Maryland is home to nearly 1.4 million people aged 60+, and according to the Maryland Department of Aging, that number may grow to 1.8 million by the year 2040. Unfortunately, that means nursing home abuse in Maryland may also increase as staffing cannot keep up with the rising demand.
Currently there are 230 Medicare nursing home facilities in Maryland with 30,000 available beds. Knowing the potential signs of abuse will help you transfer to another facility before further damage is done. Especially if you or a loved one end up needing long-term care.
Keep reading to learn the rights afforded to all nursing home residents, and how you can get legal help. Because even one case of nursing home abuse is too many.
Maryland Nursing Home Resident Rights
Individuals living in long-term care facilities sometimes feel their situation is unsurpassable. However, it’s important that residents in Maryland nursing homes know they have federal and state rights made to protect them. And these aren’t just courtesies, they’re the law.
Upon admission, staff must give you a copy of the Residents’ Bill of Rights and post them in an accessible location. Marylanders can find all of their rights through the Maryland Department of Health and in Maryland Code, Health-General §19-343. However, some key protections to remember include a resident’s right to:
- Receive treatment, services, and care that promote a positive quality of life.
- Be treated with consideration, respect, and full recognition of human dignity and individuality.
- Be fully informed about and participate in their planning care and treatment.
- Have privacy — this includes in their room but also in their communications.
- Be free from physical, verbal, sexual, or mental abuse.
- Have agency over their schedule, activity, and other preferences as long as they don’t harm other residents.
- Manage their personal financial affairs.
- Enjoy visits from friends and family, and also be allowed to leave the facility.
- Be free from discrimination, coercion, interference, or retribution when exercising these rights.
If your loved one’s resident rights were violated, you may need an attorney to organize a claim for compensation. Providing basic care is a core competency for nursing homes, so any form of clear abuse should not be tolerated.
How to Define Nursing Home Abuse in Maryland
The technical definition of nursing home abuse in Maryland falls under Md. Code, Fam. Law § 14-101 of the Family Law Article.
“Abuse is the sustaining of any physical injury by a vulnerable adult as a result of cruel or inhumane treatment or as a result of a malicious act by any person.”
-Md. Code, Fam. Law § 14-101
In layman’s terms, nursing home abuse involves a single or repeated event of intentional or negligent behavior that causes harm. The perpetrator may be a caregiver, staff, entity, or other trusted individual.
Nursing home abuse in Maryland typically falls in one of the following categories, though several may occur simultaneously. It’s important to consult with an attorney if you suspect any of the following.
This is usually the most straight-forward type of abuse since it’s tangible and visible. It includes the use of non-therapeutic force to cause pain or harm to an elderly adult.
Examples include (but not limited to):
- Physical violence (punching, kicking, pushing)
- Overuse of physical restraints
Finding skilled nursing home staff who can adequately take care of infirmed residents has been an issue for multiple states around the United States. Maryland is no exception, and negligent hiring may have caused your loved one to sustain physical injuries.
Prime examples of psychological and emotional abuse include the following:
- Verbal assaults and threats
- Humiliation and harassment
- Intentional embarrassment
- Isolation from other residents
- Blaming for minor offenses
Residents may not admit to emotional abuse because the definition of abuse isn’t clear to them. A consultation with a nursing home abuse attorney may help answer your questions to ease the stress from your claim.
While the sexual exploitation of the elderly may seem unthinkable, it does still happen — by staff and other residents. Having any kind of non-consensual sexual contact is the definition of this type of abuse. Women and residents with dementia are the most targeted victims.
Examples of what constitutes sexual nursing home abuse in Maryland include:
- Unwanted intimate touching of any kind
- Forced observation of sexual acts
- Taking sexually explicit photos/videos of a resident and spreading them online or in-person. This includes pictures of residents who are not fully clothed while being cared for (e.g. when bathing and dressing).
- Non-consensually looking at pornography or distribution of sexual material
- Forced penetration or rape
Older adults are at greater risk for financial abuse due to their saved-up wealth over the years. Regular retirement and social security benefits, savings, and fixed incomes make them targets for unscrupulous scammers. Coupled with cognitive and physical decline over time, and it’s no wonder financial exploitation is a serious issue for seniors.
Prime examples of financial exploitation of the elderly 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 the recipients of wills or life insurance policies
- Suspicious signatures on checks or outright forgery
What is Nursing Home Neglect?
While technically a form of abuse, nursing home neglect is generally put in its own category. This is due to stemming from negligence as opposed to intentionally inflicted harm. Nonetheless, inaction or subpar care is still just as damaging as outright abuse to older residents.
Unfortunately, neglect is pervasive in nursing home settings as 94% of facilities face understaffing. Examples of nursing home neglect may include:
- Failing to provide shelter, food, or clothing
- Leaving residents in bed too long such that bed sores develop
- Not providing wheelchairs or walkers to those with mobility issues
- Refusing to change residents after episodes of incontinence
- Not performing required wound or medical care
- Turning off the call light or ignoring help requests from residents
How to Spot the Warning Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
According to the World Health Organization, 2 out of 3 nursing home employees reported committing abuse in 2022. That’s a huge number and makes it even more vital that everyone knows how to spot the signs.
While the symptoms depend on abuse type, here are some of the clues the Department of Justice suggests you should look for:
- Bruises, black eyes, welts
- Bleeding, cuts, lacerations
- Sprains, dislocations, broken bones
- Unusual changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Emotional upset or agitation
- Personality changes, such as excessive apologizing
- Depression or anxiety
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or possessions
- Unsanitary or unclean living conditions
- Torn or dirty clothing or undergarments
Proving Nursing Home Abuse in Maryland
When it comes to proving nursing home abuse in Maryland, you’ll want to gather as much information as possible. That will not only assist the authorities with their investigation, but it will help your lawyer build your claim.
While you may not have access to all the information on this list, these are some smart details to seek and record:
- Name and age of the abused individual
- Any known mental or physical impairments
- Name, address, and phone number of the nursing home
- Your contact information and relationship to the victim
- Verifiable details and statements about what happened
- Contact information for any witnesses
- Date(s) of the suspected abuse
- Any other agencies you involve (such as law enforcement or social services)
- Details about the alleged abuser(s) including name, age, physical description, and contact info if available
Remember that legal action now may prevent the same thing from happening to other residents in the future. Your lawsuit may influence how nursing homes are run in Maryland, so don’t hesitate to take action.
Ways to Report Nursing Home Abuse in Maryland
Reporting nursing home abuse in Maryland is not only the right thing to do, for many, it’s a requirement.
Under Maryland law, health practitioners, police officers, or human service workers must report suspected abuse to social services.
If the victim is still in immediate danger, don’t hesitate to call 911. After that, your first course of action should be to report it to the nursing home administrator.
Maryland nursing homes receiving Medicare/Medicaid must have a procedure for complaints and grievances. You may make your complaint orally, in writing, by phone, by email or anonymously. They have 30 days to respond to your complaint.
You can also report incidents to the nursing home’s:
- Social worker
- Nursing director
As mentioned above, they are legally required to report possible abuse to the Maryland Department of Human Services. If you don’t get a sufficient response from the nursing home or its staff, Maryland has programs to push them in the right direction.
Maryland Department of Health
Complaints made to the Maryland Department of Health (DOH) should go through the Office of Health Care Quality (OHCQ).
The best way to submit a complaint is by completing their Online Complaint Form. However, you can mail in a hard copy Complaint Report Form. Or, you may also call the OHCQ at 410-402-8108 or toll-free at 877-402-8219.
Adult Protective Services
Adult Protective Services (APS) offers another avenue for reporting suspected abuse. However, keep in mind that in nursing homes (as opposed to assisted living facilities) they’ll only investigate financial exploitation cases.
Complaints should go through your local APS office — there is one in each county as well as Baltimore City. If you can’t locate yours through this online link, try calling their statewide abuse number at 1-800-332-6347.
If you file with both OHCQ and APS, make sure to alert both offices of that fact.
Maryland Attorney General’s Office
If you suspect a nursing home is guilty of financial exploitation or Medicaid fraud, contact the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.
The Medicaid Fraud Control Unit will investigate and prosecute both Medicaid fraud, abuse, and neglect of vulnerable adults.
You can contact them by email at [email protected], or by phone at 410-576-6521 or toll-free at 1-888-743-0023.
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) is a free advocate for the elderly who will try to help resolve nursing home concerns.
This program, established via the Maryland Department of Aging, is available to all nursing home residents and their friends/relatives. It’s a great resource for people concerned about the quality of care — or potential lack thereof — in nursing home scenarios.
To locate the Maryland Ombudsman in your area, visit the Maryland.gov ombudsman site. You may also call the statewide office at 1-800-243-3425. All conversations with the LTCOP are confidential.
Damages in a Maryland Nursing Home Abuse Claim
There are two main types of damages available for civil cases brought over nursing home abuse in Maryland. These are compensatory (which are levied to make up for losses) and punitive (assessed to act as deterrents).
Compensatory damages may be either economic or non-economic in nature.
If the losses are quantifiable somehow—such as medical expenses or financial depletion from exploitation—they are economic damages.
A skilled nursing home abuse attorney can help you determine which damages and what amounts you should seek.
Punitive damages are not meant to compensate, but to punish the guilty party for excessively negligent actions.
While there are no caps on punitive damages in Maryland, these are only awarded in particularly egregious cases. However, it can feel good to know that your actions against abusive treatment may protect others in the future.
Maryland Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Claims
The deadline for filing a case for nursing home abuse in Maryland is three years from the date of incident. The same holds for wrongful death cases, except the clock starts on the date of the victim’s passing.
It’s crucial not to wait to file since missing that statute of limitations will automatically lead to claim dismissal. Plus, your chances of a positive settlement go up exponentially if the abuse details are still recent. For the best outcome, discuss your options with a skilled nursing home attorney right away.
Find a Maryland Nursing Home Attorney with LegalASAP
There is no doubt that nursing home abuse is a traumatic experience — both for the victim and their loved ones. But there are many ways to get help, with one of the best being to retain a lawyer.
Nursing home abuse attorneys generally work under a contingency fee. This means you won’t have to pay anything out of pocket unless there is a positive settlement in your favor. And working with a lawyer will generally lead to a much higher compensatory award than if you represent yourself.
Not sure how to locate an attorney to assist with your nursing home abuse case in Maryland? LegalASAP’s attorney network of 500+ law firms can connect you with an experienced legal advocate in your area. The sooner you reach out, the faster you can get your loved one into a better situation.
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