Nursing Home Abuse

Understanding Nursing Home Abuse

Quick Answer

Every year, nursing home abuse leaves seniors financially ruined, physically harmed, emotionally scarred, or worse. The culprits are often other nursing home residents or even staff members, who are responsible for keeping residents healthy and happy. To protect those in nursing homes, family members should regularly check in with their loved ones and report any warning signs of abuse.

What Is Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse is any type of harm that comes to elderly residents in long-term care facilities, including physical or emotional injuries, sexual assault, financial exploitation, or other types of abuse.

Families may put their trust in nursing homes to watch over their loved ones. Yet nursing homes don’t always provide the safe environments that families expect.

Reports of nursing home residents being beaten, sexually assaulted, neglected, or swindled out of their money have all made national headlines in recent years.

Many of these issues stem from the nursing home staff — the very people hired to provide care — or other residents. Others are the result of big senior care corporations, which may sacrifice proper staff training and other quality measures to make a profit at the residents’ expense.

These problems do not seem to be going away any time soon, and as 1 in 5 people in the U.S. is expected to be 65 or older by 2030, the problem may only increase.

If you believe your loved one is suffering from nursing home abuse or neglect, you have options. You can report any signs of abuse to authorities and take legal action to help keep your loved one safe.

Quick Facts About Nursing Home Abuse

  • Between 2017 and 2018, 1 in 6 adults aged 60 or older suffered some type of abuse while in a community setting, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • The WHO also notes that 2 in 3 nursing home staff members reported that they abused nursing home residents over the past year.
  • Nearly 1 out of 3 nursing homes in the U.S. have been issued citations for abuse.
  • Nursing home abuse, along with elder abuse in general, goes greatly underreported, according to the Office of the Inspector General.
  • As of 2015, 1.3 million people lived in nursing homes throughout the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • Data from the CDC suggests 27 million people will be in nursing homes, in-home care, or another long-term care program by 2050.

Causes of Nursing Home Abuse

A number of different factors can be considered causes of nursing home abuse. Many of them stem from problems with nursing home employees or the corporations running the facilities.

Common causes of nursing home abuse include: 

  • Burnout: Staff members may have to work long hours, and dealing with residents’ needs can be taxing. Instead of letting out their frustrations in a healthy way, some staff members may lash out at residents either verbally or physically.
  • Greed: Many nursing home residents worked hard throughout their lives to save up for retirement and beyond. Staff members who become close to a resident may try to swindle these life savings and use them for their own gain.
  • Lack of supervision: A lack of supervision can cause staff members to be inattentive, meaning a resident could be significantly neglected for days at a time.
  • Understaffing: If a nursing home is understaffed, it can place great stress on current employees. According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS), a lower ratio of nurses to residents can have a huge impact on the overall health care a nursing home provides.
  • Corporate decisions: Corporations that run multiple nursing homes often try to maximize profits, potentially leading to a number of problems. For example, a nursing home may hire staff members with no experience at a cheaper rate and fail to properly train or monitor them, making nursing home abuse more likely.

No matter the cause of nursing home abuse, there is never an excuse for it. All nursing home residents deserve a safe living environment — but, some fall victim to just the opposite.

Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse can generally be broken down into a few different types, which may overlap in some cases — for example, a loved one could suffer from both emotional and physical harm at the hands of a staff member or another resident.

It is important for you to know which type or types of nursing home abuse your loved one is suffering from and report it. By doing so, you can prevent your loved one from further abuse and protect other nursing home residents from harm.

When someone thinks of nursing home abuse, physical injuries often come to mind first. Physical abuse is classified by injuries such as bruising, cuts, and broken bones.

Sometimes, these injuries may go unexplained by staff members — or the explanation may not fit the injury.

Such was the case in Arvada, Colorado in 2018, when an elderly woman suffered broken bones and deep cuts to her head, arm, elbow, and nose.

Initially, staff members told the woman’s family that she had scratched her face with a coat hanger. The woman could not give her side of the story, as she suffered from Alzheimer’s.

A police investigation later revealed her caregiver, a convicted felon, had beaten her and another woman. The caregiver was sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Learn More

Emotional nursing home abuse occurs when another resident or staff member harms the self-esteem or mental well-being of a resident. This can include yelling at the resident, isolating them from family and friends, or manipulating their decisions.

While emotional abuse may not directly harm a resident physically, it can increase a resident’s stress levels and make them miserable, scared, and anxious.

In August 2019, two nursing home staff members in Chicago were arrested after emotionally tormenting a 91-year-old woman with dementia with a hospital gown. The nursing home now faces a lawsuit as a result of the incident.

Learn More

Nursing home residents may have worked tirelessly to save money throughout their life, only to have it unknowingly stolen from their bank accounts by untrustworthy person. These incidents are considered financial abuse.

Families and residents place their trust in staff members to provide them with long-term care. Sometimes, though, residents become close to staff members who do not have their best interests at heart. In these cases, the staff members may commit financial abuse while exploiting the residents' trust.

In 2019, a 25-year-old woman was arrested after stealing nearly $20,000 from several nursing home residents. Police found checks written out to her from the residents that amounted to thousands of dollars. One resident’s debit card was stolen and used as well.

Learn More

Residents may be sexually abused by staff members or other residents, leaving them and their family members traumatized.

For example, multiple nursing home residents claimed a nursing home chaplain sexually abused them, according to police reports. The chaplain was arrested in September 2019 and sentenced to 14 years in jail, with another 12 years added for additional crimes.

Learn More

Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse takes many forms, with some less obvious than others. So if your loved one is being abused, you may not notice it at first.

Common signs of nursing home abuse include: 

Physical Injuries

  • Repeated falls
  • Sores or strange marks around the genitals
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, or broken bones

Emotional Changes

  • Being scared of particular residents or staff members
  • Complaining about treatment from staff members
  • Increased signs of anxiety and/or depression

Other Signs

  • Frequent illnesses or infections
  • Loss of finances
  • Malnourishment and/or dehydration
  • Poor hygiene
  • Untreated bedsores or other wounds

Since the warning signs of nursing home abuse can vary greatly, it is important to have a keen eye when visiting your loved one. Some residents may not speak out about their abuse if they are too scared to do so or they cannot communicate due to a physical or mental condition such as dementia.

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Outside of nursing home abuse, staff members can also harm residents indirectly by neglecting their needs.

Nursing home neglect is a pattern of failures or errors that cause significant harm to a resident. And it can be just as harmful — or just as deadly — as nursing home abuse itself.

For example, a paralyzed woman with dementia was left in her own urine at a North Carolina nursing home facility every day for a week. The woman filed a complaint with the state — making a total of 21 complaints against the nursing home since 2011.

Nursing Home Conglomerates and Abuse

According to the CDC, roughly 70% of all nursing homes are for-profit. These nursing homes are typically run by companies that own multiple senior care facilities.

The main goal of a nursing home should be to help seniors age gracefully and safely. However, some nursing home companies focus on making money above all else.

A 2019 study published in the medical journal Gerontology found that seniors in for-profit nursing homes showed more signs of neglect, and the facilities themselves were of poorer quality.

Further, a 2018 report from the New York Times found that some nursing home companies outsource aspects of their care to other companies they own. This allows corporate leaders to use nursing home funds to essentially pay themselves.

Nearly 75% of nursing homes in the United States outsource some aspects of their care to a related company, according to the Times.

Nursing Home Abuse Laws

Across the nation, nursing home abuse laws have been established by state, local, and federal governments to prevent residents from being hurt and to bring abusers to justice.

Nursing home abuse laws vary from state to state. Some states have established elder or nursing home abuse task forces to keep residents safe. Other state laws allow hidden cameras in nursing homes to catch abusers on camera.

On a broader scope, federal nursing home abuse laws mandate that nursing homes must report and investigate whenever allegations of abuse or neglect are reported to the state.

Federal and state laws continue to evolve today — and, with the help of law enforcement and attorneys, victims of nursing home abuse can seek justice.

Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys

If someone has suffered from nursing home abuse, they may want to consult a nursing home abuse lawyer to discuss their legal options.

When seniors enter a nursing home, they expect — and deserve — the highest quality care possible. Sadly, nursing home abuse is an all-too-common problem that devastates victims and their families every year.

Though police action may put abusers behind bars, victims may still be left with high medical bills or drained finances. This is where nursing home abuse attorneys can be very helpful.

These attorneys have seen the horrors of abuse first-hand through previous clients. They ultimately want to help victims recover from the harm done.

A nursing home abuse attorney can:

  • Gather evidence
  • File a lawsuit against nursing home corporations, administrators, and staff members
  • Help victims receive financial compensation for medical bills and other expenses

Through a nursing home abuse lawsuit, families may receive a cash payout to cover lost savings, medical bills, and other expenses. Nursing home abuse lawyers can work on their client’s behalf to help them receive the highest amount of compensation possible in the shortest amount of time.

Take Action and Report Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse is a heinous and inexcusable act. It should be addressed and reported immediately to prevent more harm from being done.

To report nursing home abuse, talk to your local police authorities. If your loved one still lives in the nursing home where they were abused, you may want to consider moving them somewhere else to protect their safety.

If you believe your loved one has been abused, our team can help you determine what steps to take. To learn more, get a free case review today.

Author:Avatar
The Nursing Home Abuse Center Team

The Nursing Home Abuse Center (NHAC) was founded to bring justice to those affected by nursing home and elder abuse. Our mission is to educate and empower victims of abuse and their families to take a stand against this unlawful mistreatment. We work to return dignity back to those who have been broken down by nursing home abuse and neglect.

Last modified: December 11, 2019

View 17 Sources
  1. Agency for Health Care Administration. (n.d.). Nursing Home Federal Reporting. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://ahca.myflorida.com/MCHQ/Field_Ops/CAU/Federal_Reporting.shtml.
  2. Andela, M., Truchot, D., & Huguenotte, V. (2018, October 19). Work Environment and Elderly Abuse in Nursing Homes: The Mediating Role of Burnout. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30338707.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013, December). Long-Term Care Services in the United States: 2013 Overview. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nsltcp/long_term_care_services_2013.pdf.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, March 11). Nursing Home Care. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/nursing-home-care.htm.
  5. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (2018, November 30). CMS Strengthens Nursing Home Oversight and Safety to Ensure Adequate Staffing. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/press-releases/cms-strengthens-nursing-home-oversight-and-safety-ensure-adequate-staffing.
  6. Elzie, S. (2019, April 19). Family says mother sat in her own filth at Fayetteville nursing home. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.cbs17.com/news/local-news/cumberland-county-news/family-says-mother-sat-in-her-own-filth-at-fayetteville-nursing-home/.
  7. Fieldstadt, E. (2019, August 13). Nursing home staffers accused of taunting 91-year-old dementia patient in Snapchat video. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/nursing-home-staffers-accused-taunting-91-year-old-dementia-patient-n1041366.
  8. Friedman, L., Avila, S., Friedman, D., & Meltzer, W. (2019, October 8). Association between Type of Residence and Clinical Signs of Neglect in Older Adults. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30300880.
  9. KAIT8. (2019, November 6). Woman accused of stealing from nursing home residents. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.kait8.com/2019/11/06/woman-accused-stealing-nursing-home-residents/.
  10. Kounang, N. (2019, June 12). Nursing home abuse frequently goes unreported, government agency finds. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/12/health/nusing-home-abuse-report-hhs-oig/index.html.
  11. National Institutes of Health. (2016, March 28). World's older population grows dramatically. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/worlds-older-population-grows-dramatically.
  12. Office of Inspector General. (2019, June 7). Incidents of Potential Abuse and Neglect at Skilled Nursing Facilities Were Not Always Reported and Investigated. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://oig.hhs.gov/oas/reports/region1/11600509.asp.
  13. Rau, J. (2018, January 2). Care Suffers as More Nursing Homes Feed Money Into Corporate Webs. Retrieved December 4, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/02/business/nursing-homes-care-corporate.html.
  14. US Census Bureau. (2019, October 10). Older People Projected to Outnumber Children. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2018/cb18-41-population-projections.html.
  15. WEGM. (2019, September 10). Former Quincy chaplain sentenced to 26 years for sex crimes. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://wgem.com/2019/09/09/former-quincy-chaplain-sentenced-to-26-years-for-sex-crimes/.
  16. Wenger, E. (2019, August 28). Caregiver sentenced for assaulting patients at Arvada Ralston Creek Neighborhood facility. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://kdvr.com/2019/08/27/caregiver-sentenced-for-assaulting-patients-at-arvada-ralston-creek-neighborhood-facility/.
  17. World Health Organization. (2018, June 8). Elder abuse. Retrieved November 14, 2019, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/elder-abuse.
Back to Top