Last year there was an 86% increase of nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania, with 345 recorded cases. That may not sound like a high number considering the 2.27 million adults over age 65 in the state. However, even one case of elder abuse is too many.
This becomes an even more concerning statistic if you or a loved one live in a nursing home. Unfortunately, the prevalence of nursing home abuse is increasing nationwide owing to a shortage of qualified caregivers. Additionally, many nursing home residents are afraid to report their mistreatment, meaning numbers are potentially even higher.
It’s important to be aware of the signs of nursing home abuse and the rights of residents in such facilities. Read on to learn how to spot and report nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania, and when you need legal intervention.
Pennsylvania Nursing Home Resident Rights
Many people are unaware that nursing home residents are granted federal and state rights guaranteeing a certain level of care. In other words, it’s not just a courtesy, but an inalienable protection.
In Pennsylvania, some of the comprehensive rights afforded to residents of nursing home facilities include:
- The right to dignity, respect, and a comfortable living environment.
- The right to no discrimination because of race, color, religion, disability, sexuality, and more.
- The right to be free from neglect, intimidation, physical or verbal abuse.
- The right to privacy and personal property protection.
- The right to receive and send mail.
- The right to leave and return to the home consistent with the facility’s rules.
- The right to have visitors, and to communicate with others privately.
- The right to be free from restraints.
- The right to participate in one’s own care and decisions.
- The right to file complaints without fear of retribution.
There are more rights beyond the 10 on the above list for residents in care facilities. In other words, no one living in a nursing home should feel helpless because these protections are the law.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
What exactly constitutes abuse? According to several Pennsylvania statutes under the Older Adults Protective Services Act, the mistreatment of elders may take different forms. These include abandonment, exploitation, neglect, and several varieties of abusive behaviors.
In Pennsylvania, abuse is defined as:
“The infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish.”
A skilled nursing home attorney can help determine under which area your case may fall. Your case may involve damages that you didn’t consider, so keep them into account to maximize your settlement.
This is abuse that causes the victim to experience severe pain, 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.
About 17% of elder physical abuse cases in Pennsylvania involve violent assault like strikes, shoves, and kicks. And 26% of cases endanger the welfare of the care-dependent individual.
The resulting damage is typically tangible and visible. 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
- Development of unexplained STDs
- 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 safety. Nursing home physical abuse is a serious issue that should not be underreported.
Nursing home emotional abuse is more subtle and often leaves no physical evidence. And sadly, it often remains unreported by residents for fear of retaliation from their caretakers.
In fact, the Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC) finds that speaking up is a consistent issue. In their They Make You Pay interviews of abused elders, it becomes clear “saying something” is often met with retribution. As a result, emotionally abused nursing home residents often stay silent.
Prime examples of psychological and emotional abuse include the following:
- Humiliation and harassment
- Intentional embarrassment
- Isolation from other residents
- Blaming for minor offenses
While the signs of emotional abuse are harder to identify, some indicators to lookout for are:
- Unusual changes in sleep or behavior patterns
- Sudden fear or anxiety
- Withdrawal or unresponsiveness
- Intense depression
- Emotional distress when left alone
Nursing home sexual abuse in Pennsylvania is defined as unwanted sexual contact or advances on an older adult in any capacity. While it may seem unthinkable that this would happen in a nursing home, the elderly are still at risk.
Oftentimes the perpetrators are staff, but also other residents. Regardless of the source, no one should have to deal with any non-consensual touching or lewd conduct.
Examples of sexual abuse may include:
- Sexual assault
- Coercion to perform sexual acts
- Inappropriate advances
- Taking and distributing suggestive photos without consent
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, financial exploitation may cost older Pennsylvanians more than $58 million a year.
Unfortunately, the elderly are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse owing to their steady retirement income and accumulated lifetime savings.
Pennsylvania’s Financial Exploitation of Older Adults study found that unauthorized bank withdrawals account for the largest percentage of loss (46%). Scams—including romantic and lottery-based—account for 28% of nursing home financial abuse cases.
Losses are often unreported by seniors embarrassed or unaware of the siphoning of their funds. So, the actual amount of money seniors lose to financial abuse is potentially in the billions.
Signs of potential fiscal abuse may include:
- Unauthorized use of a nursing home resident’s credit, debit, or bank card
- Changing the recipients of a will or life insurance policy
- Taking items from a nursing home resident’s room
- Unpaid bills
Nursing Home Neglect in Pennsylvania
Nursing home neglect occurs when a facility or individual fails to provide the basic care necessary for a senior resident. Sometimes this occurs due to insufficient staffing, a lack of supplies, or insufficient training. All of these factors are caused by negligence by caretakers and owners alike.
Neglect may take shape in many ways, but some examples are:
- 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 Report Nursing Home Abuse in Pennsylvania
If you recognize any of the signs of nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania, reporting is vital. Nursing home facility administrators and employees are actually required by law to report any suspicions of abuse.
Still, too many cases continue to go unreported annually because people miss the signs or are hesitant to say something. Here are some ways you can report nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania:
- First and foremost, if you believe someone is still in present danger, don’t hesitate to call 911. Tell them you believe there are active crimes underway against a nursing home resident.
- If the abuse is ongoing and unresolved after speaking to nursing home administration, contact the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. They operate a 24-hour elder abuse hotline you can call at 1-800-490-8505. The agency also allows for anonymous reporting, if necessary.
- You can also direct nursing home concerns and complaints to the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Call them at 1-800-254-5164, email [email protected], or use their online complaint intake form.
- The Office of the Attorney General in Pennsylvania offers further resources with their Senior Protection Services. You may call 1-866-623-2137 (toll free), email [email protected], or submit a Senior Protection Complaint online.
The United States requires that every individual state supports an ombudsman program. The purpose of an ombudsman is to advocate on behalf of residents in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. They will investigate, support, and mediate for nursing home residents where necessary.
Pennsylvania’s ombudsman program is once again through the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.
Locate and contact your specific county’s ombudsman through the Area Agency on Aging Locator.
You can also call the main office directly at 717-783-8975 or email them at [email protected]. They will assist you in finding the correct contact in your location.
How to Prove Nursing Home Abuse in a Lawsuit
With any nursing home abuse cases in Pennsylvania, you’ll want to collect as much information as possible. This will help the authorities move faster with any investigations.
It will also aid your legal representation if you proceed with a court filing. One of the main reasons nursing home lawsuits fail to qualify for compensation is a lack of information.
Here are some important details for you to acquire if you suspect elder abuse:
- Name and age of the victim
- Any known mental or physical impairments
- Name, address, and phone number of the nursing home
- Your contact information and relationship to the abused
- Facts about what happened
- Date(s) of the abusive event
- Lists of other agencies with whom you may have contact (such as law enforcement or social services)
- Contact information for any witnesses
- Details about the alleged perpetrator(s) including name, age, physical description, and contact info if available
Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations For Nursing Home Claims
One of the other primary reasons a nursing home abuse case in Pennsylvania doesn’t qualify is a missed filing deadline.
The statute of limitations for claims involving nursing home abuse in Pennsylvania is two years from the date of incident.
It’s crucial not to wait too long, however. Not only do missed deadlines disqualify a case, but a successful verdict is more likely when details are fresh. Contact a lawyer and file as soon as possible to protect your loved one.
Types of Damages in a Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuit
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: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Economic and non-economic damages fall under the category of compensatory damages. These offer financial compensation to mitigate some of the loss suffered by your loved one.
Of course, no amount of money can make up for something as horrific as hurting an older person. But at least it may lessen the costs associated with helping the senior recover and move forward.
Economic damages are usually more quantifiable, like medical bills or money lost via financial exploitation.
Non-economic and economic damages for nursing home cases don’t have caps in Pennsylvania law. This means the court can award you as much compensation as necessary without limit for your losses.
Punitive damages are meant less as reparation and more as a deterrent against future crimes. In other words, seeking these types of damages usually only happens when the perpetrator was acting with provable intentional malice. The assessment of punitive damages is meant to punish the defendant for their egregious crimes.
Find a Pennsylvania Nursing Home Attorney With LegalASAP
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has the third highest number of elderly residents in all of the United States. With over 2 million adults above the age of 65, that means there are many residents at risk of abuse. Especially since the fastest growing segment of Pennsylvania’s population is those who are 85 years of age or older.
Even if you report abuse to Pennsylvania’s many excellent senior service help centers, it’s smart to consult a lawyer. An attorney with experience in nursing home abuse cases can guide you through the process. They’ll also help you potentially secure a higher settlement than you would alone.
Not sure where to start? We’d be happy to connect you free of charge with a qualified attorney through our network of 500+ law firms. Because the sooner you get a case evaluation, the sooner 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