In the United States, 1 in 10 elders reported emotional, physical, or sexual abuse in the past year. Elder abuse is defined by the CDC as an intentional act, or a failure to act, that creates a risk of harm to an older adult (someone who is 60 or older). Many cases of nursing home abuse go unreported as those being abused are afraid or unable to tell the police or family about the violence. Victims must decide if they should report the crime or continue to be abused by someone they depend on for care or for whom they care for deeply. We have a responsibility to our elders to treat them with respect and ensure that they receive the care they need. Part of that responsibility includes staying informed on what elder abuse is and the signs of a dangerous situation. If you know someone that has been abused while at a nursing home, you should contact a lawyer right away. Protecting their rights is our primary objective.
WHAT IS ELDER ABUSE?
Elder abuse typically occurs at the hands of a caregiver or a person the victim trusts. The effects of the abuse may be minor physical injuries that go unnoticed, but others can lead to lasting disabilities. These include head injuries, broken bones, and soreness. These longer lasting physical injuries could contribute to wrongful or premature death. Emotional abuse shows itself in the victim feeling fearful or anxious and wary of future caregivers. According to the CDC, there are five forms of elder abuse: physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, neglect, and financial abuse or exploitation.
- Physical Abuse: any intentional use of force that results in chronic illness, bodily injury, functional impairment, distress, or death. Physical abuse may include (but is not limited to) striking (with or without an object as a weapon), scratching, choking, biting, suffocation, pushing, shoving, slapping, pinching, burning, kicking.
- Sexual Abuse: forced or unwanted sexual interaction (touching and non-touching acts) of any kind with an older adult. These acts also qualify as sexual abuse if they are committed against a person who is not competent to give informed approval.
- Emotional or Psychological: verbal or nonverbal behavior that results in mental pain, fear, or distress. Examples include behaviors intended to humiliate (e.g., calling names or insults), threaten (e.g., expressing an intent to initiate nursing home placement), isolate (e.g., seclusion from family or friends), or control (e.g., prohibiting or limiting access to transportation, telephone, money or other resources).
- Neglect: failure by a caregiver or other responsible person to protect an elder from harm, or the failure to meet needs for essential medical care, nutrition, hydration, hygiene, clothing, basic activities of daily living or shelter, which results in a serious risk of compromised health and safety. Examples include not providing adequate nutrition, hygiene, clothing, shelter, or access to necessary health care; or failure to prevent exposure to unsafe activities and environments.
- Financial Abuse or Exploitation: the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older individual’s resources by a caregiver or other person in a trusting relationship, for the benefit of someone other than the older individual. This includes depriving an older person of rightful access to, information about, or use of, personal benefits, resources, belongings, or assets. Examples include forgery, misuse or theft of money or possessions; use of coercion or deception to surrender finances or property; or improper use of guardianship or power of attorney.
RISK FACTORS FOR PERPETRATION & PREVENTION
Identifying and understanding prevention methods is just as important as identifying risk factors. The CDC identifies three levels of protective factors for perpetration: relationship level, community level, and institutional level.
- Relationship Level: having numerous and strong relationships with people of varying social status is encouraged. This way the elder is not becoming totally dependent on one person.
- Community Level: a strong sense of community, and coordination of resources among community organizations that serve the elderly.
- Institutional Level: institutions can utilize monitoring systems, regular training on elder abuse and neglect for employees, encouraging visits by family members, volunteers, and social workers.
Having the elder connected with more than one person is the simplest way to help to identify potential risks. On a personal level, there are several factors that can increase the risk of someone harming an older adult. Some of these risk factors include, but are not limited to:
- Using drugs or alcohol
- High levels of stress, hostility or ineffective coping mechanisms
- High emotional or financial dependence on the older adult
- Lack of training in caring for an older adult
- Exposure to abuse as a child
NURSING HOME ABUSE IN GEORGIA
The number of seniors in Georgia is rising quickly— “in metro Atlanta, the number of people over 60 quadrupled between 1970 and 2015.” While Georgia state agencies have increased efforts to address the rampant elder abuse ten percent of the elder population is a victim of physical or financial abuse. Unlike states such as Tennessee or New Hampshire, Georgia does not have an elder abuse registry. Having a registry would help everyday Georgians make decisions about the care and needs of their loved ones. Heather Strickland, the GBI’s assistant special agent describes it simply, “Say your mom needs someone to come in and do some work on her house,” she said. “It would be nice to have a database where someone could go in it and see if (a person) who knocked on her door if he had ever been convicted of financial exploitation or abuse or neglect of an older person.”
Although a registry has yet to come to fruition, Governor Deal signed a new law on May 7, 2018, that will require Georgia nursing home and other long-term care workers to submit to more extensive national background checks. The law entitled “Georgia Long-Term Care Background Check Program” will take effect on October 1, 2019, and “is intended to promote the public safety for a growing and vulnerable aging population.” Measures to conduct a more extensive background check on current employees that includes a new fingerprinting requirement, won’t go into effect until January 2021. Currently, caretakers in Georgia only submit to a name-based background check limited to crimes that were committed in Georgia. At best this offers limited protection to our aging population. Any criminal background information from another state or one who is using an assumed name would not be uncovered. “The enhanced background check requirement would more comprehensively incorporate reviews of the FBI database, state and national databases of criminal records, the nurse aide registry, and state sex offender and other registries.” For facilities that do not comply with the new law, the violations can range from monetary penalties to a license revocation. Facilities will be fined $500 per day they do not comply, up to $10,000. The exposure faced by the facility extends from the time they knew or should have known that the employed person had a criminal record until the date the individual’s employment is terminated.
CALL FOR A FREE CASE REVIEW
Schneider Hammers is passionate about protecting the rights of the injured and the wronged, and that includes residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities who have suffered preventable harm as a result of abuse, neglect, or dangerous products. If you believe you or your loved one has suffered harm as a result of another’s misconduct or neglect, our experienced Atlanta personal injury lawyers are ready to fight for the justice and financial compensation you deserve.