial abuse costs seniors over $2.6 billion annually. Financial abuse can include theft (including cash, checks, and credit cards), fraud, or mismanagement of funds.
Quality Care Isn’t Just a Basic Human Right, It’s the Law
Every human being has the right to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of age or disability. In Florida, the state has established the nursing home residents bill of rights. These laws outline the minimum services and level of care that all residents must receive. The bill of rights specifically states that a nursing home may not deny a resident any rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The residents’ bill of rights outlines 12 additional rights for nursing home residents. They include the right to:
- A clean and safe place to live
- Live with a spouse housed at the same facility
- Unrestricted private communication
- Religious freedom
- Express grievances and recommendations to staff
- Assistance obtaining appropriate healthcare
- Manage his or her own money
If a nursing home or member of its staff denies a resident of any of these rights, they are breaking the law. At Viles & Beckman, we will fight to hold the care facility responsible for their actions. Your loved one deserves to be treated with decency and respect.
Recognizing Signs of Abuse and Neglect
Depending on the type of abuse, signs of abuse and neglect may be easy to miss. Too often, caregivers get away with abuse because they know that many residents are unable or afraid to report the abuse. You are your loved one’s best advocate. If you believe that your family member is a victim of abuse, contact a nursing home abuse lawyer immediately. Signs to look out for include:
- Sudden changes in mood or behavior
- Weight loss
- Unexplained broken bones
- Frequent infections
- Unsanitary conditions
In addition to physical signs, pay attention to anything that doesn’t look right at the nursing home. This includes staff behavior, dirty conditions, high turnover, and inappropriate or unsafe conditions. Don’t be afraid to listen to your gut. If something doesn’t look right, don’t hesitate to report it.
Adults With Dementia Are Particularly at Risk
Residents with dementia may suffer from confusion, memory loss, and difficulty completing everyday tasks. Because of this, they are at greater risk of wandering off, potentially hurting themselves or becoming lost. Nursing homes have a responsibility to ensure the safety of all residents. This often includes additional security measures to prevent wandering. Failure to effectively monitor these patients constitutes neglect.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, elderly adults with dementia are at greater risk of abuse than those without dementia. Adults who suffer from dementia can suffer from memory and communication difficulties and may be unable to stop or report abuse. Last year, 520,000 adults in Florida were living with Alzheimer’s, a form of dementia. By 2025, this number will likely exceed 700,000. Statistics show that up to 55 percent of adults with dementia have been abused by a caregiver. Other risk factors that leave an adult vulnerable to abuse include:
- Low social support
- Diminished physical health
- Low income
- Previous traumatic events
Florida Has Seen a Recent Decline in Care
A 2019 state-by-state report card revealed that Florida slipped from number six to number 13 when it comes to the quality of nursing home care. Some of the details of the report were disturbing. The report noted that state inspectors issued at least one deficiency to almost every single nursing home in Florida. Even more troubling, nearly one in five nursing homes is currently on the state’s watch list for dangerous nursing home conditions.
Though Florida prides itself for consistently ranking in the top ten for nursing staffing levels, declines in this area have led to growing problems at long-term care facilities. Staffing shortages can mean that there are not enough nurses to provide proper care to all residents. It could also mean that the nurses on staff are working long hours and are not performing at the level we would hope for from our loved one’s care provider. Families for Better Care reports that staffing shortages are a key contributor to cases of abuse and neglect in the nation’s nursing homes.
What Should I Do If I Suspect a Loved One Is Being Abused?
Abuse is never okay. If you suspect that a family member is being abused or neglected, report it. The state does not require that you personally prove the abuse. Once you file a report, investigators will look into the complaint to determine the merit of the claim. Even if you are uncertain whether abuse has occurred, you still have the right to have the matter investigated.
If you believe that your loved one is in immediate danger, contact 911. Florida has strong penalties against those who abuse the elderly or disabled. Florida law holds that any person who knowingly and willingly abuses an elderly or disabled person without causing physical harm is guilty of a third-degree felony. A person found guilty of aggravated assault against an elderly or disabled person is guilty of a felony in the first degree. If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer right away.
Nursing Homes Can Face Criminal and Civil Consequences
In addition to pursuing criminal charges, victims of nursing home abuse have the right to pursue civil damages. Under Florida law, the resident, his or her guardian, a person or establishment representing the resident, or a representative of the deceased resident’s estate can be the plaintiff in a civil case. The petitioning party may request actual and punitive damages related to the resident’s abuse. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiff, the plaintiff has a right to pursue attorney fees. An experienced lawyer can help you gather evidence, file the necessary paperwork, and make sure your case is taken seriously. Cases involving allegations of abuse against a corporation can be difficult to prove, and the process can be emotionally draining. You want someone by your side who can make sure your loved one’s voice is heard.
The statute of limitations for filing a civil suit regarding nursing home abuse is two years from the time the incident is discovered or should have reasonably been discovered by a resident’s family or guardian. This is a relatively short time period, so take prompt action when you discover abuse.
Your Loved Ones Are Our Priority
Discovering abuse is heartbreaking. The lawyers at Viles and Beckman will handle your case with compassion and respect. We will work with you to remove your loved one from their situation and will fight aggressively to hold the responsible parties accountable for their actions. There is no excuse for abuse and anyone found guilty should face the appropriate consequences.
Our lawyers can help you and your loved one recover civil damages from the nursing home and staff. The effects of abuse can be devastating and long-lasting. Though money will not take away the abuse, it can help you deal with the aftermath and help you and your family member receive necessary care and can assist you in finding a new care facility. If you suspect abuse, an experienced Fort Myers nursing home abuse and negligence attorneys can help you understand your legal options. Contact Viles & Beckman at 239-334-3933 or online to schedule your free consultation and discuss the details of your case with an experienced professional.