Nursing Home Abuse and Assaults. Is the Nursing Home Liable for Assault?

Upsetting Truths

Just two days ago I read a story that sickened me and broke my heart.  It read- “sexual assault of paralyzed patient”. (Dayton Daily News)  It is hard to imagine how such horrible acts can happen to such defenseless and vulnerable people.  While this particular incident is under investigation and charges have not been filed my clients and their loved ones have lived this reality. News articles like this are hard to read but it important to be aware of the realities of life in a nursing home.

When we choose a nursing home for a loved one, the last thing that we expect is that they will be physically or sexually attacked or assaulted in the facility. These are their new homes and what a sense of violation that predators live and work among our seniors.  Tragically, assault is not all that uncommon as I will show you later in this blog.  In my practice I have seen an increase of both physical assaults, staff hitting residents and also other aggressive residents hitting and attacking other defenseless residents.  The same goes for sexual assaults.

As a nursing home assault lawyer, I am committed to holding nursing homes and assisted living facilities fully accountable for the violence that takes place at their hands or under their watch.  I fight on behalf of victims and families and demand answers and justice.  Over the course of more than 30 years of representing nursing home assault and injury victims and the families who have lost a loved one due to nursing home abuse, neglect, and negligence, I know that the only way that nursing homes will change their practices is through the legal process and being made to pay for their wrongdoing.

What Conduct Constitutes a Nursing Home Assault?

There are many types of conduct that can be classified as an assault in a nursing home or long-term care facility, including the following:

  • Physical Violence. Physically violence can consist of hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, hitting with an object, or almost any type of conduct that one might imagine in which one person strikes another person.
  • Sexual Assault. Sexual assault also occurs in nursing homes.  In nursing homes and long-term care facilities in which younger women are being cared for, younger women have even been impregnated by staff members.
  • Psychological Assault. Psychological assaults involve actions or conduct that places fear in residents of some known or unknown trauma.  For instance, a staff member may place fear in a resident that if they don’t behave a certain way, they will be hit, or that they will not be served food.

The Statistics on Elder Abuse in Long Term Care

Statistics for Nursing Home Assault – How Many Residents are Assaulted in Nursing Homes Each Year?

This chart includes a wide array of the tragic abuse seniors and the disabled may be subjected to in long term care.   This shows that physical and sexual assaults constitute a third of long term care assault incidents. And really the bottom line is that the true number of nursing home assaults can never be known, as many residents who are victimized are unable to communicate the attack to others due to cognitive issues, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s. So statistics are just the “tip of the iceberg” and the true numbers of assaults and abuse is much higher.

The National Center on Elder Abuse published these chilling statistics (National Center on Elder Abuse)

  • According to the National Ombudsman Reporting System (NORS) data, within the year 2014, 14,258 (7.6%) of approximately 188,599 complaints reported to Ombudsman programs involved abuse, gross neglect, or exploitation.
  • A May, 2008 study conducted by the U.S. General Accountability Office revealed that state surveys understate problems in licensed facilities: 70% of state surveys miss at least one deficiency and 15% of surveys miss actual harm and immediate jeopardy of a nursing home resident.
  • Abuse of older residents by other residents in long-term care facilities is now recognized as a problem that is more common than physical abuse by staff. However, more research is still needed.
  • One survey of certified nursing assistants (CNA) found that 17% of CNAs had pushed, grabbed, or shoved a nursing home resident. 51% reported they had yelled at a resident and 23% had insulted or sworn at a resident. (Pillemer & Hudson, 1993)

Perhaps the most alarming data from the Journal of the American Medical Association states that “Elders who experienced abuse, even modest abuse, had a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who had not been abused”.

In my work, suing nursing homes for abuse and assaults, I hope to force the nursing homes to do better, hire better quality staff that have the patience and training to work with the elderly and train their staff to evaluate residents for aggressive behavior before it becomes an assault incident.

Assaults Committed by Nursing Home Staff

Many nursing home assaults are committed by staff members.  While the reasons for every assault may be different, the following are many of the factors that lead to assault:

  • Inadequate hiring processes. Nursing home assaults can often be traced back to poor decisions in the hiring process.  Sometimes workers will be hired who have a violent background, often as the result of a failure to conduct a proper background check.  Workers may even be hired based upon false employment documents.  Even if a worker does not have a criminal history, they may have an employment background that is suspicious, such as having a new job every couple of months.
  • Poorly-trained workers or staff members. Working in a nursing can be challenging.  It is critical that staff are properly trained regarding the different types of conditions that residents may have.

Many nursing home residents will have difficulty moving, and will need significant help from staff as they are repositioned, bathed, or moved from a bed into a wheelchair.  Moving some patients may be cumbersome to staff members, who can easily lose their patience and lash out at residents.

Additionally, many residents also suffer from cognitive issues, including dementia and Alzheimer’s.  Because of these conditions, these residents may in turn lash out at staff, or otherwise be verbally abusive.  Nursing home staff must be trained to understand that the residents may not have any control over their actions, and thus they need to have the temperament not to assault a resident who may be exhibiting such behaviors.  It is important to note that it is never appropriate for a staff member to abuse a resident, regardless of their behavior.

  • Lack of proper oversight. In some nursing homes, there is not sufficient oversight of staff.  In these situations, it may be easy for staff to shirk their duties by not properly caring for residents, or to assault residents or place residents in fear of negative consequences if they don’t do exactly what they are told by a staff member.
  • Failing to notice changes in the behavior of residents around a particular staff member. In addition to the physical signs of assault, when a resident has been assaulted by a staff member, there is often a markedly different reaction by the resident to the staff member than before the assault.  An assaulted resident may have a generalized fear and anxiety around everyone that they never had before, or they may have fear and anxiety only in the presence of the staff member who assaulted them.  In either case, alert managers and care assistants not involved in the assault should pick up on signs that something is not right, and work to investigate to determine what is going on.

Is a Nursing Home Responsible for an Assault by Another Resident?

In many cases, yes.

Nursing homes have a duty to keep all residents safe.  With the cognitive issues noted above, some residents may have violent tendencies.  One resident may believe that a particular other resident is “out to get them” based upon a delusion; if this is known, then the violent resident must not be allowed to be in close proximity with the potential victim.  Other residents may have general violent tendencies toward everyone, or they may simply act out in a way that potentially is harmful for anyone around them.

In any case, staff must ensure that those who may be violent are closely watched and not placed into a situation in which they could physically assault another resident.  When nursing homes fail to protect residents from a violent resident and injury or death result, they may be found to be liable if there is reason to suspect that violence or injury could occur.

Sexual Assault by Another Resident

Just as nursing homes must protect residents from physical assault, they must also protect residents from a sexual assault perpetrated by another resident.  Nursing home staff should recognize if a resident seems to be “over sexualized” towards others in general, or only towards a specific resident.  In these circumstances, staff should take adequate precautions to ensure that a sexual assault does not occur.

Call Me for a Free Consultation if Your Loved One Has Been Assaulted

Assault is not only wrong, but it’s also a crime.  I can help you understand the options available not only if you choose to report the assault, but also how you can seek to hold the nursing home liable on behalf of your loved one.

I will be happy to speak to you for no charge.  I can be reached at 216.696.5700. If you choose to retain me, there is no fee for my services unless and until compensation is recovered, as I accept nursing home assault cases on a contingency fee basis.