Instances of nursing home abuse in Florida have nearly doubled in recent years. In 2022, there were 83 cases of elderly residents put into serious danger, 18 of which were in Tampa Bay. And more than half of those transgressions stemmed from limited staffing or insufficient training, which is a nationally recognized issue.
Statistics like that are enough to give anyone pause, but especially those with loved ones in long-term care (LTC) facilities. There is simply no viable excuse that makes the abuse of older adults acceptable.
All LTC residents have protected rights granted by the U.S and Florida, but sometimes caretakers refuse to follow them. You may need to report the situation and contact a nursing home abuse attorney to hold the facility responsible.
If you suspect a case of nursing home abuse in Florida, keep reading. This guide will give you all the information you need to get help—and potentially compensation—for the victim.
Why Nursing Home Abuse Occurs in Florida
There exists around 71,948 nursing home residents in Florida, the fourth highest number in the nation. That’s about an 85% occupancy rate of the 84,448 nursing home beds in the state. With that many individuals requiring LTC, it raises the chances for nursing home abuse to occur.
Especially since the AARP ranks Florida in 43rd place for quality of LTC. That’s a recent improvement since it formerly held the last place spot (51). About 20% of Florida’s population is over 65, but between 2015 and 2050, the age 85+ population is set to more than triple.
In other words, incidents of nursing home abuse in Florida may unfortunately increase in the coming years.
Florida Nursing Home Resident Rights
The good news is Florida’s nursing home residents possess state and federal rights that protect their standard of living. These rights are set to help prevent nursing home abuse in Florida. All nursing home facilities in Florida must make a public statement about these rights in order to receive licensing.
Per the law of the Florida Senate, Florida Statute §400.022 specifically guarantees residents the following:
- The right to be free from mental and physical abuse, solitary exclusion, and constraints.
- The right to receive adequate and appropriate healthcare, including mental health and social services.
- The right to privacy in personal and medical records, and when caring for personal or bodily needs.
- The right to receive notification about proposed medical treatment and to refuse medications (though family members will receive notification).
- The right to courteous and fair treatment that allows for the fullest measure of dignity.
- The right to retain and use personal clothing and possessions as space permits.
- The right to manage one’s own financial affairs or to delegate such responsibility.
- The right to participate in social, religious, and community activities providing they don’t interfere with other residents’ rights.
- The right to present grievances on behalf of oneself or others to the facility’s staff or administrator without retribution.
- The right to receive a written statement and an oral explanation of all the services provided by the nursing home.
Florida’s resident rights are in addition to those granted by federal law via the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987.
What is Nursing Home Abuse?
Nursing home abuse in Florida may show up in myriad ways, but generally it will classify as abuse or neglect.
It’s possible that both abuse and neglect may occur simultaneously. Therefore it’s important to consult with an attorney if you suspect any of the following.
This is the most straightforward type of abuse since it’s typically tangible and visible.
Examples might include physical assault like punching, kicking, or slapping a patient. However, less outwardly violent transgressions may also count towards a claim. For example, improper use of straps or ties to bind a resident is a more covert form of physical abuse.
It’s not uncommon for caregivers or residents to try explaining away signs of physical abuse as normal aging frailty. That is why it’s important to be on the lookout for signs of abuse before it accelerates.
Some common signs of physical abuse you may spot on a victim may include:
- Bruises, black eyes, welts
- Bleeding, cuts, lacerations
- Sprains, dislocations, broken bones
Mental, psychological, or emotional in nature, this type of abuse may be more difficult to spot since it doesn’t leave a mark. But the damage is just as bad, if not worse, than physical transgressions.
Emotional abuse may look like:
- Verbal assaults and threats
- Humiliation and harassment
- Intentional embarrassment
- Isolation from other residents
- Blaming for minor offenses
Many elders often stay quiet about this type of abuse as well for fear of retaliation. But things to be on the lookout for include:
- Unusual changes in behavior or sleep
- Constant fear, depression, or anxiety
- Unresponsiveness or lack of communication efforts
- Social isolation or sudden shifts in routine
- Personality changes, such as excessive apologizing
Financial exploitation of the elderly is unfortunately extremely common, and can have very negative repercussions, both fiscally and psychologically.
Older adults are at greater risk for financial abuse due to their accumulation of wealth over time. Regular retirement and social security benefits, savings, and fixed incomes coupled with cognitive decline make them prime targets.
Common examples of financial abuse may include:
- Unusual activity in an older adult’s bank account, including frequent unexplained withdrawals or transfers
- Sudden unpaid bills or insufficient funds
- Unexpected changes in wills or life insurance policies
- Suspicious signatures on checks or outright forgery
- Missing belongings
Seniors often don’t realize these exploitations are occurring, especially if they trust their caregiver. So, it’s important to keep an eye out for warning signs.
While it might seem unfathomable that sexual abuse would still occur with the elderly, it does happen.
Though less frequent than other abuse types, the World Health Organization found that 1.9% of nursing home residents are victims. Oftentimes the perpetrators are not just caregivers, but also other residents. Still, any individual living in LTC has the right to protection from unwanted sexual advances.
At a base level, unwanted sexual contact, or overtures of any kind count as abuse of a vulnerable adult. It may also go as far as:
- Sexual assault
- Coercion to perform sexual acts
- Taking inappropriate photos and sharing those pictures without the resident’s knowledge or consent
Symptoms to keep an eye out for in the sexual abuse category include:
- Inexplicable STDs
- Torn, stained, or bloody undergarments
- Increased difficulty walking or sitting for a long time
- Pain when urinating
- Displaying symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially around certain caregivers or residents
Nursing Home Neglect
As previously aforementioned, nursing home neglect is technically abusive, but it falls in its own category. This is owing to the fact that negligence is not intentional, but is still very harmful.
In most cases, but not all, neglect results from inaction or a subpar standard of care rather than malicious intent.
Nonetheless, it’s abusive to refuse adequate care to a nursing home resident even when there is an absence of malice. Furthermore, it’s a requirement of all licensed nursing home facilities that they meet the basic needs of their residents.
Neglect may take shape in many ways, but common examples are:
- Failing to provide care, shelter, clothing, or food
- Abandoning or ignoring an incapacitated or vulnerable adult
- Not doing prescribed routine medical or wound care for residents
- Refusing to change residents after each episode of incontinence
- Neglecting to bathe residents
- Turning off a call light or regularly not responding to resident requests
Some possible neglect symptoms you may notice include:
- Bed sores
- Dirty room
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Worsening medical conditions
Unfortunately, neglect is pervasive in nursing home settings as 94% of facilities face understaffing. This is true even though Florida has guidelines for nursing home staff-to-patient ratios established by the Florida Department of Health.
In fact, Florida’s LTC centers must meet the nation’s highest level of direct-care hours—3.6 per resident per day. This is well above the national median of 2.5 hours. But even with those edicts in place, neglect still happens.
Preventing Nursing Home Abuse
Not only is it important to be vigilant about checking for abuse symptoms, it’s also important to discuss treatment. The CDC says it’s vital to listen to older adults and their caregivers to understand their challenges and provide support.
Let any elders know that it’s safe to talk to you about their nursing home experiences. Fear of speaking up keeps too many seniors in tragically abusive scenarios. Even consider establishing a code word they can share if they need help but are afraid to articulate what’s happening. Open communication is the key.
Finally, immediately report abuse or suspected abuse to Florida’s adult protective services, Florida’s ombudsman, or the local police.
How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in Florida
The first step when suspecting nursing home abuse in Florida is to call 911 if there’s still present danger. Next, you should file a complaint with the facility itself. The facility may try to resolve the issue before involving the authorities to retain their government funding.
After that if there’s still no acceptable resolution, Florida has many resources where you can get help or file grievances.
To start, Florida law requires anyone suspecting abuse of a vulnerable adult to report it to the Florida Abuse Hotline. Monitored by the Florida Department of Children and Families, the number is 1-800-962-2873. You can also report the abuse to Adult Protective Services through their online portal.
Additionally, you may wish to contact the Department of Elder Affairs, which provides information and assistance within each Florida county. Their general Elder Hotline is 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337). But you can also locate your local county office via their Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC) web listing.
Consumers may file complaints about a nursing home facility in general through the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration. Call 1-888-419-3456 or 1-800-955-8771 for the Florida Relay Service (TDD number) for licensed care facilities. Or use the online complaint form.
If it’s an unlicensed facility, use the same numbers or file online through the Unlicensed Care Facility Complaint Form.
Finally, financial exploitation or fraud complaints may also go to the Florida Attorney General’s office. That number is 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226).
The Florida Ombudsman volunteer program is set up to advocate for residents in LTC. Made up of government workers and volunteers, the Ombudsman investigates complaints made by or on behalf of residents, at no charge.
Call 1-888-831-0404 (toll-free) or 1-850-414-2323 to find the ombudsman in your area in Florida.
You can also email complaints to: [email protected].
Florida Damages When Filing a Nursing Home Abuse Claim
When a nursing home abuse case leads to loss, it is time to try to recover damages as well. A skilled nursing home attorney can help guide you to which types of compensation you deserve.
But generally, there are two main types of damages available for civil cases brought over nursing home abuse in Florida. These are compensatory (awarded to make up for losses) and punitive (assessed to act as deterrents).
These are damages that cover some or all of your measurable loss as a result of abuse.
If the losses are quantifiable—such as medical expenses or financial ruin from exploitation—they fall under economic damages.
Ultimately, the amount of an award will depend on the proven harm, loss, or injury to the victim. Not only will the severity of your injuries affect your settlement, but liability as well. If you can prove a facility’s negligence caused your loved one’s injuries, you may qualify for more compensatory damages.
Florida allows victims to sue for punitive damages, but the objective of these awards is to punish the perpetrator. The premise is that punitive damages will function as a future deterrent against repeat offenses.
For a punitive damage claim to stick, there must be clear and convincing evidence the defendant was acting with malice. There must be a strong intent to harm in your case to qualify for punitive damages.
Florida Statute of Limitations
Pursuant to Florida Statute §400.023, any person filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit must start an investigation on the facility. Then they must certify the investigation shows reasonable grounds for pursuing a legal claim.
The claimant must notify the defendant of their plans to sue by certified letter. After the intent is put in the mail, they must then wait 75 days for the other party to respond.
Once they investigate the situation themselves, they will either settle the claim or reject it. After that, the parties must enter into a pre-suit mediation within 60 days. If there is no resolution, then the plaintiff may file a civil lawsuit for nursing home abuse.
In other words, even though Florida has a two year statute of limitations to file your lawsuit, there are many steps before filing. As a result, you shouldn’t wait to get your claim going, but rather should immediately meet with a lawyer.
Find a Florida Nursing Home Attorney With LegalASAP
If you’re still reading, you’re probably trying to decide how to handle a case of nursing home abuse in Florida. If so, please let us find a lawyer to assist you through this complicated process.
It will help to have someone who knows all the legal ins-and-outs of the system in your corner. Plus, a skilled nursing home abuse attorney can ease the stress of trying to navigate such an upsetting situation solo.
LegalASAP’s attorney network of 500+ law firms can connect you with an experienced legal advocate in your area right away. Additionally, all consultations are free, so you have nothing to lose. Get the assistance you need today so you can improve your loved one’s situation as soon as possible.
Kimberly Dawn Neumann
Kimberly Dawn Neumann is a multi-published NYC-based magazine and book writer whose work has appeared in a wide variety of publications ranging from Forbes to Cosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit: www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann