Discovering Neglect in Nursing Homes: The Next Steps

Woman in a wheelchair looking out the window | The Pagan Law Firm

We owe our parents for the sacrifices they’ve made for us. That’s why, when they need us, we want to do everything we can to ensure their needs are fulfilled.

Due to unavoidable circumstances, the best option for our parents is to place them in a nursing home. You visit, ensure they’re comfortable, and then leave feeling confident that the staff will take great care of them.

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Maybe you visit your parents but notice the dark circles under their eyes. You see that their cheeks are getting hollow, and their clothes are starting to get too big. They smell a little bit, and there’s dirt under their nails. Worse, you see a scratch or a bruise on their face. These are all warning signs that your parents are being neglected or even abused.

It can be challenging to see these signs, especially if you’re not around often. It’s enough to break your heart when you see your parents in that state. You trust the nursing home staff members to take good care of your parents, but it’s near impossible when you know they’re not getting the treatment they deserve.

Taking action is crucial if you discover any signs of neglect in your parents. In this blog, we’ll discuss the signs of neglect, what next steps to take upon discovering negligence, and when to seek legal help.

What Is Nursing Home Neglect?

Nursing home neglect is defined as the failure of nursing home staff to provide adequate care to elderly nursing home residents. This can include:

  • Failing to provide basic needs, such as food, water, and shelter
  • Failing to provide medical care
  • Mental and physical abuse

In a study by the World Health Organization in 2020, 12% of nursing home staff members admittedly neglected the needs of residents. This number is likely higher, as many cases of neglect go unreported.

What Are the Signs of Nursing Home Neglect?

There are many signs of nursing home negligence. The most common symptoms include:


If a nursing home resident is left alone for long periods, this can signify neglect. Many elderly residents — especially those with mental illness — need constant supervision to ensure their safety and well-being.

Most residents also must be given constant attention as they may be a danger to themselves and others or have the tendency to self-harm.

Most of the time, inadequate staffing is to blame for this problem. There may not be enough staff members working at the nursing home to provide adequate care to all of the residents.

Neglect of Basic Needs

One of the most basic needs of humanity is food, and nursing home residents should have regular access to meals and snacks that are nutritious and satisfying.

A neglected nursing home resident may show signs of malnutrition, such as sunken eyes, hollow cheeks, and loose clothing. In addition to food, water is another essential need, and residents should always have easy access to water.

Dehydration is a life-threatening condition arising from a lack of access to potable water. Malnutrition and dehydration could cause a resident’s immune system to weaken further, making them more susceptible to illnesses.

Another basic need is shelter, and nursing home residents should be protected from the external elements at all times. Unsanitary or uncomfortable living conditions are detrimental to a resident’s health.

Lack of Personal Hygiene

Body odor, dirty teeth, soiled clothing, messy hair, and untrimmed nails are all telltale signs that an elderly resident is not being properly groomed. If a resident is not being given proper personal hygiene care, this can lead to some severe health problems.

For example, if a nursing home staff member does not help a resident bathe, the resident may develop rashes, bed sores, and other skin ailments.

Lack of Access to Medical Care

Neglect occurs if a nursing home resident is not given proper medical care, leading to serious health problems. For example, if a resident fails to obtain the medical treatment and medication they need, this can lead to a relapse of their illness.

Additionally, if a resident falls and is not given proper medical attention, this can result in long-term repercussions or even death.

Lack of Social and Emotional Connection

Many residents suffer from depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. If a nursing home resident is not given the proper emotional support, this can lead to a further decline in their mental health. Additionally, if a nursing home resident is not allowed to socialize, this can lead to depression and isolation.

Unfortunately, residents with physical and mental health issues are prone to social and emotional neglect. This emotional and social neglect could worsen the state of their mental health.

Unexplained Injuries

If a nursing home resident has bruises, cuts, or other unexplainable injuries, this may be a sign of abuse or neglect. For example, if a nurse aide fails to supervise a resident with dementia properly, the resident may wander off and get injured.

Additionally, if a staff member is not adequately trained in handling a resident with physical disabilities, the resident may be injured while transferring places. That’s why it’s vital for nursing home administrators to hire the proper staff members with the appropriate training for handling hospice patients.

What Is the Difference Between Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?

Both nursing home abuse and neglect are forms of elder abuse. However, there is a difference between the two.

Nursing home abuse is a deliberate act that causes harm to a nursing home resident. For example, if a staff member hits a resident, this is considered abuse. On the other hand, nursing home neglect is the failure to provide proper care to a nursing home resident. For example, if a staff member does not help a resident bathe, this is considered neglect.

Although the two are different things, they often go hand-in-hand. Both abuse and neglect can have severe consequences for nursing home residents. If you suspect your loved one is being abused or neglected, it is crucial to take action.

Different Types of Nursing Home Abuse

Physical Abuse

Physical abuse is when a staff member uses unnecessary force that causes physical harm or injury to a nursing home resident. For example, if a staff member hits a resident, this is considered physical abuse.

Common warning signs of physical abuse are :

  • Bruises
  • Scratches
  • Cuts
  • Bed sores
  • Broken bones
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Flinching or fear of physical contact

Physical abuse can also occur if a staff member uses restraints on a resident without justification. Often, physical abuse signifies long-term abuse and appears late in the cycle of abuse.

If you notice bruising, scratches, or other signs of physical violence, you must report it to the nursing home executive director or the authorities.

Mental Abuse

Mental abuse is when a staff member uses words or actions that cause emotional distress to a nursing home resident. Unnecessary yelling at a nursing home resident is an example of verbal abuse.

Additionally, if a staff member threatens a resident, this is mental and emotional abuse. Most residents admitted into assisted living facilities already have mental health and psychological issues, which could worsen with neglect or abuse.

The following are common indications of mental abuse:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawal from social activities

Mental abuse can also occur if a staff member isolates a resident from their friends, other residents, and family. This is known as social isolation. Often, hospice nurses do this unintentionally. It stems from the lack of a functional workforce inside the nursing facility. Regardless, this could escalate quickly and must be addressed to prevent future legal and medical problems.

Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse happens when a staff member forces a nursing home resident to engage in sexual activity against their will. For example, if a staff member rapes or sexually assaults a resident, this is considered sexual abuse.

These are common warning signs of sexual abuse:

  • Bruises around the breasts or genitals
  • STDs
  • Torn, stained, or bloody underwear
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Fear of physical contact

It’s important to note that sexual abuse can also occur if a staff member forces a resident to view pornography or sex acts. Additionally, it can also happen if a staff member touches a resident maliciously without their consent.

Financial Abuse

Financial abuse occurs when a staff member illegally or improperly uses a nursing home resident’s money or property.

For example, if a staff member steals a resident’s Social Security check, manipulates the patient to reveal confidential or sensitive information, or accesses a resident’s bank account without their permission, these are acts of financial abuse.

These are common warning signs of financial abuse:

  • Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Sudden changes in a will or power of attorney
  • Unpaid bills
  • Missing money or property
  • New “friends” who are suddenly involved in the resident’s life

Medical Malpractice

Medical malpractice is when a health care professional, such as a nurse or doctor, provides substandard care that leads to injury or death.

For example, if a nurse administering medication to a resident makes a mistake and the resident overdoses, this is considered medical malpractice. Other examples of medical malpractice include

  • Medical neglect like failing to provide timely or adequate medical treatment
  • Medical errors like misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis
  • Medication errors like wrong medicine or wrong dose
  • Tampering with medical records

Common red flags of medical malpractice are :

  • Bedsores
  • Dehydration
  • Malnutrition
  • Unnecessary use of restraints
  • Infections
  • Poor hygiene
  • Delayed or incorrect diagnosis
  • Sudden changes in medication regimen

Nursing home residents are especially vulnerable to medical malpractice because they often have complex medical needs and rely heavily on the nurse aide for their care.

The Nationwide Prevalence of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

Unfortunately, nursing home abuse and neglect are widespread in the United States. As the elderly population rises, so does the number of nursing homes.

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) records more than three million Americans in nursing facilities. The NCEA also conducted a study and found that around 90% of nursing home residents have been neglected or witnessed neglect.

Elder abuse and neglect also vary with every state’s population and resources. A state with a higher population is more likely to have a higher number of reported abuse and neglect cases.

In New York City, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services discovered that grave negligence and deficiencies were found in 195 of the state’s 619 nursing homes. That’s almost one-third of the nursing homes in the state that fail to deliver the basic standards of care to their residents.

The National Center for Victims of Crime reported that 15.3% of elder abuse complaints in nursing homes are for neglect. The number of documented complaints and cases of elder abuse has been rising over the years.

While these studies provide some insights into the prevalence of nursing home abuse and neglect, it’s important to note that these numbers are likely underestimated. This is because many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported.

It is projected that these cases will also increase in the coming years as the elderly population also shows an increase. From 52 million in 2018, the number of Americans aged 65 and older is estimated to be nearly 95 million by 2060.

Consequently, from 16%, the 65-and-older age group’s contribution to the total population will surge to 23% in coming years.

What Can Nursing Home Residents and Their Family Members Do?

Aside from old age, most elderly nursing home patients have conditions that require constant care. Many residents have mental illnesses like dementia or Alzheimer’s. At the same time, many are experiencing physical disabilities, such as tremors, limited motor control, and weakening muscles.

These make them vulnerable to neglect or abuse. Moreover, these vulnerabilities also contribute to why these heinous acts are undetected.

Nursing home negligence and abuse may present some signs, but they could be challenging to detect, especially if family members do not visit their loved ones often. This is why it’s crucial for family members and friends to see their elders frequently and be on the lookout for any changes in their loved one’s appearance or behavior.

If you notice any sudden or significant changes in how your elder family member looks or acts, the first step is to talk to them about it. This can be a difficult conversation, but acquiring as much information as possible is essential.

If your loved one can communicate, ask them about their care. Find out if they’re comfortable with their nurse aides and other staff members. Ask if they’ve been injured or witnessed any abusive behavior.

If your loved one cannot communicate, look for signs of abuse or neglect. These can include bruises, bed sores, weight loss, and changes in behavior.

It may be difficult, but gather evidence of negligence or abuse if possible. This can be in photos, videos, or medical records. This will be helpful when you file a complaint or report the incident to the authorities.

Report Abuse and Neglect in Nursing Homes

If you suspect your loved one is suffering a form of nursing home abuse or neglect, don’t hesitate to reach out to the proper authorities.

You may call 911. The police or paramedics can provide immediate assistance and investigate if the assisted living facility has broken any laws. They can help remove the resident from the nursing home and transfer them to a safe location in critical situations.

You can also contact the local Adult Protective Services (APS). They are required by law to investigate non-urgent complaints of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of adults who cannot protect themselves.

To file a complaint, you may also contact the long-term care ombudsman in your state. The ombudsman is a designated individual who advocates for residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

You can also file a complaint with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). They investigate complaints about Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes.

If you want to take legal action, you may contact a nursing home abuse lawyer who specializes in elder abuse cases. These lawyers can help you file a lawsuit and get the compensation your loved one deserves.

Prevent Nursing Home Neglect and Abuse

The poor treatment of nursing home residents is a national issue that needs to be addressed immediately. While we need the government’s help for that, there are many ways to prevent nursing home abuse and neglect from happening that we can do on our own.

One way is to choose a nursing home cautiously. When touring a facility, pay attention to how the staff interacts with the residents. It would help to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do they seem caring and compassionate?
  • Are they attentive to the residents’ needs?
  • Do the residents look happy and well-cared for?

It’s also important to visit your loved one frequently. This will allow you to monitor their care and look for any changes in their appearance or behavior. If you live far away, consider hiring a professional caregiver to regularly check on your loved one.

You should also stay in touch with other family members and friends who visit your loved one. They can be a valuable resource for information about the nursing home and your loved one’s care.

Finally, don’t hesitate to speak up if you suspect abuse or neglect. It’s essential to report any incidents immediately, so you can take that action to protect your loved one and other residents.

Speak With a Personal Injury Attorney

Don’t hesitate to contact the proper authorities if you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect. You may also want to speak with a nursing home abuse attorney specializing in elder abuse cases. These lawyers will assist you in the legal process to ensure that the neglect and abuse do not go unpunished.

Damages Your Family Can Recover in Nursing Homes Abuse Cases

If your party can prove the neglect or abuse, the at-fault nursing home can be held liable for damages. This can include financial compensation covering your elderly family member’s medical treatment or therapy. You may also be able to recover punitive damages, which are designed to punish the nursing home for its actions.

Final Thoughts

Your elderly family member should not have to suffer on their most vulnerable days. If you think your loved one is a victim of nursing home abuse or neglect, it’s important to consult experienced nursing home abuse attorneys.

At the Pagan Law Firm, we have over 25 years of experience fighting for nursing home residents’ rights. We will work to ensure that your beloved elder gets the justice that they deserve. Call us today at (212) 967-8202 or complete our online contact form to book your free consultation.

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