5 key steps to avoid nursing home neglect and abuse

Few words strike fear into a family like “nursing home.” This fear runs deep in both the loved one that needs care and the family looking for help providing that care.

Americans are getting older, living longer, and expecting more from the end of their life. We all want to age with as much grace and dignity as possible. The “long-term care” industry has tried to promise us that, but their many failures paint images of cold and sterile rooms that always smell of urine, where the constant moans and cries of residents ring through the air.

Unfortunately, nursing homes sometimes become a necessity. Work makes constant demands of our time and energy, and it’s rare when someone can care for an elderly family member twenty-four hours a day. 

How can we be sure to choose the right nursing home?

The best way to avoid elderly abuse in nursing homes is to choose a facility that will treat your loved one with dignity and care. However, that’s easier said than done. Most of us want to believe that a given nursing home will have enough skilled and knowledgeable nurses to care for residents, that they’ll treat residents with dignity, that they’ll listen to our concerns. However, this isn’t always the case.

There are good homes in the long-term care industry, but there are enough poorly-run facilities to necessitate planning ahead and doing thorough research into prospective homes.

5 Steps to take before choosing a nursing home

We all know that there will be a time that a loved one may need long-term care. The following list will help you avoid abuse in a nursing home by avoiding problematic facilities. Discussing and implementing a plan before that plan is needed will reduce the stress on your family, including your elderly loved ones. It will also help with the inevitable guilt that surrounds this journey.

Step 1: Have a power of attorney in place

A power of attorney is a document executed by your loved one that gives a designated person the authority to handle his or her personal business and to make decisions on their behalf. This step should be taken before a loved one reaches a mental capacity where they are no longer able to make decisions for themselves. Although this is not a complicated process, it would be wise to meet with a lawyer who specializes in assisting in this area.

Step 2:  Do research at the federal (www.medicare.gov) and state (https://oklahoma.gov/health.html) level

On these sites, you can gather information about a home’s operations, inspection reports, ownership, and staffing.  Medicare’s “Nursing Home Compare” process considers three primary factors in grading facilities:

  1. Health inspections (from state surveyors visiting the facility) 
  2. Staffing Levels (from data reported to Medicare by the facilities) 
  3. Quality Measures (rates of hospitalization, infection, re-admissions, etc.)

These factors are combined to post ratings from one to five stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. If possible, you will want to eliminate any one or two star facilities as options for your loved one.

Step 3: Review licensing records

You can check the state website above to insure that the home you’re looking at has been properly licensed and is in good standing with the state of Oklahoma. These licenses are available along with surveys for each facility for the past several years. 

Step 4: Visit homes

It is essential to visit and tour a nursing home before admitting your loved one. It’s best to visit on weekends or “after hours,” to see how the home is being run when upper management goes home. Will your loved one have a personal phone, a closet? Is there a window in each room? Do staff members close the doors to the residents’ rooms? Also, visit at meal time. Ask for a plate so you can taste the food. Do the other diners look clean and happy? Are there common areas for socializing? Are there scheduled activities for the residents?

Once you’ve decided on a home and your loved one has moved in, there is still work to be done. You will need to be diligent at “protecting” your loved one. When visiting, be aware of the cleanliness of the room and your loved one. Are they getting regular showers and personal hygiene attention? Is their bedding clean? Is their trash can empty? Their floors clean? Is there a foul odor to the room? Have they experienced unexplained weight change? Are they being socially isolated? Does your loved one have unexplained bruises or broken bones from falls?

Talk to your loved one frequently about their days and how they feel. Ask about their interactions. Keep in mind that sometimes your loved one will be able to communicate how things are going at the home, but sometimes they can’t. It’s also possible they’re afraid to speak up for fear that their “keepers” will retaliate. Sadly, this is a reality that you need to watch for.     

Step 5: Ask About Liability Insurance

You might be shocked to learn that nursing home facilities in Oklahoma are not required to carry liability insurance. The policy behind this is something to take up with your state legislators, but whether or not a facility has insurance could be an indication of how confident they are in their ability to provide quality care to your loved ones. Unfortunately, there is no way to find out if they are carrying insurance other than to ask.  

All of these items can be clues to both the quality of a facility and whether your loved one is suffering from physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. This can come in many forms. Perhaps staff members are neglecting them by failing to provide sufficient food or water. Inadequate hygiene assistance or mobility issues are both embarrassing and harmful. Neglect like this can lead to severe injuries, including bed sores, which are both painful and potentially deadly.  

We can keep our eyes open for issues, but we put our trust in these facilities to care for our loved ones. Unfortunately, abuse and neglect still happen. It is vital to the safety of your loved one that you have a game plan in place if you suspect problems.

  1. Contact Adult Protective services immediately https://oklahoma.gov/okdhs/services/cap/adult-protective-services.html
  1. Contact your ombudsman immediately https://oklahoma.gov/okdhs/services/cap/ombudsman.html
  1. Contact the Department of Health and Human Services https://oklahoma.gov/health/protective-health/long-term-care-service.html

to file a report against the home and ask them to investigate. 

At Maples, Nix & Diesselhorst, we hope that you never need us, but if you believe your loved one has sustained permanent catastrophic injuries, or death, due to the negligence of the nursing home, please call us for your free consultation. 

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