Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

In 1999, Philip Miller was one of the original founders of the Nursing Home Litigation Section of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers (now known as the North Carolina Advocates for Justice). As one of the first North Carolina law firms to concentrate on representing victims of nursing home abuse and neglect, Blanchard, Miller, Lewis & Isley, P.A. is dedicated to helping injured nursing home residents and their families hold abusive or negligent parties accountable and secure the compensation they deserve.

When we place a loved one in nursing home care, we do it because the resident’s health and safety needs are simply too great to be tended to at home. Naturally, we expect that the nursing home will provide quality care – both for specialized medical needs and for day-to-day living needs like nutrition, hydration, safety, and cleanliness. When these needs are neglected or the resident is abused, serious injury or death can result.

At BMLI, our lawyers work together closely to represent those who have been seriously harmed in the care of a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Signs of Abuse or Neglect in a North Carolina Nursing Home

Nursing home abuse and neglect may go unnoticed for weeks or months in some cases – not because family members do not care, but because they do not know how to spot the signs that something’s wrong. Like other types of abuse, incidents in a nursing home rarely occur “out in the open,” making it difficult for loved ones to pinpoint the problem unless they know what to look for.

Abuse and neglect in nursing homes may take many forms: physical, sexual, mental or emotional, and financial abuse. Here are some of the most common signs that a loved one is experiencing abuse or neglect.

Physical Abuse or Neglect

  • Bruises, scrapes, broken bones, burns, or other injuries with no clear cause
  • Difficulty getting answers from staff about injuries or illnesses
  • Restraints used for long periods of time or in situations where the restraint seems unnecessary, such as when the person is lying quietly in bed
  • Fear of one or more other patients or members of staff
  • Any injury that goes untreated or improperly treated (ignored pain, bandages unchanged, etc.)
  • Unexplained weight loss or conditions associated with malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Soiled clothes and bedding that have not been changed
  • Lack of bathing, hair grooming, and other basic hygiene/body care
  • Missed medications, wrong medications, or overmedication
  • Witnessing any staff member treat a resident abusively, or witnessing other residents with unmet basic needs like food, water, or hygiene

Mental or Emotional Abuse or Neglect

  • Sudden changes in mood, especially toward the negative – fear, anxiety, withdrawal, anger
  • An increase in negative self-talk, for example, “I’m worthless,” “it’s time for me to just die,” etc., or a significant reduction in conversation
  • A sharp decline in mental faculties, like memory and attention
  • Use of medications like sedatives or anti-psychotics, especially if it appears the medication is used for reasons other than for symptoms that cause actual distress to the patient or that risk harm to the patient or others
  • Fear of one or more other patients or members of the staff
  • A patient or staff member who resists allowing you to be alone with your family member
  • Witnessing any staff member treat another resident abusively, for example, insulting, calling names, “talking down to,” etc.

Financial Abuse

  • Missing valuables, such as jewelry or cash
  • Unexplained charges from the nursing home or on the resident’s other accounts
  • Sudden “gifts” to a particular staff member of cash or other valuables, especially if repeated
  • Any violations of the nursing home’s policy regarding gifts from residents to staff members or other individuals

What to Do If You Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

When attempting to spot abuse or neglect, trust your instincts. If something seems wrong, it is worth taking a closer look – to protect not only yourself or your own loved ones, but other residents and their families as well.

If you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect is occurring:

  1. Document your suspicions.
    Write down the date and time of every visit, along with a brief summary of what you observed. Make careful notes about things that seem out of the ordinary, like missed medications, a loved one acting withdrawn and scared, or unchanged bedsheets.
  2. Report the problem to the supervisor on staff.
    If this is your first instance noticing the problem, report it to the supervisor. Then, visit again within a day or two to see if things have changed. Make a note of the date, time, and content of your report, as well as the changes you saw (if any).
  3. Contact authorities.
    If your loved one is in immediate danger or needs medical care, it’s okay to call 911 for help. To report a suspected problem that the staff does not seem to be solving, you can call the State Long Term Care Ombudsman in North Carolina at (919) 733-8395, the Department of Health Service Regulation at (919)855-4500, the Office on Aging at (919) 733-3983, or (for Medicaid fraud) the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit at (919) 881-2320.
  4. Consider increasing your visits.
    Visit more frequently, and stagger the timing of your visits so you arrive during different staff shifts and at different times during the day: meal times, medication times, bedtimes. Keep taking notes of your observations.
  5. Talk to a lawyer.
    Nursing home residents have the right to appropriate care that does not abuse or injure them and that meets their needs. If your loved one appears to be suffering the consequences of nursing home abuse or neglect, get an attorney on your side who can help you understand your legal rights and fight to protect them.

Contact Our Lawyers Today for Help

At BMLI, our experience with nursing home abuse and neglect cases is extensive. We have successfully handled cases involving choking, strangulation, wandering, decubitus ulcers, falls, and medication errors that injured or killed nursing home patients – and that could often have been prevented with proper care.

To learn more about how we can help you, contact our office today.