As a nursing home abuse lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, I’ve dealt with some heartbreaking cases involving abuse and neglect of the elderly and disabled. Unfortunately, incidents of nursing home abuse and neglect occur far too often in South Carolina and the Charleston area including a woman who was found dead in a James Island marsh after she wandered off from an adult assisted living facility in May 2016. Two months later, another woman, Bonnie Walker, was found dead in a retention pond after being reported missing from Brookdale Senior Living Center in Charleston.
In this article, I will explain what is considered nursing home abuse, I’ll detail the rising problem of nursing home abuse, I’ll list the signs of nursing home abuse you should look for when you have family members or friends who are residents of a nursing home or assisted living facility, and I will share how to file a complaint against a nursing home in South Carolina.
What Is Nursing Home Abuse in South Carolina?
Nursing home abuse refers to elder abuse that takes place in a residential, long-term care facility. It is also sometimes referred to as institutional elder abuse. Such abuse includes:
- Physical abuse – physical injury from falls, kicking, hitting, or punching, or the unnecessary use of physical restraints
- Neglect – abandonment, malnutrition or dehydration, bedsores, gangrene, aspiration pneumonia, over-sedation, withholding prescription drugs, withholding hygienic care, or allowing residents to wander from the facilities and come to harm
- Sexual Abuse – forced sex acts or acts committed with a resident who is physically or mentally unable to grant or deny permission
- Mental Abuse – isolation from friends and family or verbal assaults
- Financial Abuse – stealing an elder’s money or property, and identity theft
How to File a Complaint Against a Nursing Home in South Carolina
If you suspect that a family member or someone you know is a victim of nursing home abuse and neglect in the Charleston area or anywhere else in South Carolina, you can report your concerns to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). DHEC is required to investigate any written or verbal complaint which indicates that there may be a violation of South Carolina’s licensing standards.
Any individual making a complaint against a nursing home may do so anonymously. If you reveal your identity and request confidentiality, DHEC won’t disclose your identity unless mandated by state or federal law. DHEC will assign your complaint to an inspector who will determine if the Department can assist you. DHEC will send you a written acknowledgment of your complaint. Once an investigation is completed, the inspector will send a written report to you about their findings.
Residents in South Carolina’s Nursing Homes Are Increasing
The number of elderly adults entering nursing homes and assisted living communities have grown rapidly as the population of elderly adults in the United States expands. In the United States, the 2010 Census recorded that people aged 65 and older make up 13% of the total population of 40.3 million in the United States. By 2050, people aged 65 and older are expected to make up 20% of the total U.S. population. In fact, the fastest-growing segment of American’s population consists of those 85 and up. In 2010, there were 5.8 million people aged 85 or older. By 2050, it is projected that there will be 19 million people aged 85 or older.
The abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults and the elder is a concern in South Carolina. South Carolina currently has 189 nursing homes listed on Medicare’s website. About 22% of those facilities have an overall 5-star rating. The other 78% are less than above average care, with approximately 16% with a one-star rating. Reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation of people in nursing homes and other institutional settings in South Carolina have increased 25% since 2000.
Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect is Rising
As a result of the growing population of the elderly, the nursing home industry has expanded rapidly. As of a survey in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 15,600 nursing homes in the United States, 69.8% are for-profit, and there are 1.7 million residents. Unfortunately, nursing home abuse occurs in approximately 30% of these nursing homes. Despite the fact there are Adult Protective Services organizations in all 50 states, as well as mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse in most states, an overwhelming number of cases of abuse, neglect, and exploitation are undetected and untreated each year. One study estimated that only 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities.
There are several possible explanations for why nursing home abuse occurs so frequently. First, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, approximately 90% of nursing homes are understaffed. As a result, staff members are stretched thin causing tensions on the job to rise. If the staffing needs aren’t met, then the staff that is there may easily become frustrated with the nursing home residents and abuse them in a variety of ways.
Second, the rapid expansion of the nursing home industry has led many facilities to hire inexperienced and poorly trained workers. A frustrated staff member that is not trained to handle an uncooperative resident may lash out at the senior they are caring for. Also, inexperienced staff oftentimes don’t recognize signs of malnutrition or health problems, and these issues go untreated until it is too late. Finally, without proper training and experience, caregivers may not understand how to residents out of their beds properly, how to help residents use the bathroom, and so on. This inexperience can lead to physical injury and neglect.
Third, nursing homes have cut spending and management. These budget cuts lead to poor resources for facilities and overworked and less attentive management.
Regardless of why nursing home abuse is occurring so frequently, the results are always the same – devastating. In a study reported by the National Center for Elder Abuse, 2,000 nursing home residents were interviewed, 44% said they had been abused, and 95% said they had been neglected or had seen another resident neglected. Elders who experienced abuse, even slight abuse, had a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who had not been abused. Research has also shown that victims of elder abuse have had significantly higher levels of psychological distress than their peers who haven’t been victimized. Also, the elderly who have been victims of violence have additional health care problems than their peers. These problems include depression, anxiety, chronic pain, high blood pressure, heart problems, increased bone or joint problems, and digestive problems.
What Are the Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?
The following are some steps that residents and their families can take to limit the potential for nursing home abuse:
- Look for Signs of Abuse:
- Dehydration or malnutrition;
- Bedsores or frozen joints;
- Poor hygiene;
- Abrupt behavioral changes;
- Signs of physical injuries such as bruises, cuts, burns, sprains, or fractures;
- Venereal disease or genital infections, vaginal or anal bleeding;
- The nursing home resident is not allowed to be alone with visitors or visits are delayed;
- Large sums of money suddenly withdrawn from resident’s bank accounts;
- Wills and/or financial documents are abruptly changed; or
- Nursing home residents’ possessions are missing.
- Make frequent visits to the nursing home at various times, including unscheduled visits.
- Speak regularly with care providers and nursing home staff. Press them for answers to your questions.
- If you are a resident, build relationships with other residents. If you have concerns about the quality of your care, speak up for yourself and tell your friends and family.
Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers in Charleston
There are both federal and state laws designed to protect nursing home residents. In South Carolina, § 16-3-1050 makes it is a crime for certain persons to fail to report abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a nursing home resident, to abuse, neglect, or exploit a nursing home resident, or to interfere with the investigation of a report of abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Further, South Carolina Code § 43-35-5, the Omnibus Adult Protection Act, establishes The Long Term Care Ombudsman Program which is responsible for investigating “reports of alleged abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults occurring in facilities.” If you suspect nursing home abuse in South Carolina, please contact us immediately for a private, free consultation.