What to Do if You Suspect Nursing Home Neglect

The abuse of vulnerable adults in nursing homes is a growing problem in Washington State. Reports of vulnerable adult abandonment, abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, and self-neglect have more than tripled in the past decade.  Adult Protective Services, a division of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), says it received more than 66,600 reports of nursing home neglect in a recent report. As the years pass this number will increase.

If You Suspect Your Loved One is Being Neglected by Their Nursing Home, Do Something About It. 

The Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act is available to help. It exists to preserve your loved one’s rights and protect them against neglect and abuse. 

RWC 74.34.200 (1) states:

“In addition to other remedies available under the law, a vulnerable adult who has been subjected to abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect either while residing in a facility or in the case of a person residing at home who receives care from a home health, hospice, or home care agency, or an individual provider, shall have a cause of action for damages on account of his or her injuries, pain and suffering, and loss of property sustained thereby.” 

RWC 74.34.020 (15) defines neglect as:

  1.  “a pattern of conduct or inaction by a person or entity with a duty of care that fails to provide the goods and services that maintain the physical or mental health of a vulnerable adult, or that fails to avoid or prevent physical or mental harm or pain to a vulnerable adult; or 
  2. an act or omission by a person or entity with a duty of care that demonstrates a serious disregard of consequences of such a magnitude as to constitute a clear and present danger to the vulnerable adult’s health, welfare, or safety, including but not limited to conduct prohibited underRWC 9A.42.100.”

Sound complicated? Not to worry, we will explain all of this. 

Who is Considered a Vulnerable Adult in the State of Washington?

The State defines a vulnerable adult as a person who is:

  • 60 years of age or older who has the functional, mental, or physical inability to care for himself or herself; or
  • Found incapacitated under chapter 11.88 RCW; or
  • Who has a developmental disability as defined under RCW 71A.10.020; or
  • Admitted to any facility; or
  • Receiving services from home health, hospice, or home care agencies licensed or required to be licensed under chapter 70.127 RCW; or
  • Receiving services from an individual provider; or
  • Who self-directs his or her own care and receives services from a personal aide under chapter 74.39 RCW.

You Want to Be Able to Recognize the Warning Signs of Nursing Home Neglect

If you are going to protect your vulnerable family members from nursing home abuse and neglect, you need to know what to look for. Here are some common signs of nursing home neglect:

  • Bed Sores: These wounds are serious indicators of prolonged pressure, immobility, and signs that your loved one isn’t receiving proper care and repositioning. If your loved one is languishing in the same position long enough to develop these wounds, it’s clear that the basic duty of regular movement and care is being ignored.
  • Being Ignored: A lack of response to calls for help or a noticeable absence of interaction can seriously impact your loved one’s mental and physical health. If they seem withdrawn or report being left unattended, it’s not a minor oversight; it’s a failure in basic human care. Pay attention. Silent hallways speak volumes about the lack of attentiveness.
  • Broken Bones: Recurring falls or fractures could indicate unsafe conditions or insufficient supervision in the facility. Just a “clumsy fall”? Maybe once, but multiple times without just explanation? Not likely. Frequent injuries, especially broken bones, are a testament to a hazardous environment where your loved one’s safety could be an afterthought.
  • Bawling: Persistent crying or emotional distress are signs that your loved one’s emotional needs are being overlooked or, worse, that they are in distress. Unexplained crying isn’t to be ignored. It’s a distress signal from someone potentially in the grip of neglect. Treat it as an alarm bell. Don’t just dismiss it as another bad day.
  • Malnutrition: Unexplained weight loss, lethargy, hollow eyes, and sagging clothes are evidence of missed meals and neglected nutrition, a basic need that should always be met in a caring environment. 
  • General Abuse: Any signs of physical abuse, sudden changes in behavior, or emotional withdrawal warrant immediate investigation for potential abuse. Bruises, fearfulness, and sudden changes in behavior are the unwelcome signs of abuse and a staff member’s abuse of power. 
  • Lack of Support Staff: Understaffing is a breeding ground for neglect, which leads to delays in care, missed medications, and the compromised well-being of your loved one. Without enough hands on deck, care doesn’t just slip through the cracks—it disappears. 

Steps to Take if You Suspect Nursing Home Neglect

If you think your loved one is being neglected, or you suspect nursing home abuse, take immediate action. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Here’s how:

  1. Document Everything: Record any concerning signs, conversations with staff, and incidents. These notes will be vital if neglect has occurred.
  2. Communicate with Your Loved One: Talk to your loved one and observe their response. Just because they say nothing is wrong does not mean it’s true. 
  3. File Formal Complaints with the Facility: Express your concerns to the facility staff in writing. Be persistent, demand answers, and make sure it’s all documented.
  4. Seek Medical Evaluation: Obtain an independent health assessment to ensure your loved one’s health is not compromised by neglect. Do not rely on the facility’s medical staff. Find a doctor you trust and take their opinion seriously. 
  5. Contact a Personal Injury Attorney: Good nursing home abuse lawyers will guide you through the process of protecting your loved one’s rights and fighting for their rights. If your suspicions of neglect are well founded, it’s highly advisable to consult with a nursing home abuse lawyer who will help you take the necessary corrective actions.
  6. Report nursing home abuse to the Proper Authorities: Report nursing home neglect with DSHS, or your local Washington Long-Term Care Ombudsman, who can advocate on behalf of nursing home residents and any other agencies your lawyer recommends to ensure that the issue is formally investigated and addressed.

Should I speak with the nursing home staff about my concerns?

Yes. Do it formally and in writing, and record or take notes of all communications. If you’re unsure how to proceed, your lawyer can guide you through this process and help facilitate these discussions.

Who should I report suspected abuse or neglect to?

In Washington State, you should report suspected elder abuse or neglect to:

Your lawyer can assist you in making these reports and ensure they’re handled properly.

How is nursing home abuse investigated?

Nursing home neglect investigations involve reviewing medical records, interviewing witnesses, and examining the facility’s compliance with care standards. Your lawyer can collaborate with authorities and possibly bring in independent medical experts to build a strong case on your loved one’s behalf. Here is a description of the investigation process from the DSHS website:

  1. Intake: When you make a report online, in person, or by phone or fax, our intake specialists gather information to begin the investigative process.
  2. Assignment: Each intake report is reviewed to determine if DSHS has jurisdiction and assigns an investigation timeframe.
  3. Investigation: Investigations include thorough interviews, observations, record reviews, and coordination with law enforcement and other agencies as needed
  4. Offer Services: We work with community partners to offer protective services, such as emergency shelter, food, medical care, personal assistance, counseling, and more.

Can I remove my loved one from the nursing home if I suspect abuse?

Yes. If you have concerns about your loved one’s safety, or if you feel they are in immediate danger, you have the right to transfer them to another facility. 

Your lawyer can help you understand the implications of such a move and assist in the transfer process, ensuring that it is done legally and in the best interests of your loved one.

How difficult is it to prove that a fall was caused by neglect?

It can be complex due to various influencing factors.

  • If the fall was observed, it may be simpler to establish what the facility did or didn’t do. If there are no independent witness’ then that complicates proof of negligence.
  • Defense arguments about the impossibility of constant monitoring become more persuasive without witnesses. Legal prohibitions against physical restraints add to the complexity of proving neglect.
  • Facilities with thorough documentation of fall prevention measures can present a strong defense.
  • The neglect case strengthens if the facility fails to reassess your loved one’s changing conditions, as Washington State’s administrative regulations require.
  • Inadequate staffing and lack of proper fall risk assessments per regulatory standards is critical evidence of neglect.
  • The failure to perform required evaluations might meet the legal definitions of neglect under Washington State law, potentially favoring the plaintiff in legal proceedings.
  • A strong argument for neglect may be founded on the theory that the nursing home resident was inappropriately housed considering their condition. The facility is required to reassess and act on changing patients needs.

Should I place my loved one in a state-regulated or private facility?

State-regulated facilities are typically subject to strict regulatory oversight. They must comply with state and federal regulations, which can offer a layer of protection and assurance in the level of care. Thanks to funding from government sources, they may also be more affordable.

Private facilities often offer a more comprehensive range of services and amenities and may have more luxurious accommodations. However, they can be more expensive, and while they are still regulated, there might be less oversight compared to state-run homes.

How can I choose a safe nursing home?

  1. Determine the level of care and support your loved one requires.
  2. Research potential facilities and check their state inspection reports of past violations or issues.
  3. Know your budget. Private facilities may not accept Medicaid. Facilities that do not accept medicaid will have a claim to your assets such as houses and bank accounts. 
  4. Visit the facility in person, if possible, multiple times and at different times of the day.
  5. Speak with current residents and their families about their experiences.
  6. Observe the cleanliness, security measures, and overall environment.
  7. Ask about staff qualifications, turnover rates, and staff-to-resident ratios.
  8. Consider whether your loved one needs specialized services and if the facility offers them.
  9. Review the facility’s policies on resident care, emergency procedures, and abuse prevention.
  10. Check for active and engaging resident activities that indicate a good quality of life. Talk to residents. 
  11. Inquire about the process for reporting nursing home injuries, abuse, and neglect and addressing complaints within the facility.
  12. Consider the facility’s location in relation to family and friends for ease of visitation.
  13. Trust your instincts—consider other options if something doesn’t feel right.

Get the Financial Compensation Your Loved One Deserves

Nursing homes and other care facilities are for profit. They make money by cutting corners, cutting staff, and hiring unskilled workers. Putting profit above fair and honest care is negligence. If their profit seeking behavior has injured a loved one, you owe it to them and yourself to get back what you have lost. Talk to a  lawyer and with a free consultation get the information and advice that will help. 

Taking legal action is about getting justice for your loved one and preventing similar incidents from happening to others. Although it requires effort and resources, pursuing justice is valuable. The Sharpe Law Firm nursing home abuse lawyer is committed to guiding you through this process and finds great satisfaction in doing so. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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Chris Sharpe

Meet Chris Sharpe

Christopher Sharpe is the go to attorney for injured persons. His law firm is helpful, honest, and knowledgeable about workers' compensation and personal injury law in the State of Washington. Chris has been helping injured Washington State workers for over 40 years. He has built a successful law practice by thoroughly educating, honestly helping, and successfully representing workers throughout Washington State.

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