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Elder Abuse in Our Nursing Homes

Posted Mar 15 2012 9:03am

Amber Paley

Guest Post by Amber Paley

Today, there are about 16,000 nursing homes across the United States according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC) with an estimated 1.5 million residents and 936,000 nursing staff members who care for these residents. This means there is 1 staff member for every 1.6 residents.

The nursing home industry is plagued with very serious staff shortages with 9 out of 10 nursing homes being understaffed. This is believed to be one of the leading causes of abuse and neglect in facilities.

Ninety-one percent of nursing homes were guilty of deficiencies between 2005 and 2007 according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS). Deficiencies included neglect and abuse. About 33% of nursing homes have been reported specifically for abuse including emotional, physical, sexual, financial, and neglect. According to The Journal for Elder Abuse and Neglect, about 21% of nursing home residents have experienced neglect in the past year; and this is believed to be an underestimate.

The figures we see about elder abuse are an underestimate. According to the National Center for Elder Abuse, 5 out of 6 or 83% of elder abuse cases go unreported in the U.S.

Resident abuse and neglect in nursing homes are often caused by staff members. A staff member with criminal past is not unheard of in the nursing home industry. According to the HHS’s analysis of FBI criminal data as reported in Nursing Facilities’ Employment of Individuals with Criminal Convictions, “Ninety-two percent of nursing facilities employed at least one individual with at least one criminal conviction …Overall, 5% of nursing facility employees had at least one conviction in FBI-maintained criminal history records.”

Staff members aren’t the only violent abusers of residents; other residents are also guilty of abuse. According to a Cornell study, in a two-week period, 2.4% of residents had experienced some form of physical abuse while 7.3% had experienced verbal abuse at the hands of another resident.

Yet, nursing home residents aren’t the only ones being abused. Nursing home staffs find themselves in an environment known for its high incidence of workplace violence. Twenty-seven percent of all workplace violence takes place in U.S. nursing homes. Studies have shown that members of nursing home staffs are assaulted at least once every month, and 38 percent will stuffer an injury that requires medical attention at least one time in their careers.

The difference, however, between abused staff members and abused residents is that residents do not usually have the physical or mental ability to defend themselves, nor do they always have others on which they can rely on to protect them or to report signs of abuse. Staff members, on the other hand, can generally defend themselves and have other staff members if they need assistance.

1. Approach the Situation Rationally

Act rationally and calmly to the situation, but also act swiftly. If your loved one needs immediate medical attention, call 9-1-1. If not, immediately contact the manager of your loved one’s facility to report that abuse in as much detail as possible. If there is obvious evidence of abuse, notify the police so that they can collect evidence. It is imperative that you do not corrupt the evidence if possible.

2. Contact Your State’s

  • Adult Protective Services Department.
  • Department of Health Licensing or Certification office.
  • Department of Social Services.
  • Health Agency.

3. Contact A Legal Professional

If you feel your loved one’s abuse or neglect necessitates legal action, contact a medical malpractice lawyer. Be very careful, however, who you hire; some malpractice lawyers purposely pursue cases that have little chance of winning; these are known as frivolous cases. Click on the Medical Malpractice Lawyer site above to see a state-by-state list of medical malpractice attorneys that are actually winning these types of cases and to get general information on medical malpractice cases. And always do research before going to a lawyer.


Amber Paley’s guest post on nursing home abuse is an outgrowth of her outrage at the abuse and neglect the elderly endure in some U.S. nursing homes. She devotes much of her professional life writing about Nursing Home Abuse in an effort to bring this problem to light through public education.

For a related story click on Tips to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse .

Article edited by TCV.

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