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Nursing Home Neglect: How Do We Prevent Harm and Protect Florida’s Elderly Population?

Nursing Home Neglect: How Do We Prevent Harm and Protect Florida’s Elderly Population?

Nursing home neglect in the south, specifically in Florida, has risen in the last decade. Anywhere a large population of senior citizens make up the demographic, the chance of becoming susceptible to nursing home abuse and neglect rises. Seniors choose to spend their golden years in Florida for our warm weather and beautiful beaches; the thought of spending life’s later years in a nursing home should not come with the added worry that neglect, assault, or abuse is a possibility.

However, the reality is this widespread problem has become such a hot button issue, that Florida’s nursing homes are mandated by law to provide potential residents and their loved ones with a written statement of the facility’s abuse and neglect policies. These policies also must be furnished in a common area, such as on a wall or left on a table to be picked up and read.

Florida Department of Elder Affairs and Florida’s abuse prevention policies for seniors

These policies are not arbitrary, and are enforced by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs to ensure the health and safety of nursing home residents. These policies must be discussed with the potential resident and their family, furnished in writing prior to admitting the resident into the facility. These abuse and neglect prevention policies are in place to ensure that both residents and allied healthcare providers employed by the facility maintain proper licensure, as well as keep up with any changes to the law as the state sees fit to amend them.

Any state amended changes to the policies are to be provided to patients and their families in writing at the earliest convenience, as well as updated and clearly displayed in the facility in a common area.

What constitutes nursing home neglect in Florida? Why is it different than nursing home abuse?

There are several specific reasons why abuse and neglect are not one and the same. While one is no better than the other (because both are considered to be horrific acts of violence against the elderly), there are certain points that must be made within this article to illustrate why these separate acts of violence are tried in a court of law as such, and not under the same banner.

To start, the definition of neglect is as follows:

“[…]a disregard of duty resulting from carelessness, indifference, or willfulness; especially: a failure to provide a person under one’s care with proper food, clothing, shelter, supervision, medical care, or emotional stability.”

The definition of abuse is the following:

“[…]use (something) to bad effect or for a bad purpose; misuse, treat with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.”

The definitions differ in context, because under the law abuse is considered to be harm or severely injurious behavior inflicted with the intent to cause great damage or to purposely maim. Under the law, the context of neglect is a state of indifference or carelessness of a healthcare provider such as a nurse or nursing assistant in a skilled nursing facility setting.

This contextual difference is also known to Personal Injury lawyers as a dereliction of duty. In medical terms, neglect can be what is defined as one form of “abandonment”. Abandonment, and thusly neglect, occur when bodily harm or injurious behavior was not inflicted with the intent to cause injury, but resulted due to an act of carelessness or disregard of the nurse assigned to care for the resident. Leaving an elderly resident alone and failing to check in on them for hours or days can be considered both neglect and abandonment.

Medical abandonment and the liability of “laziness”

To further expand upon the medical context of “abandonment” in allied health, it should be noted that there are several other instances in which the act of abandonment occurs, and the medical professional committing such can be held liable for harm caused as a direct result of their dereliction of duty. Not every act of medical abandonment will result in neglect, and it’s up to the lawyer representing each case to determine the damages owed to the victim as a result.

Abandonment can be due to a healthcare provider’s laziness, in that they simply do not care to perform the tasks for which they are employed. Abandonment in the medical setting can also be considered, as previously mentioned, dereliction of duty, where the provider feels they don’t owe the patient the standard of care they took an oath to uphold. The term medical abandonment can span many different contexts, and therefore an experienced lawyer will be the one to advise those who have been abandoned by a healthcare professional of their rights and what damages may be owed to them for any harm caused to both their mental and physical health.

The following are some examples of medical abandonment:

  • A doctor quits his or her job and does not advise staff to call patients in an effort to reassign them to a different physician within the practice.
  • A doctor does not call with test results, nor does he or she return calls from the patient in a timely manner if at all.
  • A doctor closes his or her practice with no forewarning of the practice’s patients, leaving many without relied upon medical care.
  • A doctor consistently fails to uphold appointment commitments for a specific patient without giving the patient a reasonable understanding as to why, preferably in writing.
  • A nurse meant to care for an elderly patient on a daily basis fails to show up to the patient’s home at the appointed time, or at all, leaving the elderly person alone and vulnerable to falls, medication overdose, or taking medication at assigned times.
  • A nurse meant to care for an elderly patient arriving to the home, only to ignore the patient throughout the day even when they express the need for something; this applies to a nursing home facility as well, where a nurse may be assigned to a specific resident’s care, only to text, eat, or chat with other nurses when the resident requests help preparing a meal, accessing the toilet, or needs to be turned in bed to avoid bedsores.

What are the most common signs of nursing home neglect?

We’ve established the difference between abuse and neglect and how abandonment ties into the failure to care for Florida’s vulnerable population of senior citizens. We can also fully understand all of these deplorable acts are equal in their seriousness, we must explore the signs of nursing home neglect to be able to provide better prevention and not allow cases of extreme harm to come to the elderly.

Several of the most common signs of nursing home neglect:

  • The resident is not correctly positioned in bed; if bed-bound, the patient is not turned frequently enough or turned at all, resulting in pressure sores, bedsores, and ulcers. This form of neglect can result in serious and life-threatening infection if left unnoticed for long periods of time.
  • The patient’s call button is intentionally and repeatedly ignored: repeated cries for help are not answered. When the elderly use the button provided to them to call for help, a nurse must attend to them in a timely manner. If a nurse finds the resident “annoying”, he or she should not be employed in the field of geriatrics. The call button should not be seen as an “annoyance” to a nurse or nursing assistant, and they should answer each and every call with a smile knowing they’re providing the best care possible to the patient.
  • Lack of assistance in eating or drinking: the patient may need help to steady hands if they are unable to bring the fork to their mouth. They may require assistance with holding a cup to avoid spilling the liquid on themselves. Compassion is key: The elderly are not immune to embarrassment! Far too many cases of neglect result in humiliating a person who is unable to care for themselves by no fault of their own. This is not only wrong on the physical side, but can cause extreme mental anguish and PTSD on the emotional side for the elderly person when a new, loving nurse may be assigned to them. They may relive the trauma of their neglect for the rest of their lives, resulting in their golden years becoming tarnished at the hands of an irresponsible healthcare provider.
  • Lack of hygiene or very poor hygiene: this is seen in patients who cannot bathe or shower themselves, leading to bedsores and infections
  • The healthcare worker does not employ proper hand-washing technique or does not wear gloves when caring for the patient
  • Refusal to assist the patient with walking, forcing the patient to use a wheelchair when it’s unnecessary; the patient may want to use a walker, and this should be encouraged, as exercise helps to prolong life and maintain physical health for senior citizens.
  • Failure or refusal to provide food and water for the patient: this leads to prolonged malnutrition and dehydration which can result in painful, unnecessary death. This deplorable act of neglect should never be excused or ignored.

Careless nursing home staff are as dangerous to patients as staff members who lack self-control. Physically abusing a patient who cannot care for themselves is as fatal, horrific, and unacceptable as neglecting the patient’s needs. Both nursing home abuse and nursing home neglect can have unnecessarily fatal consequences.

If the neglect is not caught, and the patient is not assigned a compassionate nurse willing to care for their needs, they can suffer both physical and mental consequences. Starvation, dehydration, infections, organ failure, bedsores, PTSD, mental anguish, and ultimately pass away when they would’ve otherwise had many more years to enjoy a healthy, happy life.

What rights do patients and their families have if they suspect nursing home neglect?

Every senior citizen in a nursing home has the right to be free of abuse and neglect and to be provided with safe, consistent care.

If a family suspects their loved one has become the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect as defined by the policies provided to them prior to their relative’s admission, it is of utmost importance that a trusted family member and their legal representation act quickly to ensure their restored health and safety. This may mean transferring the elderly person to a safer, more trustworthy facility as quickly as possible. In some instances, it is important to see to it that their health is restored in a hospital setting after prolonged neglect or abuse. Failure to seek immediate medical care for the elderly once any form of neglect is noted can have fatal consequences.

When found out and taken to task, the consequences of nursing home neglect can range from suspension of nursing license to possible jail-time if caught in the act of abusing or neglecting a patient.

The importance of a well qualified Florida elder abuse lawyer

After the health and safety of the family member is assured, if not already represented, it’s equally important to find well-qualified Board Certified legal representation to further advise of the next steps to take on the legal side, as compensation may be owed to the senior citizen as well as their loved ones.

While there are rare instances where a family could’ve prevented the neglect from occurring (though this is rare and does not normally occur), in most cases the healthcare provider themselves as well as the nursing facility have all gone to great lengths to cover their tracks. To avoid legal consequences, they most likely made every attempt to cover up the abuse or neglect in any way they could.

Personal Injury lawyers with experience in elder abuse see these horrors and attempts to cover them up unsuccessfully every day, and will not be deterred from the case because of it. Senior lawyers know the hard work and dedication that must go into every elder abuse claim that comes across their desk. From Discovery to Damages, recovering compensation on behalf of those who have been harmed in Florida’s nursing homes should be done with the care and compassion only Board Certified lawyers can provide.

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