Nursing Home - Abuse & Neglect

Virginia Attorney John P. Harris III : helping assisted care abuse victims and their families win restitution in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Caroline County, Stafford, King George and throughout Virginia.

Growing old is no picnic, especially in Virginia. According to a series of articles that appeared in the Washington Post in May, 2004 that detailed the appalling state of assisted care living in Virginia, those who live beyond their ability to fully care for themselves and who must rely on ‘help’ from privately-owned, state-subsidized facilities often face a living hell that brutally penalizes long life.

In case after case, the Post articles cited examples where Virginia’s elderly were discarded into dumping grounds of neglect, abuse, filth and indignity. In many cases, assisted living facilities take steps to conceal their neglect of residents. But some don’t even bother, presuming that anyone left in their care can’t possibly have loved ones that care about them and the quality of treatment they receive.

Despite being one of the most affluent states in the nation, Virginia’s overall record of care for the elderly and disabled is at the bottom of the barrel in nearly every statistical category. For example, subsidies from Virginia to assisted living facilities per resident are only $29 a day, making it the third lowest in the nation. Currently, just 30 state inspectors are employed to oversee a bed count that is now at 34,000 and growing. And while laws were passed last September to expand responsibility for neglect of elders to others who have regular contact with assisted living facilities, these new laws are like applying a band-aid to a severed hand. Nothing short of a head-to-toe review of the rights of those now enduring the crisis in assisted living will fix this problem.

Charged with overseeing and regulating this mess is Virginia’s Department of Social Services. And while DSS officials say incidents of neglect and abuse in assisted living homes are relatively rare and isolated, it’s difficult to put much stock in their assessment of the situation. In the Post articles, officials were questioned at length about many of the most problematic facilities in Virginia, including one facility in which eight suspect deaths occurred in just 19 months. The officials were oblivious to the deaths, even though they were investigating complaints of neglect and mistreatment at the home when the deaths occurred.

While the list of problems that occur in assisted living in Virginia could fill several volumes, below are just a few of the most pressing problems:

  • No Differentiation among Residents: Due to a lack of space and adequate funding, the elderly are often placed at random in facilities with the mentally retarded, brain injured and others suffering from severe behavioral problems who haven’t been properly diagnosed by a doctor. Defenseless against these often younger and more aggressive inmates, such living arrangements have frequently led to beatings, abuse, rape and even death among the elderly. The majority of these incidents go unreported and unpunished.
  • Failure to Regularly Dispense Medication: Staff isn’t required to keep records up-to-date, and lack basic understanding of medication and how to dispense it to patients. In one case in the Post articles, a woman suffering from epilepsy was not given her medication for 25 straight days. Falling into a fit of seizures that lasted for more than two hours, the woman was finally taken to a hospital, where doctors administered medication that temporarily paralyzed her, ending the seizures.
  • Lack of Adequate Heating and Food: To save money on heating bills, many assisted care facilities keep the temperatures in their facilities extremely low. This can be torture for an elderly person, especially in homes that don’t provide adequate blankets and bedding for their residents. In addition, concern for proper dieting and nutrition for residents is often non-existent.
  • High Staff Turnover and Inadequate Staffing: Few assisted living facilities pay staff more than minimum wage for their efforts. Many staffers have no prior experience in care for the elderly and infirm, and have minimal commitment to offering quality care for the elderly. Many residents are left for days in their beds, leading to bed sores and infections, which are exacerbated by the fact that residents are left stewing in their own feces and urine for days at a time.
  • Lack of Adequate Medical Care: Despite the declining health of nearly every resident in an assisted care living facility, access to professional medical care is rare at best, and usually done on a volunteer basis.

In the face of such stunning indifference, the families of the elderly have only one place to turn to get results when their loved one has been mistreated, abused or wronged in a facility: civil litigation. Indeed, deaths and injuries are rarely investigated by state officials until after a lawyer becomes involved in the case. Of the more than 8800 deaths that have occurred in assisted living facilities since 1990, less than 100 have resulted in autopsies by a medical examiner. Autopsies are critical to determining the cause of death, and are usually standard in accidents where the possibility of foul play is even remote. But our elderly are not even granted this dignity.

As an attorney who has carefully watched the hurried rise of assisted care facilities as a solution to the growing ranks of elderly in Virginia today, John P. Harris III is determined to help Virginia families right the many wrongs inflicted upon their loved ones in assisted care facilities. With Americans expected to live longer lives than ever before, all of us have a stake in ensuring that the facilities that care for the elderly meet the highest standards of care, not just for our parents and grandparents, but also for ourselves.


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  • Cross-Examination of a Defense Doctor in A Nursing Home Case [PDF]   
    This article uses a transcript from an actual nursing home abuse case. The article was published in the Journal of Virginia Trial Lawyers Association this nursing home neglect dealt with pressure sores, or bedsores, from neglect of a nursing home. A pressure sore, a bedsore, and a decubitus ulcer are all the same thing. A pressure sore, or bedsore, can not occur without pressure. Pressure sores or bedsores come in four stages. Pressure sores or bedsores are decubitus ulcers are the result of nursing home neglect. Nursing home neglect or abuse, is usually as a result of a shortage of nursing home staff. Cross examination was created by using a computer to run a MEDLINE search. The expert referred to as the hired gun is Lawrence Charles Parrish, M.D.
  • Abuse by a Warsaw nursing home is alleged to be malpractice. Among other things, the nursing home failed to give prescribed medicine. The result -- a serious fall caused head trauma.   
    Nursing home abuse is malpractice.
  • Elder Abuse and Neglect: In Search of Solutions   
    Elder abuse, like other forms of violence, is never an acceptable response to any problem or situation, however stressful. Effective interventions can prevent or stop elder abuse. By increasing awareness among physicians, mental health professionals, home health care workers, and others who provide services to the elderly and family members, patterns of abuse or neglect can be broken, and both the abused person and the abuser can receive needed help.

    Elder abuse is the infliction of physical, emotional, or psychological harm on an older adult. Elder abuse also can take the form of financial exploitation or intentional or unintentional neglect of an older adult by the caregiver.
  • Things that indicate nursing home abuse.   
    Don’t let yourself be victimized. Recognizable signs of nursing home abuse include:

    Sudden death
    Over or under medication
    Unexplained injuries or bruises
    Visible cuts, bruises, or welts
    Rapid weight loss or weight gain
    Dehydration, malnutrition, and bedsores
    Unsanitary living conditions
    Infections
    Broken bones
  • Class-action lawsuit against Beverly Enterprises Inc.   
    The state of Florida has joined a $25 million class-action lawsuit against Beverly Enterprises Inc., the nation's largest nursing home chain. The lawsuit alleges the care provided to the nursing home residents was so poor that the state should get back the Medicaid money it paid on behalf of the patients.

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