Nursing Home Abuse FAQ
Deciding to enter a nursing home or helping a loved one transition into an assisted living situation (even on a temporary basis) is a massive, life-changing decision that cannot be taken lightly. However, even after you do your research, after you visit long term care facilities in person, and after you've spoken with the facility's administrators and staff, there is no guarantee that your loved one won't become the victim of nursing home abuse in Arkansas.
The resource below is designed to help you learn more about nursing home abuse, the common causes of abuse or neglect, the ways in which you can spot it, and what to do if you suspect abuse or neglect.
When looking for signs of potential nursing home abuse or neglect in an Arkansas facility, your first resource should be the residents themselves. They are the patients inside the facility and they are the ones who are coming into close contact with care providers, nurses, and staff. Therefore, it's important to note a few of the top complaints that residents have about nursing homes in general:
- Slow response to calls
- Poorly prepared food
- Inadequate staffing
- Inattention to detail (water out of reach, call light out of reach, etc.)
Three out of the four of those (slow response, inadequate staffing and inattention to detail) stand out as potential indicators of serious problems within the facility. Indeed, these could point to inadequacies that could present life-threatening situations in the future.
As an outsider, it may not always be easy to spot nursing home abuse. Many times, the individual inside the home will not voluntarily report abuse for a variety of reasons (not even to loved ones). In fact, multiple studies have found that older individuals in any living situation do not voluntarily report abuse. That's why it's important to always look for the following signs. YOU are their eyes and ears, so pay attention when you’re visiting and speak up if you notice the signs:
- Unexplained Bruises, Cuts, and Broken Bones
These can be signs of physical abuse or failure to safeguard the physical security of a nursing home resident (which could be a symptom of neglect).
Bedsores are a common warning sign of neglect and are caused when a loved one has spent too much time in one position on a bed. Bedsores are technically pressure ulcers, and nursing home staff should be doing what they can to prevent and alleviate these painful sores. Nursing homes are required to turn and reposition patients on a schedule to help prevent the formation of bedsores. If your loved one repeatedly suffers from bedsores, or if those sores get significantly worse, it could be a sign that their needs are being neglected by staff who are tasked with caring for their health and wellbeing.
- Dirty Clothing & Soiled Bedding
Unclean conditions within your loved one's room could be a serious sign that the nursing home is understaffed or that those who work there aren't taking their job seriously. Unclean conditions in such facilities can result in serious illnesses (including bacterial and viral infections) that can be deadly.
- Depression, Anxiety, or Unexplained Emotional Changes
Rapid emotional shifts can be a sign that all is not well in an institutional setting. These changes may represent a loved one's struggle to rationalize how they are being treated or may represent an attempt to cope with the mental suffering caused by abuse or neglect.
- Sudden Fearfulness
Fearfulness can be a symptom that a loved one does not feel safe in their residential setting. It could be a sign of physical or emotional abuse or neglect. Oftentimes, visitors will witness this fearfulness as they prepare to leave. It may manifest as a loved one's unwillingness to let go, depressive symptoms, or even anger.
- Missing Valuables
While many people who live in nursing homes have some sort of memory issues, if you notice personal property being repeatedly misplaced, or coming up missing altogether, it may be a sign that your loved one's property is being stolen or given away under duress. The same goes for missing money, checks, credit cards, or the like. If there is a significant financial value associated with the missing item(s), it could be the result of financial exploitation—which is a defined type of elder abuse.
- Refusing Visitors
As mentioned above, elderly individuals will not often report abuse or neglect themselves. Therefore, if they've been suffering from abuse, they may refuse to see visitors in an attempt to avoid that visitor noticing symptoms of abuse. Your loved one may wish to avoid the conflict altogether or they may even feel some sort of responsibility for being victimized.
- Dementia Symptoms
Dementia is often the reason for an individual being placed in a nursing home in the first place. However, if you notice the sudden onset or worsening of symptoms, it could signal significant mental, emotional, or even sexual abuse, and should be investigated further.
- Unexplained Weight-loss
Weight-loss is often a sign that a resident is not being fed properly. A resident’s diet and fluid intake should be closely monitored by the nursing home staff. Many times the nursing home staff will not take the necessary time it takes to properly feed a resident or make sure they are properly hydrated. This can lead to significant and life-threatening conditions.
So now you know a few of the symptoms of neglect and abuse, how do you tell the difference between the two?
Neglect is defined as a failure to provide for the daily needs of a nursing home resident. These needs include food, medicine, bathing, upkeep of living conditions, and more. These needs are all basic and nursing home staff members are inherently charged with seeing to those needs in a reasonable and timely manner. Failure to do so could legally be deemed neglect.
Abuse is the physical, emotional, sexual, or financial exploitation of an individual. Abuse could take the form of physical violence (grabbing or shaking an individual), but it could also take the form of constantly yelling at or berating a resident. Many times this abuse is perpetrated with intent and malice by one or more bad actors within a nursing home population (caregivers, maintenance staff, administrators, or even visiting specialists).
While abuse—on the face of it—may seem like a more pronounced danger to a nursing home resident, neglect can have serious life-threatening consequences as well and can often be harder to spot.
The root cause of all neglect is the failure of a responsible individual to do their duty to protect an elderly individual. However, there may be more factors that contribute to that failure than just the perpetrator's carelessness. Indeed, especially in "industrialized" nursing home settings in Arkansas, there can often be multiple stressors placed on individual caregivers by the way the home is operated.
Inadequate Staffing—this can contribute to individual staffers being so overworked that an elderly person's needs are overlooked simply because there isn't enough time in a caregiver's shift to address them. This can also lead to caregivers cutting corners and failing to work at company, state, and federally-accepted standards in order to meet tightened timelines.
Lack of Accountability—if individual caregivers don't feel that their supervisors have a vested role in the level of care given to every resident, the standards of care may begin to drop. If minor violations are not spotted, corrected, and/or punished, they may grow into major violations.
Poor Maintenance—if the facilities or equipment are not maintained in working order, it may be difficult or close to impossible for even the most dedicated caregiver to deliver the level of care that's expected or required.
Not every instance of neglect or abuse will result in legal action. There are certain criteria that can be met to pursue a lawsuit. Indeed, it's often cases that involve:
- Negligent personal supervision and care
- Negligent hiring, training, and retention of employees
- Negligent maintenance of the premises or equipment
- Or direct assault and/or battery
When cases of nursing home abuse or neglect result in a lawsuit, they are often very serious and likely have created life-threatening or life-altering situations within the home setting.
However, that doesn't mean that comparatively minor cases shouldn't be reported. While they may not result in legal action, they could very well result in official sanctions, changes to staffing or procedures, re-education of administrators, or other significant alterations that could greatly improve the level of care given to residents of the nursing home in question.
There are multiple agencies at multiple levels of state and federal government that oversee various areas of nursing home operation in Arkansas. These agencies include:
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
- The Arkansas Department of Health and Human Services
- Arkansas Attorney General’s Office
However, the best way to research nursing homes or to report suspected violations is to contact the state government (either the DHHS or the Arkansas Attorney General—see below for contact info).
As you may suspect, having read the above paragraphs, not every report of nursing home abuse or neglect in Arkansas results in a lawsuit. So what does happen when abuse or neglect is reported?
Arkansas has a very specific response to allegations of nursing home abuse and neglect involving officials from multiple agencies within the state government. These agencies include the Attorney General's office and The Office of Long Term Care (which is a division of The Department of Health and Human Services).
Every allegation will result in some form of investigation. Such investigations often include interviews with the reporting individual (unless anonymous), the resident(s) of a facility, staff members, administrators, and perhaps even the corporate management.
If allegations of criminal activity (like theft or assault) are involved, detectives from the local police agency or sheriff's department will likely be involved as well.
The investigation will often conclude with recommendations to rectify the specific problems that are uncovered. However, if the victim or their family members don't feel that the problem has been adequately addressed, a lawsuit could be the next logical step.
The answer to that depends on the severity of the problem. If you see signs of abuse or neglect that could immediately endanger the life of nursing home residents (such as visible wounds), you should call 911. Emergency medical services will be summoned and the endangered individual will receive proper medical care.
You should always report theft, physical, or sexual assault to your local police.
If you spot signs of abuse or neglect that does not immediately threaten the life of an individual, there are multiple ways in which you can report suspected violations to the State of Arkansas.
- Call the Attorney General’s Medicaid fraud hotlines at (866) 810-0016
- Report incidents to The Office of Long Term Care via:
- Phone: 1-800-582-4887
- Fax: 501-682-8540, Attention Complaint Unit
- E-mail: complaints.OLTC@arkansas.gov
- Letter: Complaints Unit, Office of Long Term Care, P.O. Box 8059, Slot S407, Little Rock, AR 72203-8059
- Contact your local Area Agency on Aging's Long Term Care Ombudsman for advocacy services (find your local agency here)
After reporting suspect violations and abuse, you may need more assistance. Contact an experienced nursing home abuse attorney in Arkansas to discuss your case and the legal options available to you in more depth.