Product Liability

5 Ways to Help Prevent Nursing Home Abuse, Neglect or Mistreatment

August 27, 2019

If you or a loved one have experienced abuse, neglect or mistreatment at a nursing home or professional care center, we are here to help. Make sure you are aware of what kinds of abuse may be occurring, how to spot it and how to stop it.

All too often nursing homes and other professional care centers fail to live up to their legal duty to protect the health and safety of their vulnerable residents. Reported abuse in the media include theft of medication by staff, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, financial exploitation, neglect and abandonment. According to studies done by The Center For Medicare & Medicaid Services, more than 2 million cases are reported every year. These incidents seem especially heinous considering the vulnerable patients that are targeted and exploited.

Recent Incidents in the News

Recently, a Manchester, Iowa nurse was indicted for stealing prescription drugs from her patients and replacing them with less effective or completely different medication. Katie Louise Boll, a former nurse at Good Neighbor Society, was charged on July 7, 2019, by a U.S. District Court for 13 counts of acquiring a controlled substance by misrepresentation, fraud, deception and subterfuge in a 4 month span from September 2018 to January 2019. She was also charged with one count of tampering with a consumer product, specifically morphine, on December 24, 2018.

Boll is accused of taking her patient’s prescription pain medication and replacing it with less effective drugs, such as over the counter as acetaminophen. She acquired hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, codeine, and tramadol from at least 14 different patients. In the one instance of tampering with consumer products,Boll stole some of a patient’s morphine and replaced it with mouthwash. This unthinkable act not only took the necessary pain medication away from the patient, but ultimately resulted in further injury to the patient.

If Boll is convicted of all of the charges against her, she could face a maximum sentence of 62 years in prison and a $3.5 million fine. Although Boll is currently out on bail, following her most recent court appearance on July 16, 2019, she will return for her trial set to begin September 16, 2019.

The Astounding Rate of Abuse and Neglect Incidents.

Reading Boll’s Indictment is beyond frustrating. That someone would take advantage of the vulnerability of these patients is reprehensible. This one incident alone is enough to make you fear for the safety of those you love. Sadly, this is not the only incident. A report by the National Institutes of Health found that only 1in 14 abuses are actually reported. The number of potentially abused patients in the U.S. is suspected of being astronomically higher than the data shows. This continued abuse by centers whose legal duty is to protect the health and well-being of their residents is inexcusable.   

The list of indictments and convictions continue to grow:

It is disheartening to see the staggering number of unthinkable incidents especially when the actual number of elder abuse is much higher than the numbers show. We cannot allow our loved ones to be taken advantage of and abused by professionals entrusted to care for them. Here are 5 ways you can help prevent the mistreatment and abuse of your loved ones.

1. Decrease social isolation

Looking into cases of patient abuse in nursing homes, social isolation is a major contributor. Residents are much more likely to be taken advantage of when there are fewer interactions between them and other residents or family members. Isolation opens residents up to caregivers who do not have the best intentions for them and can abuse or mistreat them. While dementia and other medical issues can affect one’s social interactions, finding the best care center for your loved one is one of those factors over which you may have control.

Make sure you are considering the social component of an assisted living facility before making any decisions. It will always be a balancing act of finding the certain required care needs, quality hospitality and a reasonable price, you should also consider how one fits in socially when picking the best fit for your loved one.

You should also encourage your loved ones to be as active as possible. Support them in activities like: Getting involved in local organizations, engaging in hobbies that have a social component to them or volunteering with different groups. Whether it is some or all of these, make sure you are decreasing their social isolation as best as you can.

2. Keep a vigilant watch over prescribed medications

Like the nurse in Manchester, Iowa, there are countless cases of theft, misuse or fraud when it comes to prescription drugs. It is important to keep up with what your loved one is being prescribed and why it is being prescribed.

First,this will give you a good understanding of whether a resident is being overmedicated. This especially applies to the prescription of antipsychotic medication. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that 14%of nursing home residents filed claims for antipsychotic medication. Of those,83% were for “off-label use” which could indicate they were given for an unapproved condition, dosage or age group. Being actively involved with a resident’s prescribed medication can help avoid unnecessary medications that can leave them more susceptible to abuse.

Second,keeping an eye on prescribed medication can help detect whether a nurse or caregiver is misusing or stealing the medication. Because medication is usually administered by care facilities, as opposed to the individuals themselves, there is an opportunity for caregivers to switch them out or leave them out entirely.Stay educated on what your loved one should or shouldn’t be taking, so you maybe able to recognize whether something is missing or wrong.

3. Check in Regularly

Checking in with your loved one is important for a number of reasons. Visiting someone,making a call or even setting up video chats can really have a positive effect on residents. This connects directly with our emphasis on social interaction mentioned earlier. Carving out time each week will not only help them avoid possible isolation but will give you an opportunity to hear how they are doing and if they are liking the care center.

On top of the regular schedule visits you might have set up, try and swing in at varying times to check-in on your loved ones. Care givers know their patients schedules well, so consistently switching up your visits leaves less opportunity for them to steal from, neglect or abuse patients.

Most of all, when you do check-in with your loved ones, make sure you take everything they mention seriously. This can get increasingly difficult with those who struggle with varying degrees of dementia, but it is still important to listen and investigate anything that is concerning. Make sure you give eachcomment the attention it deserves.

4. Get to Know the Primary Caregivers

We are quick to scrutinize our children’s teachers, coaches and friends, why shouldn’t it be the same for those that provide primary care for the elderly? Take time to meet them, learn their name and get a feel for them. This can make you better equipped to spot possible discrepancies and inconsistencies.  

Most of the caregivers that you will run into are amazing. They dedicate their lives to helping others and tend to be extremely caring and patient people. For that reason, it can sometimes be easier to spot those that are not as caring and patient. That being said, there must be leniency for how difficult the job is(Thelma isn’t ALWAYS the peach you think she is) and the reality is that everyone can have bad days. Still, you may be able to spot concerning behavior if you do spend enough time with them and get to know them.

5. Be attentive to any changes in a loved one’s appearance or mood.  

This is probably the most important of the 5 steps to prevent nursing home abuse. It can also be much more difficult than you would think. Yes, you are sure to notice changes in your loved one’s appearance or general mood but you may not associate it with much more than them aging and changing. Maybe it is just a bad week, month or year. Maybe Thelma didn’t get her prune juice like she was supposed to get. Whatever the reason, we tend not to think about these other very real possibilities that shouldn’t be ruled out.

If there is something wrong going on, it will manifest in some way that you might be able to pick up on. Trust your perception, at the end of the day you probably know your loved one better than anyone else. Stay attentive and use your visits as a time to spend with your loved one and a time to check up on the how their social life is going. Take this time to ask if any medication changes have occurred and how they like their care center. These precautions could possibly prevent your loved one and other residents at the care center from being taken advantage of, abused or neglected.

Our expectation is to continue bringing awareness to this growing issue to help stop the ongoing abuse of elderly individuals. These 5 steps will help you identify patterns and warning signs that may clue you into something going on at your loved one’s nursing home or assisted living. Despite our efforts to bring awareness and education on this topic, we know that this will continue. When abuses do occur, we are here to advocate for those that have been abused or neglected. Contacting an experienced lawyer can quickly bring an end to the abuse, gain a complete scope of the incident(s) and fight for compensation for the damages done. To read more about how to stop abuse or to report mistreatment, abuse or neglect, visit our page here for more details or to fill out a free case review.  

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