Approximately 2 million cases of elder abuse are reported in the United States each year, but many more go unreported because the victims are unwilling or unable to talk about abuse. It is often up to family members and friends to watch for signs of neglect or abuse.
If you believe an elderly loved one is a victim of neglect or abuse in Wisconsin, the Madison nursing home abuse attorneys at Boller & Vaughan are here to help. Our lawyers have an extensive record of success in elder abuse cases, and we can help you recover the compensation you need to cope with medical costs and other damages.
The Difference Between Neglect and Abuse
In the context of elder care, neglect and abuse are distinguished by intent.
If an elderly patient is deliberately harmed by a caregiver, that is abuse. Neglect is the failure of a caregiver to provide a patient’s needs, including food, water and medical treatment.
While nursing home abuse is often perpetrated by caregivers, resident-to-resident abuse is also a problem. If you suspect a loved one is a victim of abuse by a care provider or another resident, it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer.
Nursing homes, community-based residential facilities (CBRFs) and other assisted-living centers have an obligation to provide necessary care and adequate supervision to protect the health and rights of their residents.
Wisconsin’s nursing home abuse laws and regulations are intended to help ensure the elderly are treated with courtesy, respect and dignity.
But neglect and abuse still occur in many nursing homes and other care facilities. And both neglect and abuse can result in severe and potentially fatal injuries to elderly patients, many of whom are already coping with health issues.
Common Nursing Home Abuse Injuries
Common injuries and ailments that may be indicators of elder neglect or abuse include:
- Bedsores: Also known as pressure sores, these skin injuries are caused by prolonged pressure typically associated with patient immobility. If not treated, bedsores can become infected and lead to more severe problems. Caregivers should regularly reposition patients who lack mobility.
- Dehydration: Insufficient fluids can disrupt normal body functions. Dehydration is a relatively common sign of neglect in nursing homes and other elderly care centers, and it often coincides with malnutrition. Dry or pale skin, canker sores, and low blood pressure are among the telltale signs of dehydration.
- Malnutrition: Like dehydration, insufficient food or food that lacks nutrition can adversely affect regular bodily functions and lead to a range of health problems. Also like dehydration, malnutrition is an unfortunately common symptom of neglect in nursing homes and other care facilities. In some cases, caregivers have withheld food from patients as punishment.
- Bruises: Bruises are soft-tissue injuries that result in broken capillaries; blood escapes to the surrounding tissues, which creates bruises. Older adults bruise more easily as the skin thins and the capillaries become more fragile. Bruises may be an indicator of physical abuse or injuries suffered due to neglect.
- Broken bones: Bones become more brittle and susceptible to fractures with age, and older adults who suffer from conditions such as osteoporosis are especially vulnerable to fractures. As with bruises, broken bones may be symptoms of physical abuse or injuries that result from negligent safety measures.
- Cuts and lacerations: Elderly patients are vulnerable to skin injuries and infection. Unexplained or untreated cuts and lacerations may be signs of physical abuse or negligent care.
- Sunburn: Elderly patients should have adequate sun protection before spending sustained time outdoors. Sunburns can cause painful skin injuries and make existing conditions worse. Sunburns may be associated with neglect.
- Illness: The sudden onset of sickness or the abrupt worsening of an existing condition may be indicators of negligent care, such as malnutrition, medication errors or the failure to treat a health problem in a timely manner.
If you notice injuries or ailments that your loved one or his or her caregiver cannot adequately explain, it’s advisable to contact Wisconsin Adult Protective Services. Every county in Wisconsin maintains an elder abuse help line.
It’s also advisable to discuss your circumstances with a knowledgeable nursing home abuse lawyer who can help you understand your legal options and prevent similar abuse from happening to others. The Madison nursing home abuse attorneys at Boller & Vaughan offer free consultations, and we have recovered millions of dollars on behalf of elder abuse victims and their families. Call us today at 608-268-0268.
Causes of Nursing Home Injuries
There is no excuse for injuries related to nursing home neglect or abuse, but there are some common causes:
- Trips, slips and falls: It’s estimated that 2.8 million elderly adults are treated in emergency departments for fall injuries every year. Poorly maintained facilities, insufficient caregiver assistance, or lack of equipment (i.e., handrails, wheelchairs, wet floor signs, etc.) can put the elderly at increased risk.
- Delayed medical treatment: Failure to treat medical problems when they arise can have fatal consequences for the elderly, especially if they’re already dealing with health concerns.
- Medication errors: Providing incorrect medication or inaccurate doses of medication can cause serious harm or death. Although nursing homes and other care centers have protocols regarding the administration of prescription medications, mistakes often happen due to caregiver negligence.
- Physical restraints: The inappropriate use of physical restraints can lead to bruises, cuts, broken bones and emotional trauma. Irritated skin around the wrists and/or ankles may be indicators of the improper use of physical restraints.
- Understaffing: Many Wisconsin nursing homes struggle to maintain sufficient levels of trained staff. Understaffing often contributes to patient neglect.
- Inadequate staff training: Nursing facility caregivers who don’t receive sufficient training may not provide adequate care or respond properly to emergencies.
- Physical abuse: Serving as a caregiver is accompanied by unique stresses, and unfortunately caregivers sometimes respond to those stresses by lashing out physically at their patients. Physical abuse may be a one-time occurrence, or it may be a recurring issue that affects multiple patients. Resident-to-resident abuse is also occurring with increasing frequency.
- Dangerous premises: Premises that are unclean or that lack appropriate safety features pose illness and injury risks to elderly residents.
It’s a good idea for family and friends of nursing home residents to check in with them frequently and to maintain communicative relationships with caregivers. This can limit the chances for abuse and let the staff know you’re monitoring your loved one’s care.
Help for Wisconsin Nursing Home Abuse Victims
One of the best ways to protect nursing home residents is to become familiar with the signs and symptoms of nursing home neglect and abuse. Indicators of nursing home abuse include but are not limited to:
- Physical evidence (i.e., bruises, cuts, sudden weight loss, torn clothing, poor hygiene, etc.)
- Behavioral evidence (i.e., depression, social withdrawal, fear, agitation, etc.)
Families and friends can investigate care providers on an individual basis using the Wisconsin Caregiver Misconduct Registry. The registry is an updated list of nurse aides and other non-credentialed caregivers with a substantiated finding of caregiver misconduct.
Moreover, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services operates adult protective services agencies in each county. Dane County’s elder abuse hotline can be reached at 608-261-9933.
When to Contact an Elder Abuse Lawyer
A nursing home and elder abuse attorney can be an invaluable asset in pursuing justice for a loved one. Damages for nursing home abuse injuries may include compensation for:
- Medical expenses
- Physical impairment or disfigurement
- Loss of quality of life
- Emotional distress
- Pain and suffering
The attorneys at Boller & Vaughan are dedicated to protecting the rights of nursing home residents, who are among our most vulnerable citizens. If you suspect an elderly loved one is being neglected or intentionally mistreated by a caregiver, don’t wait to call us at 608-268-0268 or contact us online.