By Emily Martin, Esq.
If you have a family member or loved one who is unable to live at home any longer, you may feel anxious about leaving them alone with strangers caring for them. Not only can it be confusing and difficult for someone to move into a nursing home, but you may be worried that your loved one will not be able to speak for himself if they become a victim of abuse or neglect.
While most facilities are safe and provide a protective environment for those who cannot care for themselves, unfortunately sometimes that is not the case. For example, in January 2019, the news broke that a 29-year-old woman in a vegetative state who was living in a nursing home gave birth at the facility. At the time, staff at the facility was shocked – no one knew she was pregnant. Later, it came to light that a worker at the facility had been sexually abusing the patient for quite some time.
Although abuse to this extent is rare, the fact remains that assault, sexual or otherwise, is a crime that often goes unreported in nursing homes. Because of a cognitive impairment, those who suffer from dementia are the most likely victims of this type of assault – whether it comes from other residents, staff, and even complete strangers visiting the facility. So how can you protect your loved one from becoming a victim?
Evaluate the facility
When you begin to research nursing homes, visit them in person. Look around and ask questions. How personable is the staff? Are there enough staff members so that each resident receives adequate supervision? What is the quality of the management of the facility? Ask questions about training for the staff and whether all staff members, including volunteers and vendors, are required to have criminal background checks. If you have misgivings after receiving the answers to these questions or if you are unable to obtain answers at all, there is a good chance that it is not the right place for your loved one.
Check for signs of abuse
If a loved one has been physically abused, you may notice unexplained bruising or blood. They may withdraw from social activities and interactions and could possible react differently toward their abuser. They may begin suffering from nightmares or night terrors. Any of these are red flags that could indicate that your loved one is a victim of abuse.
Know your loved one’s rights
If a nursing home receives funds from Medicaid (which nearly all do), then it is subject to federal regulations with regard to the management of nursing homes. Under federal law, when two or more relatives of nursing homer residents meet, the facility is required to give them a place to meet. They also must respond to their recommendations or concerns within a certain time period. These “family councils” can be powerful tools. If a facility knows that family members are active advocates, they will have more incentive to provide proper care or their residents.
Reach out to your long-term care ombudsman
Each geographical area has a long-term care ombudsman whose role it is to serve as an advocate who can investigate complains for residents in long-term care facilities. If you feel that your loved one is being abused or neglected, a long-term care ombudsman can be a powerful tool in helping you get answers about your loved one’s care. They have the ability to investigate the conditions at the facility and make sure that the residents are receiving the care they need. An ombudsman can be a powerful ally for family members who live out of the area or who are unable to be physically present to advocate for their loved ones.
Call Adult Protective Services
Another possible resource for victims of abuse or neglect is Adult Protective Services (APS). APS has the ability to investigate claims of abuse and can offer a wide range of protective services, including legal intervention to protect adults who are being abused. In Virginia, APS is managed by the local Department of Social Services.
The most important thing you can do for a loved one in a nursing home is to make sure they have an advocate – someone who can recognize signs of abuse or neglect and act appropriately to remedy the situation if it does occur. While the majority of residents in nursing homes are not being abused or neglected, it is crucial to know what the signs are – and how to act if it happens to your loved one.
Ask Kit Kat: Helping Pelicans
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about how pelicans are treated when they get fishing line injuries?
Kit Kat: Well, there is such good news on this subject! There are 4 centers across the country that treat seabirds. One is in Murchsion, Texas, another in Oakland, Oregon, another in Ramona, California, and finally one in Ft.Lauderdale, Florida. The latter is the focus of today’s article. The Florida location is called the South Florida Wildlife Center. Headed by Dr. Renata Schneider, director, there have been great results in treating pelicans which have been caught up either in fishing hooks or fishing line. Since January, the center has treated 6 pelicans successfully which had serious injuries. Another 300 with minor injuries have also been treated. Pelicans have large mouths, so it is easy for them to swallow hooks or get line tangled in their beaks. When an injury is serious enough to warrant surgery, it requires fluid therapy and pain medication for a period of time after surgery before they can be released back to nature.
Dr. Schneider recommends that to keep seabirds safe, there are some things which can be done by those who fish or who happen to come by a bird in distress. First, never leave fishing line out on a pier or dock. Dispose of it in a trash can that has a covering such as a monofilament recycling canister or bin. These now are available on many piers. Second, keep cutting tables where fish are gutted free of any debris or fish remains. This attracts pelicans/birds which can swallow the remains which may also happen to have a hook left in it. Finally, if a bird is found with a line in its mouth, don’t cut the line. Carefully reel in the bird, and contact a veterinarian or wildlife center for help. Also, never hold a pelican’s beak completely shut. They breathe through their mouths, and if it is kept shut, they won’t be able to breathe. The good thing about pelicans, says Dr. Schneider, is that “they don’t get stressed out around people.” (Kelly L. Williams, “Pelican patients get patched up,” All Animals, June/July/August 2019, p. 14)