Elder Abuse In Nursing Homes: We Can Do Something About It

Although nursing home and long-term care facilities are regulated and inspected under the supervision of the Department of Human Services (DHS), recent articles this year in The Oregonian and Register-Guard indicate facility conditions are not always as they should be for the most vulnerable residents.

A Growing Percentage of Oregonians

In Oregon, about 13 percent of the population is 65 years or older and nearly 76,000 Oregonians are age 85 or older. DHS received 20,000 calls reporting alleged abuse of the elderly or physically disabled in 2010. However, many of these calls are determined be unsubstantiated or not upheld after DHS review and investigation.

According to an article in the Register-Guard, from November 2009 through April 2011, Lane County Adult and Protective Services (APS) received 866 complaints about incidents of neglect or abuse in long-term care facilities under its jurisdiction.

Of these, less than half were substantiated by APS caseworkers and passed on to the state DHS, which contracts with APS to perform the investigations in the facilities. Only quarter of those reviewed by the DHS during this 18-month period were upheld. Only 20 percent or 22 were eventually fined.

Even more troubling are the rapes and sexual assaults committed by nursing home employees and residents as described in the recent Oregonian article ” An Oregon family’s quest for justice for Ruth DeLong Black.

If you have a parent, spouse, other family member or friend in a long-term care facility, you may not be aware of these problems exist.

Warning Signs

Awareness to the problem is an important starting point. If you visit any friends or family members in a long-term care facility, pay attention to conditions of the facility and the residents. The Oregon DHS list the following as potential warning signs of physical abuse:

  • Cuts, lacerations, punctures, wounds.
  • Bruises, welts, discolorations, grip marks.
  • Any unexplained injury that does not fit with the given explanation of the injury.
  • Any injury incompatible with the person’s history of unexplained injuries.
  • Any injury which has not been properly cared for (sometimes injuries are hidden on areas of the body normally covered by clothing).
  • Poor skin condition or poor skin hygiene.
  • Dehydration and/or malnourishment without illness-related cause.
  • Unexplained loss of weight.
  • Burns, possibly caused by cigarettes, caustics, acids or friction from ropes or chains.
  • Soiled clothing or bed linens.

If A Situation Does Not Feel Right, Speak With Someone

Don’t assume the problem is being caught by state agencies or wait until something catastrophic happens. If you believe abuse or neglect may be occurring contact the state DHS at 1-800-232-3020 or call the state Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 1-800-522-2602. Your report of suspected abuse is confidential.

Also, you may want to speak with an attorney who handles elder abuse and neglect cases. Attorneys often provide free and practical advice about how be best handle the problem. We all have an interest in helping to protect our most vulnerable family members and friends.