Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are supposed to provide a place of peace for those in their old age or who need help with daily activities. They and their family members trust the staff to care for them and provide all the comforts of home. One instance of abuse can shatter that confidence. It’s an unfortunate reality, but elder abuse does happen in nursing homes. If it does happen to one of your parents, knowing what to do in response will help build a strong case against the abuser. It is always wise to consult an experienced Kansas City nursing home abuse attorney to learn about your available legal options if you suspect a loved one is being abused.
What Is Elder Abuse?
There are many forms of abuse, each one a tragedy in its own right. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has clear definitions for them, which is necessary should you have to file a claim seeking compensation or a punitive lawsuit.
- Physical Abuse – Intentional use of force that creates a chronic illness, bodily injury, physical pain, functional impairment or death. These are the result of striking, hitting, beating, scratching, choking, pushing, kicking, burning and many other things.
- Sexual Abuse – Forced or unwanted sexual contact of any kind by the abuser.
- Emotional or Psychological Abuse – Behavior that results in anguish, mental pain or distress. These behaviors intend to humiliate, threaten, isolate or control the abused.
- Neglect – Failure to provide proper care such as nutrition, hygiene, clothing or shelter.
- Financial Abuse – The illegal use of a trusting relationship with an elder for monetary gain.
Much of this may very well go unnoticed for an extended period of time. When a report is made, it is classified based on how serious the abuse is:
- Class 1 – Life-threatening, imminent danger is present for the victim. Approximately 91 percent of victims are contacted within 24 hours of the report being made.
- Class 2 – The abuse may result in harm or personal injury but is not considered life-threatening. Contact is made within one week 86 percent of the time.
- Class 3 – This is usually just additional information on a report that’s already been made.
Missouri Nursing Home Abuse Statistics
Data of how often elder abuse occurs in nursing homes is flimsy, mostly due to it not being reported very often. Many times the abused is not of sound mind to recognize the damage, physical or psychological, the abuser is doing to them. Perhaps the most common form of elder abuse is financial; someone whom they think they can trust is stealing thousands of dollars from them behind their back. The CDC reports that one out of every 10 assisted living residents over the age of 60 have experienced some form of abuse.
In 2011, the year most recently available, there were more than 17,000 reports of elderly abuse in Missouri, a 20 percent increase from just five years prior. This may not necessarily mean that there is more abuse, just that there is more reporting. For every one case that’s reported, it’s estimated that an additional 23 cases remain hidden. In 71 percent of cases in Missouri, the perpetrator was related to the victim.
The most common form of elder abuse in nursing homes is psychological. While hard statistics are few and far between, the results of some informal surveys are disheartening; nearly half of all Certified Nursing Assistants in elder care facilities have admitted to verbally abusing a resident. Missouri nursing homes rank 47th in overall care provided. While this isn’t directly related to abuse, the neglect and unhealthy environment of the homes are the partial reason for such deplorable grades.
To Whom Do I Report the Abuse?
If there is immediate, life-threatening danger, then call 911. If you suspect abuse or are being abused yourself, then you can contact the Adult Protective Services (APS) office in Missouri at 800-392-0210. Their abuse and neglect hotline is manned by representatives of Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services and is available 24 hours a day to those in need.
It can be difficult to do this alone, so it’s recommended that you tell a doctor, friend, or family member you trust. It’s common for abuse victims to feel embarrassment or shame, but a trusted confidant can help you with reporting the abuse and deal with the investigation to follow.
How Do I Report Abuse in Missouri?
Once you call APS, there is information they will need to know in order to start an investigation against the abuser or the home as a whole.
- The name, address, phone number, age, gender and condition of the victim.
- The same information about the abuser needs to be given.
- The circumstances which lead the reporter to believe that the alleged victim is being abused, neglected or exploited. As tough as it may be, the reporter will need to be very specific.
- Whether the victim is in immediate danger, the best time to contact them and if the victim knows about the report being made.
- If you are reporting on behalf of the victim (and are not the victim yourself) you will need to give your contact information, as well as your relationship to the victim.
- If there is any other relevant information, give it. The more details, the more the investigator will have to work with.
All identities – that of the reporter, victim, and investigator – will be protected. The reporter is immune from civil or criminal liability and will be protected from harassment, dismissal, or retaliation when the report is filed in good faith.
A long-term care ombudsman will also be available at the care facility in abuse cases. These are volunteers who help with the isolation a victim can feel when they are abused. Many victims will prefer to talk to the ombudsman rather than another staff member or a family member because of their impartiality. The ombudsman assures confidentiality, provides encouragement, and can even speak on behalf of the victim if they so choose.
What Happens After Abuse Is Reported?
An investigation will take place. This includes interviews with the reporter, any relevant witnesses and the perpetrator themselves. Upon conclusion of the investigation, their findings will be reported in one of three categories:
- Reason to Believe – Substantial evidence exists which supports the allegations in the report.
- Suspected – Allegations in the report are probable or likely, based on the judgement of the investigator.
- Unsubstantiated – No evidence exists to support the allegations.
Many times, there will be more than one type of abuse being investigated against the perpetrator towards the same victim, but the investigator is only able to prove one of them. For example, a reporter could say there was physical, emotional and financial abuse, but is only able to find evidence for the financial accusation. If there is evidence to support the abuse accusations, then intervention services will make arrangements for the victim to be relocated, or whatever the victim deems is necessary. The victim gets to decide where they go from here on out.
Because long-term care facilities of all types are required to report any abuse, the facility itself could be held liable for the individual actions of one of their staff. No one else may have been abusing the victim, but if they were silent and did not report, then they are negligent as well. There are many things a facility could be doing – not cleaning the facility properly, withholding food or restraining residents when it’s unnecessary – that would get the entire place shut down or at least heavily fined. The Missouri DHSS takes all allegations very seriously, and there are harsh penalties for abuse.
Prevent Elder Abuse
You can inspect or visit a home all you want before your parent moves in there, but there is just no way to tell a staff member is abusive. It’s not your fault. There are ways that you can keep it from getting worse though. Even if you are not related to the victim, you can say something as soon as you see it.