High Rates of Elderly Abuse Across the United States

Sydney Rice, Class of 2023

It’s important how we treat our elders. It has been an unspoken rule for decades that the young shall respect elders. After all, they have been here longer than any of us and have a lot more knowledge than us. 

Many people have put  elderly family members in senior living facilities with the assumption that they will be cared for and respected. Disappointingly there have been way too many cases of elders being mistreated in senior living facilities. According to an article from Nursing Home Abuse Guide,  “most forms of elder abuse are very rare in assisted living facilities. However, emotional and verbal abuse are an exception. At least 20% of residents in these facilities suffer from regular verbal abuse. This abuse mostly consists of insults and humiliating comments said by staff and other residents. Some studies also suggest that fellow residents are more likely than staff to commit the emotional abuse in these facilities.” 

Both neglect and abuse happen in senior living homes. Neglect and abuse are very different. Neglect is when you purposely ignore or ignore and fail to provide the necessary means to the subject. Abuse is when you purposely inflict pain on another, whether it is physical, mental, emotion, etc. “Institute of Medicine gives a clearer picture of those complaints. It identified three categories of harm which occur in nursing homes: Abuse, Neglect, Inadequate Care …. Inadequate care is when provisions are provided but not enough to ensure the resident’s health, safety, and well-being” said Holm Law Group. 

If this is the case for you or a loved one the best option is to reevaluate and come to a conclusion of moving them to a more reputable  facility or for them to come live with you. Then the next step would be to report the situation to the proper authorities. And while that investigation is taking place move out the resident into whichever you both have decided upon; another facility or coming home with you. 

There’s not much to do to stop evil in this world, but there are laws set in place to protect residents of senior living facilities.  Boyd Law states that “the new laws establish a bill of rights for residents in assisted living facilities akin to that which already exists for nursing home residents” and that “residents must also now have representation on assisted living homes’ governing boards as well as quarterly reporting of financial statements. Additionally, the laws increase the maximum fine from $150 to $15,000 for violations that cause death.” said Boyd Law.

According to the Holm Law Group, the steps to take when filing a complaint are:

  1. Prepare complaint and describe incident (must include the following)
    1. Nursing home name and address
    2. Your name, contact info, and relation to harmed resident
    3. Date and time of incident(s)
    4. A concise description of the incident
    5. Names of people who committed the act(s) of abuse and/or neglect
    6. Documents or records that can provide evidentiary support to your complaint
  2. Submit your complaint and documentation to the DPH.

In more serious cases the complaint can be reported to the CANHR (The California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform). 

  1. The Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud & Elder Abuse (BMFEA), if the complaint is serious abuse or neglect or Medi-Cal fraud.
  2. The Ombudsman’s Office. 
  3. The offices of relevant California Senators.
  4. The office of your California Assembly Member.

 Some examples of abuse according to California Department of Social Services  are:

  • Physical abuse – includes under and over-medicating
  • Sexual abuse – includes forcing an elderly to view pornographic materials
  • Abandonment – willful desertion
  • Isolation – keeping the elderly from receiving visitors, phone calls, mail, etc. from family and friends
  • Financial – theft, misuse of the elderly’s money through fraud or coercion
  • Neglect – failure to provide for the elderly’s needs 
  • Mental – includes verbal assault and fear-mongering
  • Abduction – taking an elderly out of the state or preventing them from returning to the state  

The Holm Law Group stated, “Congress wrote the Nursing Home Reform Act and pass it as part of the OBRA 1987. It established the ten rights of nursing home residents that are still recognized today.”

  1. The right to not receive any form of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment;
  2. To not be subject to physical restraints;
  3. To have privacy;
  4. To have their medical, physical, psychological, and social needs provided or accommodated;
  5. To enjoy the company of their family and participate in activities with other residents;
  6. To be treated with dignity;
  7. To speak out and communicate freely;
  8. To exercise self-determination;
  9. To be an active participant in the planning of their care plan. This means being aware of any changes in their care or treatment and the status of the facility itself; and
  10. To raise concerns and grievances without fear of discrimination, reprisal, or retaliation.

Even though the numbers aren’t outrageous, one case is too many.. According to the nursing home abuse center, there have been some victims that shared their story. 

A nursing home on the East Coast was suspected of nursing home abuse and then underwent an investigation. “After responding to a call about a faulty ventilator, firefighters found that none of the electrical outlets in a resident’s room were working. An injured nursing home resident was on the floor asking for help, but when firefighters asked the staff member in charge about it, she just laughed,” explained a 911 response to a nursing home in an article discussing a nursing home on the East Coast was suspected of nursing home abuse and then underwent on investigation. “Firefighters found staff performing CPR on a man who had already been dead for hours.” 

A different home: “A male caregiver at a  care facility was sentenced to eight years in prison for the rape of a nursing home resident with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Neglect in another nursing home: “A nursing home resident in Iowa died after extreme neglect related to dehydration. The emergency room doctor believes she died from a stroke after not receiving any type of fluid for at least four to five days. The nursing home was fined $77,463.”

Reported stories about abuse of all kinds in nursing homes in the United States. 

“#1 – Sexual Exploitation

An 83-year-old woman in a Minneapolis care facility was violated by a male caregiver in 2014. The patient was unable to speak, which made it challenging for her to report the abuse she endured. The perpetrator was sentenced to eight years in prison for his actions. “I still feel the guilt of not being able to take care of her myself and having to entrust her care to others only to have her subjected to this unthinkable assault,” her daughter said.

#2 – Severe Neglect

A woman in an Iowa nursing home lost her life as a result of severe neglect. She was hospitalized when an overnight nurse reported that the resident was moaning around 3 a.m. When she arrived at the hospital, an emergency room physician explained to her daughter that she was extremely dehydrated and had probably suffered a stroke. The physician stated that the resident went without water or any type of fluids for at least four or five days. The facility was fined $77,463 for deficiencies in care.

#3 – Physical Abuse

A patient in a New Jersey nursing facility was a victim of physical force when the disoriented resident refused to get up from the toilet. In order to make the resident stand up, an abusive certified nurse aide (CNA) “began to pull the resident’s hair and pull the nipple on the resident’s breast to get the resident to stand up,” according to inspectors. The incident went unreported for five days because the aide who witnessed the abuse was afraid to speak out.

#4 – Negligent Homicide

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana hard. A mandatory evacuation order was issued in order to keep Louisiana residents safe. Many nursing homes in the region evacuated residents, but one nursing facility decided not to. The facility stated they were afraid moving the residents would put them at risk since the owners were confident that the nursing home was safe on high ground. When the levees broke, floodwaters rushed in, drowning 35 residents, most of whom were still in their hospital beds or wheelchairs. The owners of the facility were ultimately tried on 35 counts of negligent homicide and 24 counts of cruelty to the elderly.

#5 – Multiple Acts of Sexual Abuse

In North Carolina, a male caregiver was accused of sexually abusing six women in three facilities in the region throughout the course of two decades. The victims were all in their 50s to 80s and suffered from long-term debilitating ailments. The perpetrator was found guilty on two counts of forcible rape, one count of forcible sex, and three counts of sexual activity by a custodian. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.”

These are just a few interviews about the victims of nursing home abuse. 

What some people don’t think about is why abuse happens in nursing homes. It could be due to understaffing, inadequate staff training especially in dementia care, lack of supervision, and becoming burnt out. But this does not justify abusing elders in nursing homes.  

Law offices all over the United States have dealt with elder abuse cases. Most of the time justice is received due to the well educated attorneys who will not stop until they get their client what they deserve.

Law Office SS&F  provides a list of verdicts and settlements obtained on the behalf of clients of nursing home abuse. Here are the settlements: 

“A nursing home committed elder abuse resulting in the wrongful death of a 65-year-old resident. In addition to $2.9 Million in compensatory damages and attorney’s fees, the court awarded $6 Million in punitive damages.”

A similar story happened at another nursing home.

“A 91-year-old woman fell repeatedly in an assisted living facility. On the last occasion, she fractured her shoulder and passed away while being hospitalized for her injury.”

Think of it this way, we have ancestors and in a sense they helped the cycle of creating our generation. We need to respect and help them. Put yourself in their shoes, you will someday need a little extra care and do you want your kids to put you in a care facility that will mistreat you? There needs to be change. A strong law set in place or more awareness about this massive issue happening in our world. Be part of the change, don’t help the issue.