When it comes to abuse, most people think about it in terms of domestic violence or child abuse. But when you look at the data, it becomes clear that one massive population is being overlooked: the elderly.
Understanding the Nursing Home Abuse Crisis
Nursing home abuse is a catchall term used to describe any situation in which a responsible individual takes advantage of an elderly resident. It can include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, confinement, passive neglect, willful deprivation, and financial exploitation.
According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse. And despite the fact that 5 million elderly individuals are abused annually, just 1 in 14 cases (7 percent) are ever reported to authorities.
When it comes to high-risk settings, nursing homes come in at or near the top of the list. Residents can be isolated and typically don’t interact with friends and loved ones on a daily basis. This makes them more vulnerable to abuse.
5 Ways to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse
Whether you’re an elderly individual or have a family member who is, it’s important that you educate yourself on this issue. Collectively, we can work together to propose and implement effective solutions.
The solution starts with increased awareness. The majority of people – including those who have loved ones in nursing home facilities – have no idea that abuse is a prevalent issue. Conspicuous ad campaigns and more features stories like these will make people aware of what’s really happening behind closed doors.
Better Vetting and Staffing
Nursing home abuse doesn’t always have premeditated malintent behind it. In a large percentage of cases, it stems from overworked employees who are exhausted and under-resourced.
“While there is nothing illegal about making a profit by caring for people, a conflict arises when operators attempt to maximize profits by reducing the staffing levels and hiring inexperienced workers,” Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers explains. “These cost-cutting measures impact patient care, often causing serious injuries and deaths.”
Nursing homes should do a better job of vetting potential hires and using strategic approaches to staffing to ensure that employees don’t burn out. It’s also important to set and maintain reasonable staff-to-resident ratios that ensure each individual has the opportunity to be cared for. Cost cutting should never compromise the quality of care.
We need more oversight over nursing homes to ensure they aren’t engaging in reckless behavior. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) seems to be taking the lead on this.
As CMS explains, “America deserves nursing homes that ensure residents are treated with dignity and kept safe from abuse and neglect; that are rewarded for value and quality; whose patient outcomes are transparent to consumers; all without unnecessary paperwork that keeps providers from focusing on patients.”
As of Spring 2019, CMS has started the process of conducting a comprehensive review of regulations, guidelines, processes, and internal structure as it relates to the safety and quality of nursing homes. The hope is that this review will lead to more oversight from the appropriate governing bodies.
In addition to more oversight, individual nursing homes need greater accountability. And who better to supply this accountability than the residents themselves?
Every nursing home should have a committee that consists of both residents and administrators. This committee should regularly convene and discuss the concerns of the residents, as well as the priorities of the facility. The hope is that common ground goals can be achieved without compromising the quality of resident care.
More Loved One Involvement
Loved ones are a key piece to this puzzle. The more they’re involved with the residents, the less likely that abuse will be allowed to thrive. In addition to phone calls, family members should make it a priority to regularly visit residents to check in and spend quality time together.
Adding it All Up
The prevalence of nursing home abuse in America – and around the world, for that matter – is unacceptable. Most victims are unable to properly protect themselves and/or speak out. Thus, the onus falls on family members, nursing home administrators, law enforcement, and government leaders to step up and implement positive changes.