It’s estimated that more than three million Americans live, for some period of time, in nursing homes each year. The vast majority of those residents are at least 65 years old, and many suffer from physical or mental health conditions that make it difficult or impossible to live independently.
Whether you’re searching for yourself or a loved one, selecting a nursing home or assisted living facility isn’t always easy. Not only must you evaluate the physical property, but you must also assess the quality of care and services that are available.
It’s an unfortunate fact: The elderly and vulnerable adults are at greater risk of becoming nursing home abuse victims. Because of this, when selecting an assisted living facility or visiting a family member who lives in a nursing home, look for warning signs that could indicate a higher risk that elder abuse might occur.
- Not enough caretakers on staff. According to a report by the National Center on Elder Abuse), the chance of abuse or neglect is more likely in a facility with a high percentage of residents with dementia and a low staff ratio.” The report goes on to say, “Poorly trained aides are less likely to be able give quality care for residents who have dementia and exhibit behavioral symptoms…when the staff ratio is low and they are being asked to work double shifts.”
- No abuse prevention policy. When selecting an assisted-living facility, ask to see a copy of its abuse prevention policy, which is intended to educate staff members about the signs of abuse and encourage them to report it. A nursing home that lacks an abuse prevention policy may be discouraging staffers from reporting abuse and systemically allowing it to continue.
- A poorly trained staff. If you’ve ever cared for someone who’s elderly or infirm, you know it can be stressful. Professional caretakers are also at risk of getting burned out, feeling frustrated and taking their emotions out on nursing home residents. A well-designed staff training program will teach nursing home staff how to deal with difficult residents, cope in tough situations and take care of their own mental health.
- High turnover and inadequately hiring practices. Nursing home employees who are overworked or underpaid are likely to quit—and tell their friends to avoid jobs at the facility. This puts pressure on the human resources department to quickly fill vacant positions, often with less-qualified or poorly screened job candidates. Talk to the facility about staff turnover rates, and when chatting with employees ask about how long they’ve worked at the facility.
- History of complaints and violations. Every state regulates nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and has a Long-Term Care Ombudsman who fields complaints. Search your state’s database for information about how long a facility has been certified, when it was last inspected, how often it’s been the subject of complaints and what investigations have found. It’s possible for poorly run facilities to clean up their acts, but a history of problems, particularly recent ones, should serve as a red flag that more problems may occur in the future.
If you know or suspect that nursing home abuse is occurring—whether it’s physical, mental, sexual or verbal abuse, financial exploitation, neglect or other forms of mistreatment—immediately contact local police, the state Long-Term Care Ombudsman and a nursing home abuse attorney. Working separately and together, they can investigate the complaint, press criminal charges if appropriate, and take civil legal action against the perpetrators.