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Critical Care: Helping Your Loved Ones Navigate Care Facility Risks
Tuesday, March 3, 2020

When a loved one goes into an assisted care facility, it’s the hope that they’ll receive the compassionate and attentive care they were promised. No one wants to think about the opposite happening: neglect, abuse, injury, or death.

This scenario recently made headline news when a great-grandmother in Puyallup, Washington sustained fatal injuries after falling from her bed.

Betty Torrey 95, fell from her bed at Able Care Adult Family Home on November 13, 2019, breaking her leg. She died 11 days afterward following complications from the injury. Police reports state that the staff left her laying on the floor of her room for 2 ½ hours after she fell, ignoring her cries for help.

This kind of situation is a worst-case scenario for families and naturally leaves us wondering what can be done to address and prevent such tragedies from taking place.

What to look for

What does abuse or neglect look like? It’s not always physical – there are many signs that may suggest your loved one is suffering. If you’re concerned about neglect, keep your eye on the following.

Unexpected or unexplained injuries. Injuries, while not always visible, can be a red flag for abuse or neglect. For example, if a resident with mobility issues doesn’t receive help navigating stairs, they may fall, resulting in bruises, cuts, concussions, or broken bones.

Malnutrition or dehydration. Poor nutrition can have cascading effects on nursing home residents. There are clear physical signs of malnutrition, such as weight loss or weakness, but also mental and psychological ones like confusion, depression, or irritability.

Poor hygiene. Aid with hygiene is a responsibility of nursing home staff: brushing teeth or hair, bathing, getting dressed, or using the bathroom. Residents with mobility restrictions or dementia may struggle to handle these tasks on their own. If your loved one seems unkempt or in poor physical condition, you should investigate further.

Unsanitary living conditions. Does your loved one’s room smell bad? Does the common area look dirty? If nursing homes don’t fulfill their obligation to keep their spaces clean and safe, residents risk illness and injury.

Mood or personality changes. Individuals suffering from abuse or neglect experience high rates of depression, anxiety, and often isolate themselves. If your loved one is showing marked personality changes but refuses to talk about it, investigate further.

Laws to prevent abuse

Nursing home abuse laws exist at local, state, and federal levels to protect residents. However, there can be a great deal of variation in the laws. Many states have begun to establish task forces to provide resources, support, and advocacy for eldercare issues.

Learn more about state nursing home regulations here.

On a national level, the Elder Justice Act requires that all nursing homes must report and investigate all reports of abuse or neglect to the state. The Nursing Home Reform Act, on the other hand, outlines the basic conditions that homes must provide in order to receive funds from Medicare and Medicaid.

How to protect your loved ones from abuse

Research the facility thoroughly

If you’re considering a nursing home for your loved one, vet each location before committing. Evaluate inspection reports, which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services require every nine to 15 months. These reports can be accessed on Nursing Home Compare on Medicare.gov.

If your loved one is already in a facility, it’s not too late to investigate the site’s ratings and history. Even if everything appears fine, a little information can go a long way.

Visit regularly and request face time with staff

Residents who don’t receive regular visitors are at a much higher risk of abuse than those who have regular guests. Making yourself a regular presence not only provides your loved one important emotional support, but it always communicates to staff that you are serious about your loved one’s wellbeing.

Your visits can also provide the opportunity to familiarize yourself with nursing home staff. Request regular meetings with staff and management and share your expectations regularly for your loved one’s care.


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