Nursing homes are places where loved ones can receive the level of care they need to live out their lives in comfort and safety. While the vast majority of Florida facilities live up to the standards you want for your parents, grandparents or other family members, when nursing home abuse occurs, you need to know how to recognize it and what to do about it.
An aging population has increased the demand for nursing homes in Florida. There are 683 nursing homes licensed by the state serving approximately 73,000 residents. According to statistics published by the Florida Health Care Association they could serve as many as 83,587 at full capacity. The Agency for Health Care Administration inspects each facility annually and they are licensed by the state. They also investigate complaints made against facilities. It is your eyes and ears that are the most effective tools in detecting nursing home abuse.
Rights guaranteed to each resident of a nursing home
Florida law establishes fundamental rights and levels of care for patients living in nursing homes in the state. The law requires facilities to offer a safe, comfortable environment that is clean and homelike. Included among the basic and essential things nursing homes must make available to their residents are the following:
- Clean clothing and bedding
- Clean rooms and living quarters
- Access to clean water to drink
- Access to hot water
- Proper lighting and comfortable temperatures in living areas
- Installation and access to ramps, handrails and other safety equipment
The law requires nursing homes to take steps to ensure residents receive proper medical care, including emergency care when required. Each resident must receive meals that meet nutritional standards, and they must have access to daily exercise and social activities.
The right of each patient to privacy when receiving medical treatment or when caring for his or her personal needs is guaranteed under Florida law. Residents have to be afforded the ability to close the door to their room. Staff must knock before entering in all instances other than emergencies. The only circumstance that could justify deviation from the policy is a resident’s medical condition.
Recognizing forms of nursing home abuse
The denial of any of the basic rights the law guarantees to nursing home residents could constitute nursing home abuse. Be aware of what to look out for when visiting a friend or relative living in a nursing home. Look for things indicating the person is being denied essential services or being abused.
Abuse can come in many different ways, but a few of the most common forms of abuse include the following:
Cuts, bruises, suspicious marks on the person’s face or body, or broken bones can be signs. This could be from punching, kicking, shoving or other types of physical contact from staff members or other residents. Other signs to watch out for are improper use of restraints, overmedication and the denial of food and water.
A resident who appears to be dehydrated or malnourished could be suffering from neglect by the staff. Other signs to watch for are a dirty room, unsafe conditions in a resident’s room, dirty bed linens, bed sores and lesions, skin rashes and other indications of a lack of proper care and attention to a person’s needs by the staff charged with caring for the residents.
Complaints from a resident of being the victim of nonconsensual sexual activity by people visiting, residing or working at the facility is one sign of abuse, but there are other things you might notice indicating sexual abuse. Residents who are victims of sexual abuse may exhibit warning signs such as depression, withdrawal or other personality changes. in the resident should be investigated to determine sexual assault or abuse is the cause.
Nonphysical abusive behaviors
Nursing home abuse does not have to be physical in nature to warrant taking action to stop it from continuing. Verbal and psychological abuse by staff and other residents can cause a person to become anxious, withdrawn and show signs of depression.
If you believe a loved one is the victim of abuse in a nursing home, you should bring it to the attention of the administrator at the facility. You can also take your concerns to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program of the Florida Department of Elder Affairs or file a complaint directly with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.
You cannot delay pursuing damages in court for nursing home abuse victims
A victim of abuse might have a claim for damages against the facility and the individuals responsible for it. You must contact an attorney as soon as you suspect a loved one might be the victim of nursing home abuse because state law imposes a two-year statute of limitations in which to file a lawsuit. The two years begins from the date of the incident constituting the abuse. Although there are exceptions, claims for damages must be filed within the statute of limitations. Your best course of action is to speak to an attorney as soon after discovery of the abuse as possible.