Common Indicators of Nursing Home Neglect

With over 300 nursing homes and 4,000 assisted living facilities in the state of Wisconsin, there are plenty of facilities to choose from for your loved one.

Unfortunately, there were also more than 7,300 reports of neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation in the state in 2017.

Because of COVID-19 health and safety restrictions, nursing home neglect can be even more difficult to detect than usual. However, it is still possible and can still be addressed.

If you suspect your loved one has suffered from neglect in a Wisconsin nursing home, call Boller & Vaughan at 608-268-0268 or fill out a form online to set up a free consultation with an attorney.

Common warning signs of nursing home neglect

Neglect is defined by the U.S. federal government as “failure to provide goods and services necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness.”

Abuse is defined as “the willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinements, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain, or mental anguish.” Nursing home residents have the right to receive proper care, free of abuse and neglect.

With that definition of neglect in mind, what are some signs that your loved one may be experiencing it in their nursing home or long-term care facility?

  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Falls or physical injuries
  • Bed injuries or bed sores
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Unsanitary or unsafe facility conditions
  • Changes in physical or emotional behavior

Look to your loved one first to observe any changes. Remember that these are possible signs of bad care, not solid evidence. Some signs, like weight loss or odd bruises, may be due to an illness or condition.

Caring for loved ones during COVID-19

At the time of writing, Wisconsin currently allows visitors to nursing homes and eldercare facilities that have reopened in the wake of COVID-19.

Outdoor visits are allowed if guidelines are followed (such as mask-wearing and physical distancing), while indoor visits are limited to compassionate care situations.

This is a win for elders who may have been feeling isolated and lonely while stay-at-home orders were in effect earlier this year. However, the limitations can make it more difficult to detect signs of abuse.

Since you cannot go inside the facility except in specific situations, you may not know if cleanliness and safety has declined, if the residents seem happy, or if there are enough staff members present.

What can you do to check in on loved ones while visits are still limited? Ask them how they’re being treated and how they’re feeling during your visits. Observe what you can when you visit the facility. Make note of anything you see or anything your loved one mentions that seems alarming.

You might also call the facility and ask to speak to someone in charge. You can find out what COVID-19 changes the facility has put in place in the news or on their website, yes, but you can also learn a lot from what a staff member tells you over the phone.

Have questions ready for your call, such as:

  • Has the number of staff present decreased due to COVID-19? Are residents still able to be cared for with decreased staff?
  • Are the residents still able to socialize with one another?
  • What activities, group and independent, can they do?
  • What health and safety precautions are being taken with the food served to residents?
  • What about medication?

Observe any background noise during your call, as well as how the staff member sounds and what answers they give you. If you want further assurance, ask to speak to someone else in management or administration.

How to talk to family members about it

What if you suspect your loved one is being neglected? What can you do if you’re unable to go inside the facility to gather evidence or speak to someone in person about it?

First, talk to your loved one about it privately. You might talk to them during an outdoor visit or on the phone. Stay calm and be patient; they may find it difficult to talk about if they are suffering from neglect.

Consult other family members who have visited the facility. You might find that a warning sign has a simple and harmless explanation behind it.

Or you might find that they’ve noticed other warning signs you’ve missed. After you speak to facility staff or management, take detailed notes of your suspicions. Take photos of what you can, even if you can’t go inside the facility.

If you believe your loved one is in danger and needs to be removed, call the police so they can intervene.

Call the elder adult protection agency in your state to report abuse. The Wisconsin Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program takes anonymous reports. You can also call the county’s Elder Adults At-Risk Help Line.

Get help from an elder abuse attorney in Wisconsin

To protect your loved one from further neglect and/or abuse, contact an experienced and trusted attorney. A lawyer can help you gather evidence and file a claim to seek the compensation your loved one deserves for their pain and suffering.

If you suspect nursing home neglect at a facility in Wisconsin, Boller & Vaughan can help. Call our Madison office at 608-268-0268 for a free consultation, or fill out an online contact form. For more news resources on elder abuse in Wisconsin, like and follow the Boller & Vaughan Facebook page.


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