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Causes of Nursing Home Abuse

Learn About Nursing Home Abuse Causes

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In August 2019, two women were arrested for assaulting a blind nursing home resident. Security footage caught the women slapping and forcefully moving the resident. One woman said she slapped the resident because they were being combative. There are many causes of nursing home abuse, but none of them excuse the horrific act. By learning the causes of nursing home abuse, families can help keep their loved ones safe.

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What Are the Causes of Nursing Home Abuse?

There is no one specific cause of nursing home abuse, and any number of issues can drive a nursing home staff member — or even another resident — to harm an elderly person in a nursing home.

Common causes of nursing home abuse include:

  • Lack of staff training
  • Nursing home mismanagement
  • Poor staff pay
  • Understaffing

Many causes of nursing home abuse can be traced back to nursing home administrators or owners, who may want to make profits instead of actually helping residents. These owners may use the nursing home’s budget to line their own pockets instead of making repairs, buying essential care items, or hiring more nursing home staff members.

This is not to say that staff members are innocent. No matter the working conditions, there is never an excuse for hurting someone — especially an elder trying to live out their golden years in comfort and peace. Yet staff members may blame their actions on burnout, poor training, or simply a lack of thought.

Since the causes of nursing home abuse can vary greatly, it is important for families to consider all options and act if their loved one is in danger. By understanding the possible causes, elderly relatives can be kept safe from nursing home abuse.

Causes of Nursing Home Abuse vs Neglect

The same problems that lead to nursing home abuse can also cause residents to suffer from nursing home neglect. For example, an improperly trained staff member may mistakenly feed a resident food they are not allowed to eat.

Did You Know

Nursing home neglect is slightly different from abuse. While nursing home abuse is an intentional act, neglect often stems from a lack of care.

Make no mistake, though: nursing home neglect is not the same as a simple mistake. It is an ongoing failure to meet a resident’s care needs. In fact, nursing home neglect can be just as harmful to residents as abuse.

In 2013, a nursing home resident choked to death on a sandwich given to him by a nurse. Though his medical chart said he could only eat pureed foods, the nurse didn’t read in his chart or put in his dentures before feeding him.

Corporate Causes of Nursing Home Abuse

Not every nursing home is independently owned. In fact, many nursing homes are owned by companies that operate more than one facility. For example, Consulate Health Care controls 1 out of every 9 nursing homes in Florida.

On a corporate level, the causes of nursing home abuse stem from the decisions of company leaders looking to maximize profits.

Focus on Profits

Nursing homes can either be for-profit or not-for-profit facilities, but the former is more common.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 70% of all nursing homes were for-profit facilities as of 2016.

Sadly, some for-profit nursing homes focus more on making money than actually meeting the needs of residents. A 2018 report published in the journal Gerontology noted that nursing home residents in for-profit facilities were nearly twice as likely to suffer from health issues as a result of poor care.

Further, a 2017 report from Kaiser Health News noted that almost 75% of nursing facilities operate on related party transactions, in which the owners outsource aspects of nursing home care to companies they also control. This essentially allows the owners to pay themselves using the nursing home’s budget.

Low-Quality Facilities

Related party transactions can directly drain nursing homes of their operating budget, allowing its owners to profit while depriving residents of proper care and resources.

Due to related party transactions, nursing homes may not be able to pay for:

  • Basic amenities, such as toiletry items and bedding
  • Repairs to their facilities
  • Staff members, leading to understaffing and wage issues

Such was the case with the Allenbrooke Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, which racked up $2 Million dollars in debts while shelling out almost $3 Million to related parties in 2009. The facility consistently lacked staff members and essentials like bedsheets and adult diapers, according to testimonies.

Staff Member Causes of Nursing Home Abuse

In 2018, 2 out of 3 nursing home staff members reported they abused the residents under their care, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Providing long-term care for nursing home residents can be a high-stress job, and staff members may take their frustrations out on the residents. Understaffing, poor pay, and inadequate training are all causes of nursing home abuse on a staff level.


Understaffing is one of the most common causes of nursing home abuse. As of 2018, federal data showed that most nursing homes do not have enough staff members.

Understaffing in nursing homes may:

  • Increase burnout and tension among staff members
  • Prevent every resident from receiving care on time
  • Lead to mistakes in caregiving

According to AARP, only one registered nurse is required to be at a nursing home at all times as of 2019. Some nursing homes don’t even meet this requirement and receive lower government ratings as a result.

At this time, there is no set rule for how many staff members a nursing home must have. This means residents can outnumber staff significantly, spreading staff members thin and increasing their stress.

Inadequate Training

Every nursing home has specific protocols to ensure that all resident care needs are met. It is the responsibility of senior staff members and administrators to make sure all employees know how to properly care for the residents.

If nursing home staff members are not properly trained, residents often suffer.

Problems that stem from inadequate training include: 

  • Improperly administering medications
  • Not changing the residents’ bedsheets or clothes
  • Not checking for bedsores
  • Not knowing how to perform CPR
  • Not treating the residents properly for diseases or infections

These causes of nursing home abuse due to poor training are, sadly, often preventable with proper training.

Low Wages

Low-paying nursing home jobs may attract people with little experience in working with elderly residents. For example, nursing home jobs in 2017 paid roughly the same amount as fast-food restaurants, according to a report from the news website Vox.

Low pay, combined with a lack of on-the-job training, can make staff members uncaring or even hostile toward residents. These staff members may only work to get a paycheck, not caring whether they do a good job or not.

For example, a nursing home in Colorado hired an ex-convict as a staff member. She passed a background check despite her past and physically abused two nursing home residents. The staff member was arrested and was later sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Senior Risk Factors for Nursing Home Abuse

Any senior who lives in a nursing home may be at risk of nursing home abuse. That being said, some seniors will run a higher risk than others.

Factors that put seniors at risk of nursing home abuse include:

  • Dietary Restrictions

    Nursing home staff members may fail to properly feed or hydrate residents, which may cause elders to suffer from malnourishment or dehydration.

  • Handicaps

    Seniors who are mentally or physically disabled may need more specialized care. Overworked or untrained staff members may struggle to provide care to these residents or even lash out at them if they become frustrated.

  • Medication

    Seniors in nursing homes may rely on medications to keep their health problems in check. But if a nursing home staff member does not administer the right medications at the proper times, this could prove fatal. Some nursing homes also overmedicate residents, essentially sedating them so they are easier to care for.

  • Money

    Elderly nursing home residents may be at risk of financial abuse. Financial abuse drains seniors of their hard-earned savings instead of causing physical injuries. For example, police arrested a nursing home employee for allegedly stealing over $20,000 from residents in 2019.

While these are not direct causes of nursing home abuse, families should still take note. Seniors with mental or physical handicaps may be harder to care for, causing them to be more likely to suffer from abuse or neglect.

Spot Common Causes of Nursing Home Abuse

Nursing home abuse never acceptable or excusable.

Nursing homes have the responsibility to keep their residents — our aging parents, grandparents, and other loved ones — as healthy and happy as possible. But it is also up to loved ones to notice any signs of nursing home abuse and take action to keep seniors safe.

A good place to start is by watching for any potential causes of nursing home abuse. For example, is the nursing home well-staffed? Is it a for-profit organization? Does your loved one seem happy and well cared for in the home?

To learn more about nursing home abuse, get a free case review today. Our team can help you take action if you believe your loved one has been abused.

Nursing Home Abuse Support 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.

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