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Nursing Home Abuse: Separating Fact From Fiction

Nursing home abuse occurs in Rhode Island more often than most of us likely believe. It is important to recognize the serious issue of elder abuse and neglect in our state and to understand that many nursing home deaths result from poor care, negligence, and violence against patients.

According to a fact sheet from the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) and the Administration on Aging (AoA), a recent study suggested that around 1 out of every 10 seniors has been the victim of elder abuse or neglect, and that statistic does not include financial abuse. Of those instances, experts estimate that only about 7 percent are reported to the proper authorities. In other words, a shockingly high number of America’s seniors are suffering from nursing home abuse, but a majority of those cases go unreported.

Given that our country’s elderly population will only grow—and substantially—in the coming decades, we need to have a better understanding of nursing home abuse and the underlying causes of many nursing home deaths in Rhode Island. The NCEA predicts that, by 2050, people aged 65 and older will make up about 20 percent of the U.S. population. Emphasizing the need to prevent nursing home deaths, the NCEA stresses the rates of abuse in nursing homes specifically.

To be sure, one study indicated that 44 percent of nursing home patients reported being abused, while 95 percent of nursing home residents interviewed reported that they had suffered from neglect or had witnessed the neglect of another patient. How many seniors might have first-hand experience of nursing home abuse or neglect? To give you an idea, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 1.4 million Americans aged 65 and older currently living in nursing homes, and it expects this number to double by the year 2030.

If your elderly parent or loved one suffered fatal injuries in a nursing home, you should not wait to discuss your case with an experienced RI wrongful death lawyer. Many elderly deaths occur because of nursing home abuse and neglect in Rhode Island. By filing a claim, you can ensure that the responsible parties are held accountable for a senior’s Rhode Island wrongful death.

Myths and Misunderstandings About Deaths in Nursing Homes

When it comes to deaths in nursing homes and other facilities for older adults, many myths and misunderstandings exist. At Gemma Law Associates, Inc., we believe it is important to dispel these myths. Below we have cited a handful of misunderstandings surrounding fatal injuries and nursing home abuse, explaining why these myths are untrue.

Most nursing home deaths are accidents that cannot be prevented.

It is important to remember that elderly patients deserve to be safe in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities and to receive proper care. One of the most preventable fatal injuries in nursing homes is a fall. According to a fact sheet from the CDC, residents in nursing homes who suffer fatal fall-related injuries account for around 20 percent of all reported deaths for persons aged 65 and older.

To be sure, between 50 percent to 75 percent of nursing home residents sustain fall-related injuries every year, which is “twice the rate of falls among older adults living in the community,” and approximately 1,800 nursing home patients die every year from falls. No resident in a nursing home should die because they fell. These injuries are preventable, and we can hold nursing homes accountable. Medication errors, wandering injuries, and pressure sores also can be prevented.

Most bruises on older adults are normal and are not signs of abuse.

It can be difficult to determine if elder abuse is occurring. Many people assume that bruising is natural among older adults because they are more likely to bump into furniture or suffer a minor fall that is not the result of negligence. However, we should take all bruises seriously, particularly when a nursing home resident dies under the care of the facility. Bruising and other signs may be evidence of nursing home neglect, particularly if the senior died from a fall-related accident.

Since nursing homes undergo inspections, a recent inspection that found no issues concerning quality of care indicates that my loved one’s death was not the result of nursing home abuse.

While the Rhode Island Department of Health does conduct nursing home inspections under the Healthcare Quality Reporting Program, the lack of evidence about nursing home abuse or neglect in one recent inspection does not mean that a resident’s death did not result from negligence or a violent act. Indeed, many facilities in which patients die from preventable injuries have no prior record of nursing home abuse or neglect. You should take seriously any sign that your loved one’s death resulted from nursing home negligence.

Most nursing homes do not have records of safety violations, and therefore my elderly loved one is not at risk of sustaining a deadly injury from nursing home abuse.

According to an elder abuse fact sheet from New York Law School’s Center for Justice and Democracy, around 20 percent of nursing homes throughout the country have been cited for serious safety violations, many of which involve the death of a patient. Even when nursing homes have not incurred salient violations, they still may not provide the quality of care that most of us seek.

To be sure, according to rankings from S. News & World Report, only about 31 percent of all nursing homes in Rhode Island received five stars from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) for “overall performance in health inspections, nurse staffing, and quality of medical care.”

Nursing homes would never sacrifice patient safety for profits.

This is, perhaps, one of the most significant myths about nursing home care and patient deaths in nursing facilities. Generally speaking, for-profit nursing homes do not have the same staffing levels of non-profit facilities, and they tend to have more care deficiencies than non-profit nursing homes. Research shows that outcomes for residents are significantly worse at private equity-owned nursing homes compared to public nursing homes.

Contact a Rhode Island Wrongful Death Lawyer

Family members of elderly nursing home residents have a right to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit in Rhode Island after a nursing home death. In Rhode Island, wrongful death claims allow grieving family members to seek compensation for lost income, medical expenses, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.

It is extremely important to have an experienced Rhode Island wrongful death lawyer on your side throughout the process. Wrongful death claims can be complicated, but your lawyer can help to ensure that your rights are protected. Contact Gemma Law Associates, Inc., to learn more about how we can assist you.

  • Mark Gemma

    Mark Gemma is a Rhode Island personal injury lawyer, and is a Principal of Gemma Law Associates, Inc. With 25 years of legal experience, Mark is nationally recognized for his legal ethics, receiving an AV Peer Review Rating from Martindale-Hubbell in 2009. Some of his legal specialties include auto accidents, wrongful death, and slip and fall cases. You can reach him at mark@gemmalaw.com.

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