Protect Your Loved One from Elder Abuse

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, more and more of our grandparents and parents need care beyond what we can provide them. Placing your loved one in the care of a healthcare facility, however, can leave them vulnerable to elderly neglect and abuse.

In New Jersey, it’s your right to pursue legal action against an individual or institution that may have taken advantage of your loved one.

What Is Nursing Home Abuse?

New Jersey state law defines abuse as the intentional infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish, deprivation of necessary services to maintain a person’s physical or mental health, and unreasonable confinement. Neglect is defined as an act or failure to act that leads to inadequate physical or mental care required for a vulnerable adult, and may put the person in a dangerous or life-threatening situation.

Some signs your loved one may have been abused or neglected are:

  • Bed sores — more commonly found on the heels, ankles, knees and elbows of bedridden patients — as a result of not being moved or cleaned frequently.
  • Recurrent falls and fractures from potentially deliberate shoving, insufficient supervision or improper use of mobility equipment.
  • Medication errors, such as overmedicating or under-medicating a patient due to inadequate medical supervision and guidance.
  • Malnourishment or unexplained weight loss from a lack of food supply, carelessness or missed meals.
  • Dehydration, blue lips or darkened urine.
  • Injuries from wandering off, also known as elopement, due to a lack of supervision or insufficient number of staff.
  • Unexplained purchases and expenses from potential financial abuse and/or exploitation.
  • Withdrawal from normal activities.
  • Rocking, biting or sucking from potential anxiety or distress.
  • Broken equipment.
  • Punishment.
  • Refusing to allow visitors to see the patient alone.

Older adults may also exhibit feelings of anxiety or depression from potential sexual abuse. Some of the common physical warning signs include:

  • Ripped undergarments
  • Bruises or injury
  • Difficulty sleeping, sitting or lying down
  • Sudden changes in behavior and character

This issue is more pervasive than you may think. In 2001, the U.S. House of Representatives commissioned a report to study nursing home abuse in America. The data shows that between 1999 and 2001, nearly 10 percent of the nursing homes in the U.S. were cited for abuse violations that caused actual harm to residents. It also revealed the number of abuse cases are steadily increasing. For every one reported case of elder abuse, five go unreported.

Elderly neglect and abuse can occur in facilities like nursing homes, long-term care facilities, assisted living homes, hospitals and private residences. Although reasons may vary, nursing home abuse is often the result of facility staffing decisions. The quality of patient care can be greatly affected by negligent hiring practices (i.e. including lack of criminal background checks, inadequate or misrepresentative employee certifications and understaffing), irregular visits with a physician, disregard for special care requirements and a lack of security measures.

Potential Damages

In nursing home abuse cases, facilities are liable for the damages and suffering inflicted upon elderly adults. The severity of damages determines the amount of payment a victim and their family receives. Nursing homes are subject to a number of damages if found guilty for abuse or neglect, the most common being:

  • Medical Damages – proper treatment can accumulate a number of bills. However, if the nursing facility is found guilty, they will be held accountable in paying them.
  • Pain & Suffering – abuse and neglect can trigger mental and physical pain and distress. This element of damage is weighed heavily in court, and the severity of the abuse can vary.

How To Protect Your Loved Ones

Over the last few years, measures have been installed to help protect your senior loved ones from abuse. The U.S. Administration on Aging has an Office of Elder Justice and Adult Protective Services that works to educate and prevent this abuse, and to provide legal development and counseling programs.

In New Jersey, there are five agencies — New Jersey Adult Protective Services, New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Division of Health Facilities Evaluation and Licensing, New Jersey Division of Aging and Community Services, New Jersey Long Term Care Ombudsman and New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice — and several laws dedicated to nursing home abuse.

The Adult Protective Services Act (NJ Rev Stat § 52:27D-406) is just one of these laws. Passage of the act established a statewide public awareness program and channels to report elderly abuse, and set a legal precedent to prevent abusive caregivers from interfering with the victim’s future treatment — among other objectives.

If you suspect your loved one is the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, it is important to act quickly as mandated by the New Jersey statute of limitations, which limits the amount of time to file a claim. Missing the deadline can directly affect any legal action the victim may wish to take.

The two main claims related to elder abuse are:

  • Personal Injury Claims: 2 year claim deadline, beginning from the date of injury.
  • Wrongful Death Claims: 2 year claim deadline, beginning from the date of death.

Victims should seek immediate legal help. The attorneys with Daniel M. Rosenberg & Associates are experienced in handling cases of elderly abuse and can help determine if your suspicions are legitimate and what is the best legal avenue to pursue.

It’s also recommended loved ones of a nursing home abuse victim report their findings:

  • If you suspect the elderly abuse or neglect has taken place in a New Jersey private home, check for agencies in your county that can assist you.
  • If the abuse or neglect is taking place in a New Jersey long-term care facility, call 1-877-582-6995.
  • If the abuse or neglect is taking place in a long-term care facility outside of New Jersey state lines, call 609-943-4023.