According to the Maine Counsel for Elder Abuse Prevention, over 33,000 Maine seniors are victims of elder abuse annually. Shockingly, many of these cases happen within families, but a large number stems from nursing home abuse in Maine. Unfortunately, authorities only respond to about 1 in 14 cases of elder abuse.
According to the Maine Health Care Association, Maine assisted living residents’ needs are increasing 30% since 1998. The 2021 report also says 47% of these elderly residents have dementia. And 35,000 Mainers may have Alzheimer’s by 2025.
Caregivers are stretched thin as nursing home admittance rates continue to rise. If you or a loved one found themselves in a Maine nursing home where abuse is commonplace, act quickly. Report the situation and contact a nursing home abuse attorney to hold the facility responsible for damages done to your loved one.
It is important to keep in contact with an attorney because new facts about the case may let you qualify for further damages. Collect as many medical records and eyewitness testimonies as possible so your story is well-represented. The more evidence you have, the higher the possibility for a larger settlement.
Maine Nursing Home Resident Rights
Maine elders possess protection under the Adult Protective Services Act, Title 22, Chapter 958-A of the Maine Revised Statutes. Title 22 provides the framework for elder abuse laws in Maine. Generally, the law recognizes anyone over the age of 60 as an elder. This is a deviation from most other states that use age 65 as the demarcation.
Unfortunately, because Maine’s a small state with a growing lack of adequate elder care, it pays to know these rules. This is especially true since inadequate staffing may lead to nursing home neglect, which is a violation of basic nursing home rights.
Every nursing home resident in Maine should have the right to freedom from abuse and mistreatment. Further examples of nursing home resident rights are outlined by Maine’s Ombudsman Program to:
- Be free from physical or chemical restraints
- Have staff keep personal and medical records confidential
- Communicate privately with anyone they choose
- Select their own doctor and participate in their own care plan
- Send and receive personal mail
- Get information about financial charges and available services
- Voice grievances without fear of retaliation
- Be safe from neglect and exploitation
In addition to the rights nursing home residents have in Maine, they should also expect a certain standard of care. That includes nursing services to assist with personal hygiene, cleanliness of clothes, beds, and rooms, and adequate food.
These are requirements under Maine law for licensure of any nursing home facility operating in the state.
How to Define Nursing Home Abuse in Maine
According to Title 22 §3472 of Maine’s Legislature, Maine defines abuse as:
“the infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or cruel punishment that causes or is likely to cause physical harm or pain or mental anguish; sexual abuse or sexual exploitation; financial exploitation; or the intentional, knowing or reckless deprivation of essential needs. “Abuse” includes acts and omissions.”
Nursing home abuse may show up in different forms but generally it’s broken down into abuse or exploitation. Some examples may be subtle, some may be blatantly overt, but all leave lasting damage.
Just as it sounds, physical abuse happens when a caretaker intentionally inflicts bodily injury to a nursing home resident.
This could include physical assault like punching, kicking, or slapping a patient. However, less outwardly violent transgressions may also count towards a claim. For example, the improper use of straps or ties to bind a resident is a more covert form of abuse.
It’s not uncommon for caregivers or visitors to try explaining away signs of physical abuse as normal frailty that comes with aging. Make sure to avoid facilities with hostile work environments whose toxic work culture trickles to the residents they’re taking care of.
If you see negligent or abusive behavior that constitutes physical abuse in your loved one’s nursing home, take legal action. Hold the guilty party responsible with a nursing home attorney to represent your case.
Inappropriate physical touching or sexual assault is another form of physical abuse that occurs in nursing homes.
Maine has a 24-hour crisis line for sexual assault, as well as support centers for victims. Sadly, however, many elders never report episodes of sexual abuse due to the emotional trauma surrounding their case.
Maine provides numerous resources dedicated to helping victims of sexual abuse recover from their traumas. The most important step before legal action is to ensure your loved one’s safety throughout the legal process. Only until their safety is ensured do you pursue legal action with a trusted attorney.
Emotional abuse can be tough to uncover since the signs aren’t visible and often happen behind closed doors.
Psychological and emotional abuse may take the form of:
- Name-calling or insulting their appearance
- Isolating them from other residents
- Blaming them for minor offenses
- Talking down to the resident
Many elders are afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation against their caretakers. The LTCCC released a report titled “They Make You Pay” interviewing nursing home residents about their abusive caretakers. One major theme throughout the report was the fear of retaliation and how it prevents residents from speaking out about their abuse.
Financial exploitation of elders is sadly very common and can have very negative repercussions, both fiscally and psychologically.
Many Maine nursing home residents will not report such episodes when they occur out of shame or embarrassment. Or sometimes these types of fiscal abuses happen without their awareness.
Sadly, because senior citizens often have savings, social security payments, or retirement plans, they become prime targets for financial abuse.
Examples of financial exploitation may also include:
- Unauthorized use of a nursing home resident’s credit or bank card
- Changing the designations of a will or insurance policy
- Taking belongings or money from a resident’s room
Most of the time they may not know they are being financially exploited. Make sure to spot these warning signs before they become a bigger issue in the future.
What is Nursing Home Neglect in Maine?
While neglect may also seem abusive, nursing home neglect has a distinct characteristic from nursing home abuse. That’s because abuse stems from intentional harm, whereas neglect is a result of inadequate care or apathy.
Legal definition aside, however, nursing home neglect is a very serious issue and one that’s all too common. This is especially true today when many nursing home facilities are struggling to attract enough staff members.
Examples of nursing home neglect may include:
- 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
Neglect may be difficult to identify but every nursing home resident has the right to appropriate care. The needs of many older adults may surmount the basic care requirements of more independent individuals. This can compound the neglect issue when it couples with staffing shortages.
Sometimes lack of staff is only part of the problem, however. If ignoring the care needs of Maine nursing home residents is intentional then that lack of response is also neglect.
Spotting the Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
Some red flags for possible physical abuse include:
- Broken bones, visible bruises and welts, bleeding
- Cuts, sores, or burns
- Extensive bed sores
- Unexplainable STDs
- Dirtiness and unsanitary living conditions
- Poor nutrition and dehydration
- Lack of access to medical aids (wheelchairs, dentures, hearing aids, medications)
Spotting the signs of emotional abuse may be a little trickier, but a few things to be on the lookout for are:
- Sudden changes in personality including unreasonable anxiety, fearfulness, or depression
- Social isolation or prohibition from visiting with others alone
- Changes in routine, such as no longer attending events or activities
- Lack of communication or responsiveness
- Unusual shifts in sleep patterns
And when it comes to financial abuse, there are certain patterns or actions that may indicate exploitation such as:
- Unusual withdrawals from their bank accounts
- Excessive charges to the elder’s credit cards
- Changes to wills or life insurance policies
- Fraudulent signatures on checks or other financial documents
- Unpaid bills
- Missing belongings
- Suddenly the elder is going without things they usually like or need
Knowing these signs will help, but also listen closely to the resident when they speak. Sometimes they will try to tell you in code, or even outright, that they’re having issues.
How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in Maine
For mandated reporters, Maine law requires them to report suspected elder abuse or neglect per 22 MRS §3477. This list includes:
- Physical therapists
- Social workers
- Some members of clergy
- Ambulance attendants
- Law enforcement
Even if you’re not in the mandated reporter category, however, anyone suspecting elder abuse should alert the appropriate channels.
There are several ways to start investigations into nursing home abuse in Maine. But before you do anything, if someone is in immediate peril, always call 911 first.
The next course of action would be to reach out to the Adult Protective Services (APS) office in your area. If you’re unsure how to locate that, contact the national APS toll free number (800) 624-8404.
If you are a mandated reporter, Maine law states you must call APS to report suspected abuse. Otherwise, you may call the 800#, dial Maine Relay 711, or use the Maine APS Online Report Form.
Information to Have Ready When You File a Report
Whether you call or file online, it’s important to have as much information ready as possible. The more info you can provide, the faster APS will be able to address the case.
Try to collect and prepare the following:
- Name and age
- Name, address, and phone number of the nursing home
- Your contact information and relationship to the abused
- Any known mental or physical impairments
- Brief description of the suspected abuse, and how you know about it
- Date or dates of the abusive event
- Lists of other agencies with whom you may have contacted (such as law enforcement)
- Contact information for any witnesses
- Complete information about the alleged perpetrator(s) including name, age, physical description, and contact info if available
Nursing home residents in Maine also have protection thanks to 22 MRS §5107 which provides long-term care ombudsman laws.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) provides confidential and free help for suspected cases of nursing home abuse in Maine. LTCOP is a non-profit agency with legal authorization to investigate complaints of elder abuse in long-term care facilities.
Anyone looking for information, guidance, or advocacy should contact LTCOP at (800) 499-0229 or (207) 621-1079.
Other Ways to Report Suspected Nursing Home Abuse
Another reporting option is to contact the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Licensing and Certification.
The division is responsible for investigating all complaints in nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted housing situations in Maine.
You can call their complaint line at (800)383-2441 or file a complaint online.
Types of Damages in a Nursing Home Abuse Claim
After reporting a case, you may wish to contact a nursing home abuse attorney. You may be entitled to compensation depending on the severity of the case. Compensatory and punitive damages make up the two types of damages that a judge or jury may award an elder with a nursing home abuse claim. Compensation for these types of damages are dependent on the evidence you have on-hand and your attorney’s skill in proving your case.
Compensatory damages are monetary payments for “actual” damages resulting from the incident. The amount of an award will depend on the proven harm, loss, or injury to the victim.
In Maine, punitive damages may also be part of an award if the abuse was particularly egregious, whether it be intentional or extreme negligence. These damages are not meant to “make it up” to the victim, but rather to punish the abuser. The premise is that punitive damages will function as a future deterrent against repeat offenses.
For a punitive damage award, there must be clear and convincing evidence that the defendant was acting with malice. Basically, this means that there was intent to harm in the mix, whether “express” or “implied.
Maine Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Abuse
In most cases the deadline for initiating a claim for nursing home abuse in Maine is three years. This clock begins from the date of discovery of the abuse.
If the case results in wrongful death, the statute of limitations is still three years. However, the countdown starts on the day that the victim passed away.
While three years may sound like a long time, it is not wise to wait. For a case of this nature to be successful, it is better to have fresh evidence. The passage of time will weaken a claim, especially with the current fluctuating state of elder care in this country.
Find a Maine Nursing Home Abuse Attorney With LegalASAP
Maine actually has free legal help for elders who are 60 or older and facing violations of their rights. Nursing home residents with legitimate claims can call the Legal Services for the Elderly Helpline at (800)750-5353.
Unfortunately, in most cases of nursing home abuse in Maine, the victim will not self-report. That means that if a loved one suspects abuse, a nursing home abuse attorney may need to step in.
If you need a lawyer to assist with your nursing home abuse case, LegalASAP can help. Thanks to the 500+ law firms in our network, we can connect you with a qualified attorney in Maine. Schedule a free consultation about your case today to ensure your elder’s protection tomorrow:
To see if you qualify for a nursing home abuse claim, call 888-927-3080 or sign the form below:
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