Nursing Home Abuse in Nebraska – How to Report Your Abuse Claim

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Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Over 34% of Nebraska’s population is 50 years or older, with that number jumping to 43% in rural areas. As such, there’s a growing need for adequate long-term care (LTC) and open nursing homes. Unfortunately, the risk for nursing home abuse in Nebraska is also all too real.

Nebraska isn’t the worst state for nursing home care, ranking 18th on the AARP’s Long-Term Services & Supports (LTSS) scorecard. However, there is still room for improvement, especially in “Affordability and Access”, where Nebraska places 36th.

Another area of concern is not having enough qualified caregivers for patients, especially in rural areas. This consistent staffing shortage is actually now a pervasive crisis. In fact, the Biden Administration acknowledged this nationwide labor shortage in LTC facilities and is working to address this problem.

Compounding the issue, many nursing home residents fear reporting their mistreatment. This means the number of abuse cases are potentially even higher than statistics indicate. Some studies estimate that as few as 1 out of 14 cases come to the attention of authorities.

Keeping all this in mind, it’s evident why nursing home residents and their families must learn the signs of neglect. Read on to learn how to spot and report nursing home abuse in Nebraska, and when you need legal intervention.

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Nursing Home Resident Rights in Nebraska

Many nursing home residents are unaware that they possess federal and state rights ensuring them a certain standard of care. Accordingly, ​​it’s important to learn about these guaranteed protections as a means of preventing nursing home abuse in Nebraska facilities.

The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act prevents abuse by withholding Medicare and Medicaid payments unless facilities can show they’re in compliance.

It also establishes a comprehensive Residents’ Bill of Rights, which includes the following:

  • The right to freedom from abuse, neglect, and mistreatment
  • The right to freedom from restraints
  • The right to privacy and personal property
  • The right to participate in one’s own care
  • The right to dignified treatment
  • The right to communicate freely and voice grievances without retribution
  • The right to visit family and friends and have visitors
  • The right to protest unfair discharge, and the right to leave

These are just a few of the many comprehensive rights nursing home residents in Nebraska should expect. Anyone living in one of Nebraska’s nursing homes should also receive a copy of these rights before moving in.

How Nebraska Defines Nursing Home Abuse

Nebraska defines nursing home abuse as an intentional act of harm towards a nursing home resident or vulnerable adult.

“Abuse means any knowing or intentional act on the part of a caregiver or any other person which results in physical injury, unreasonable confinement, cruel punishment, sexual abuse, or sexual exploitation of a vulnerable adult.”

Neb. Rev. Stat. § 28-351

The manifestation of abuse, however, may take several different forms. These include physical, emotional, sexual, and financial abuse, along with neglect (which is slightly different in scope).

Physical Abuse 

This type of abuse causes a victim to experience pain, injury, impairment of physical functioning, and/or increased risk of death. Physical abuse may also include the intentional refusal of resources or the improper use of restraints (physical and chemical).

Early warning signs to look out for according to the National Center on Elder Abuse may include:

  • Broken bones, visible bruises, welts, and bleeding
  • Cuts and burns
  • Untreated bed sores
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Torn, stained, or bloody clothing
  • Unclean living conditions
  • Inadequate nutrition and evidence of dehydration
  • Lack of medical aids (wheelchairs, dentures, hearing aids, medications)

Don’t hesitate to call 911 or the local police if you’re concerned for your loved one’s immediate safety. Nursing home physical abuse is a serious issue and reporting your suspicions is always better than hesitating.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse can be tough to uncover since the signs aren’t visible and often happen behind closed doors. However, the damage from such “attacks” is sometimes even more traumatic for victims of psychological injuries.

Psychological and emotional abuse may take the form of:

  • Humiliation
  • Harassment
  • Intimidation
  • Name-calling or appearance insults
  • Isolation from other residents
  • Blame for minor offenses
  • Intentional embarrassment

Sadly, many seniors experiencing emotional abuse are afraid to speak up because they fear retaliation from their caregivers. That’s why it’s important nursing home residents know their rights and recognize that such mistreatment is not acceptable.

Sexual Abuse

Unwanted sexual contact or advances on an older adult in any capacity is the definition of sexual abuse in Nebraska. While it may seem unthinkable that this would still happen to the elderly, it does. This is especially true for women and patients with dementia.

Sometimes the perpetrators are caregivers and staff, but other residents may be to blame. But whomever instigates such advances, if they’re nonconsensual, then they’re not just inappropriate but also abusive.

Examples of sexual abuse in Nebraska nursing homes may include:

  • Sexual assault
  • Rape
  • Coercion to perform sexual acts
  • Inappropriate advances
  • Development of unexplained STDs
  • Taking and distributing suggestive photos without consent

No one should have to deal with unwanted lewd or suggestive conduct, especially where they live.

Financial Abuse

Financial exploitation of nursing home residents is very common because of their fixed incomes and wealth accumulation over time. Regular retirement and social security benefits, savings, and other assets coupled with cognitive decline make the elderly prime targets.

Evidence and examples of financial exploitation may include:

  • Unauthorized use of a nursing home resident’s credit or bank card
  • Taking belongings or money from a resident’s room
  • 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

Sadly, many of these exploitations occur before an elderly resident realizes someone is draining their assets. That’s because they trust their caregiver to do the right thing. Financial manipulation of a senior citizen is a particularly heinous but all too prevalent type of abuse.

Neglect

Closely associated with the above forms of abuse is nursing home neglect. Though many symptoms look the same, the difference is that generally neglect doesn’t stem from malicious intent to harm. In other words, neglect is a result of inadequate care or apathy towards a nursing home resident.

As such, it becomes a form of negligence as opposed to flagrant mistreatment. Nonetheless, inaction or lack of quality care is still just as damaging as outright abuse to older residents.

Unfortunately, neglect is pervasive in nursing home settings since 94% of facilities face understaffing.

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’ clothing after episodes of incontinence
  • Neglecting to regularly bathe residents
  • Turning off call lights or regularly not responding to resident requests

Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect

It’s not uncommon for caregivers or visitors to try to explain away signs of abuse as normal changes and frailty accompanying aging. That’s why it’s even more important to be aware of what abuse looks like.

While the symptoms depend on abuse type, the Department of Justice suggests these are classic indicators:

  • Bruises, black eyes, welts
  • Bleeding, cuts, lacerations
  • Sprains, dislocations, broken bones
  • Unusual changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Emotional instability or agitation
  • Personality changes, such as excessive apologizing
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Unexplained disappearance of funds or possessions
  • Untreated bedsores
  • Torn or dirty clothing or undergarments
  • Unsanitary or unclean living conditions

If you care about someone living in a Nebraska nursing home, try to keep lines of communication open with them. That means regularly calling or visiting, and asking outright how they’re doing.

It’s important for residents to feel safe sharing information about the kind of care they are (or are not) receiving. And if you do get an inkling something’s amiss, your next step is learning how to properly report your suspicions.

How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in Nebraska

If you suspect nursing home abuse, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) requests you take action immediately.

Per Nebraska Revised Statute §28-372, certain individuals are mandatory reporters, which means they have a duty to report suspected abuse.

On this list are people like physicians, nurses, psychologists, law enforcement, and others who have direct contact with residents. Willfully not reporting can lead to a misdemeanor charge for anyone on the mandatory reporting docket.

For the remaining general public, while it’s not a legal requirement, reporting is simply the right thing to do. The first step is always to see if the facility’s management will address the issue. However, due to understaffing, this may not be enough or may be too slow to prevent further abuse.

Fortunately, there are many state-run organizations who are ready and willing to help.

Information to Gather Before Reporting

Before filing your report, the Nebraska DHHS suggests you gather the following information:

  • The name, address, and age of the vulnerable adult
  • The address of the vulnerable adult’s caregiver(s)
  • The nature and extent of the alleged abuse, neglect, or exploitation
  • Any evidence of previous abuse, neglect, or exploitation
  • Any other information that the reporter believes may be helpful in establishing the cause of the alleged abuse, neglect or exploitation and the identity of the perpetrator(s)

Though it isn’t necessary for an initial report, take photos in situations where there’s evidence of physical abuse or neglect. If there are any other witnesses, also try to get their contact information.

Adult Protective Services

The first calls to make when suspecting nursing home abuse in Nebraska should be to Adult Protective Services (APS). This office helps protect vulnerable adults from situations of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Though there’s no time mandate by which abuse reports must happen, it’s always best to file as soon as possible.

The APS has set up a hotline that both concerned civilians and mandated reporters can call. The number for the 24-hour toll-free hotline is 1-800-652-1999.

Your name will remain confidential unless there is a necessary reason to share it with law enforcement, the county attorney, and the DHHS Licensure Unit.

DHHS Licensure Unit

Anyone with concerns about a nursing home in Nebraska can also report it to the DHHS Licensure Unit. This includes concerns about the LTC housing as well as any employees within the facility.

After receiving your complaint, the Licensure Unit may conduct an investigation or refer you to the appropriate agency.

To reach out to this division, you can complete their online complaint form.

You can also call the DHHS Licensure Unit complaint intake line at 1-402-471-0316 between 8 a.m.- 5 p.m. CST Monday-Friday.

Or you can mail concerns to:

Health Facility Investigations
Licensure Unit – DHHS
PO Box 94669
Lincoln NE 68509-4669

Nebraska Ombudsman

For those unfamiliar, an ombudsman is a free advocate who will act on behalf of a nursing home resident.

The job of an ombudsman is to identify, investigate, and work towards the resolution of resident complaints. They will also help the families of residents while striving to protect the rights of all individuals in LTC situations.

In cases of nursing home abuse in Nebraska, the ombudsman program is again through the DHHS.

You can find the ombudsman serving your particular area on this Ombudsman service map.

Also feel free to call 1-800-942-7830, or email [email protected].

Do I File a Personal Injury Claim for Nursing Home Abuse?

Nursing home abuse in Nebraska is actually a Class IIIA felony per Nebraska Revised Statute §28-386. But in cases where there’s evidence of intentional harm, filing a civil lawsuit to recover damages may also make sense.

In those situations, yes, the claimant will most likely be levying a personal injury claim against the defendant. The only other possibility is if the victim succumbs to their injuries from the abuse. In that case, it would transition into a wrongful death claim.

You will definitely want to speak to a skilled nursing home abuse attorney before pursuing a lawsuit. They can help determine your cases’ area of abuse and the types of damages you should seek.

Types of Damages for Nursing Home Abuse Claims

Nursing home abuse “case values” are determined by the types of injuries sustained by the victim. In general, however, there are three types of damage awards:

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are monetary payouts for “actual” damages resulting from the abuse.

These may be in the form of economic damages, like medical bills or money lost via financial exploitation. Or they may be non-economic damages like pain and suffering or emotional distress.

Punitive Damages

Unlike compensatory damages, punitive damages are not in place to make up for tangible losses. Instead, they’re levied to dissuade the perpetrator (and others who might consider such actions) from abusing others in the future.

For a punitive claim to succeed, there must be clear evidence that the defendant was acting with intent to harm. In other words, they knew what they were doing and these damages stem from their malicious actions.

Nebraska Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Abuse

Though there aren’t deadlines for when you can report nursing home abuse, there are limitations for when you can bring a lawsuit. And timing becomes important when filing a nursing home abuse claim in Nebraska.

The statute of limitations for filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit in Nebraska is four years from the date of incident. With wrongful death cases that cuts down to two years from the date of the victim’s passing.

In either case, you don’t want to wait. While “years” sounds like a long time, the further you get from the incident, the murkier your evidence may become.

LegalASAP Can Connect You With a Nebraska Attorney

No one should have their home feel like a place of distress, especially the elderly.

It’s tragic to imagine any older individual enduring the pain of nursing home abuse in Nebraska. Especially if it’s you or someone you love.

While there are ways to get help through state organizations, it’s also important to retain a lawyer. An attorney can help you navigate the system and make sure your concerns reach resolution faster.

If you find yourself in a situation where nursing home abuse is occurring, please reach out to us at LegalASAP. Through our network of 500+ law firms nationwide we can connect you with specialized nursing home lawyers in your area.

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 toCosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more, visit:www.KDNeumann.com, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann