Nursing Home Abuse in Rhode Island


Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Rhode Island may be the smallest state in the U.S., but it still squeezes in almost 1.1 million residents. And 18.9% of those Rhode Islanders are 65+, meaning there is a robust senior population. The result is severe understaffing in senior care, and the potential for more nursing home abuse in Rhode Island.

In fact, the Biden Administration acknowledged the nationwide labor shortage and is making plans to resolve the issue. Rhode Island is one of those states affected, boasting one of the highest proportions of elderly persons in the nation. In fact, the state’s 85+ age group is the fastest growing segment of the population.

If you or a loved one may be suffering from nursing home abuse in Rhode Island, take notes. This is a general guide to handling nursing home abuse, but direct legal advice requires a nursing home attorney.

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Rhode Island Nursing Home Resident Rights

Many people don’t realize that nursing home residents have federal and state rights guaranteeing them a certain level of care.

The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act protects long-term care vulnerable adults from abuse. It helps ensure this by withholding Medicare and Medicaid payments for residents 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

In conjunction with federal laws, Rhode Island residents also have additional protections under three different specific statutes. These are:

  • The Elderly Violence Prevention Act, RIS §12-29.1
  • The Citizens’ Commission for the Safety and Care of the Elderly, RIGL §12-1.4
  • The Elderly Affairs Department: Abuse of Elderly Persons, RIGL §42-66

Additionally, under the Rhode Island Title 23 Health and Safety laws, RIGL §23-17.5 includes 37 sections about state rules and regulations. It shares info on abuse, rules, and patient care within that chapter.

Defining Nursing Home Abuse in Rhode Island

Nursing home abuse in Rhode Island is in the law books as:

“Physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or emotional abuse of an elderly person by a caregiver.”

RIGL §42-66-4.1

This is separate from financial exploitation and nursing home neglect, which are absolutely abusive but have their own definitions. We’ll address those types of harm in the sections below.

Physical Abuse

The legal definition of physical abuse in Rhode Island nursing home law is:

“The willful infliction of physical pain or injury (e.g. slapping, bruising or restraining) upon an elderly person.”

RIGL §42-66-4.1

Physical abuse in general is a caregiver inflicting intentional bodily harm on a nursing home resident. It may be overt or covert, but the result is tangible and oftentimes visible.

Sexual Abuse

According to RIGL §42-66-4.1, sexual abuse means the infliction of non-consensual sexual contact of any kind upon a vulnerable adult.

The law states sexual abuse includes sexual assault, rape, and sexual misuse or exploitation of an elder. It also considers threats of sexual abuse where the perpetrator has the intent and the capacity to carry it out.

Rhode Island has abundant support resources for victims of sexual abuse, but unfortunately many elderly don’t say anything out of shame or trauma. However, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence hosts a 24/7 confidential phone line that people can call, for themselves or others.

There is also an online chat feature for anyone experiencing sexual abuse who doesn’t feel like they can speak freely. Safety is of the utmost importance before anything else.

Emotional Abuse

Rhode Island law defines emotional abuse as:

“A pattern of willful infliction of mental or emotional harm upon an elder by threat, intimidation, isolation or other abusive conduct.”

RIGL §42-66-4.1

Emotional abuse may be harder to spot since the signs usually aren’t visible and often occur when no one’s around.

Prime examples of psychological and emotional abuse include the following:

  • Humiliation
  • Harassment
  • Intentional embarrassment
  • Intimidation
  • Name-calling or insulting appearance
  • Blaming for minor offenses
  • Separation from other residents

Again, emotional abuse often remains unreported by residents for fear of retaliation. In fact, the Long Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC) finds that to be a recurring theme. In their They Make You Pay interviews of abused elders, speaking up is met with retribution to keep elders silent.

Exploitation of Nursing Home Residents in Rhode Island

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to financial exploitation in a nursing home. Many of them have savings, social security payments, or retirement plans. As such, they become prime targets for financial abuse.

“Exploitation” means illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an elder’s resources for monetary or personal benefit. And this happens through use of:

  • Undue influence
  • Harassment
  • Duress
  • Deception
  • False representation
  • False pretenses

Illustrative examples of financial exploitation 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

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.

Nursing Home Neglect in Rhode Island

Rhode Island legally defines nursing home neglect as the willful failure by a caregiver to provide adequate care for their residents.

The key word here is willful, which means intentional and conscious under Rhode Island law. In other words, intentionally not supplying goods or services to inflict mental or physical harm counts as willful failure to provide care. This includes abandonment and denial of food or health related services.

Specific examples of nursing home neglect may include:

  • Failing to provide care, shelter, clothing, or food
  • Ignoring an incapacitated or vulnerable adult
  • Not performing prescribed necessary medical or wound care for residents
  • Refusing to change residents after repeat episodes of incontinence
  • Neglecting to bathe residents
  • Turning off a call light or routinely not responding to resident requests

Nursing home neglect is predicted to increase as staffing shortages become more prevalent in the nursing home sector. Some of this has to do with the rapidly growing elderly population outpacing the number of qualified nursing home employees.

However, every nursing home resident has the right to appropriate care. If caregivers are regularly ignoring nursing home residents’ requests for help, staffing shortages or not, that is still neglect.

Spotting Early Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

It isn’t uncommon for caregivers or visitors to try to explain away signs of physical abuse as the normal frailty of aging. But it’s important to be wary of what abuse looks like.

The National Center on Elder Abuse outlines many ways that symptoms of abuse may manifest. Keep all of these in mind if you have a loved one in a nursing home facility in Rhode Island, or elsewhere.

Possible physical signs of abuse to look out for include:

  • Broken bones, visible bruises, welts, and bleeding
  • Burns or cuts
  • Untreated bed sores
  • Inexplicable STDs
  • Poor personal hygiene 
  • Unsanitary living conditions
  • Inadequate nutrition and evidence of dehydration
  • Insufficient access to medical aids (wheelchairs, dentures, hearing aids, medications)

As mentioned previously, it can be harder to spot emotional abuse in a nursing home as it may be hidden. However, some tip-offs that it’s occurring may include:

  • Unusual changes in behavior or sleep
  • Constant fear or anxiety
  • Unresponsiveness or lack of communication efforts
  • Social isolation or sudden shifts in routine
  • Depression or moodiness

Not only is it important to be vigilant about checking for abuse symptoms, it’s also vital to talk about them. Let any elders you know in nursing home situations that it’s safe to talk to you about their treatment.

Fear of speaking up keeps too many seniors in tragic and 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.

How to Prove Nursing Home Abuse

When it comes time to file a report for suspected nursing home abuse, the more info you have, the better. As a result, keep notes about any specific incidents or unusual signs that occur.

Also, try to obtain and have ready as much of the following info as possible before filing:

  • Name and age
  • Name, address, and phone number of the nursing home
  • Your contact information and relationship to the abused
  • Any known mental, physical or emotional impairments
  • Brief description of the suspected abuse, and how you know about it
  • Date or dates of the abusive event
  • Lists of other agencies who you may have contacted (such as law enforcement)
  • Contact information for any witnesses
  • Details about the alleged perpetrator(s) including name, age, physical description, position at the nursing home, and contact info if available

Forward this to your nursing home attorney so they can build a strong argument for your case. The more helpful info your attorney has, the greater the chances for compensation from your damages.

Where to Report Nursing Home Abuse in Rhode Island

Anyone suspecting nursing home abuse in Rhode Island has a legal duty to file a report thanks to RIGL §42-66-8.

Additionally, mandatory reporters who find evidence of abuse in a nursing home facility must report to the authorities as soon as possible (RIGL §23-17.8-2). This includes people in contact with nursing home residents like physicians, nurses, social workers, dentists, and more.

Rhode Island mandatory reporting laws are in place to help prevent nursing home abuse from running rampant. Failure to report could even lead to a $1000 fine. Knowing the seriousness of these situations, however, most people wish to file reports purely to help the affected individuals.

All claims of nursing home abuse should go to the Office of Healthy Aging so Adult Protective Services (APS) can intervene. The Division of Elderly Affairs Protective Services Unit is responsible for investigating reports of nursing home abuse in Rhode Island.

To report to the Office of Healthy Aging by phone call 401-462-0555 anytime. 

You may also refer elder abuse cases to Adult Protective services via this secure web intake link.

The Department of Health Facilities Regulation will also take calls about nursing home abuse in an entire facility at 401-222-5200.

Additionally, the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General is asking individuals who are aware of nursing home abuse to file reports with them as well. There is an easy-to-complete form on their website, or you may call 401-274-4400, ext. 2446 to file anonymously.

After properly reporting the incident, you need legal representation to fight for damages. A nursing home abuse attorney will guide you through the steps so your pain and suffering is properly compensated.

Rhode Island Ombudsman

One other option for reporting is to take the case to the Rhode Island Long-Term Care Ombudsman. This program advocates on behalf of residents in nursing care facilities. It is also responsible for investigating complaints of inadequate care and abuse suffered by elders.

To learn more about the Rhode Island Ombudsman program, contact the The Alliance for Better Long Term Care. They are reachable online, or at 401-785-3340 (toll-free at 1-888-351-0808).

Types of Damages in a Nursing Home Abuse Claim

Damages for nursing home abuse and neglect cases in Rhode Island generally fall under either personal injury or wrongful death.

The state does not put any cap on these cases, meaning the compensation amount will depend on the judge and the situation. In fact, in wrongful death cases, the minimum compensation in Rhode Island is $250,000.

There are two types of damages a person may seek: compensatory and punitive.

Compensatory Damages

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

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

Punitive damages are payouts not meant to cover losses from a nursing home abuse claim, but rather to punish the perpetrator.

These will only be in cases where there’s clear evidence the defendant was acting with malice and intent to harm. The concept is also to deter others from trying the same types of egregious actions to avoid the steep cost.

Rhode Island Statute of Limitations for Nursing Home Abuse

The statute of limitations for nursing home abuse and neglect cases is three years from the date of the incident. When there is a wrongful death as part of the claim, then the three years begins when the victim passes.

Find a Rhode Island Nursing Home Lawyer With LegalASAP

As you can see, nursing home abuse in Rhode Island is unfortunately a very real issue. This is especially true owing to the state’s rapidly growing elderly population and the understaffing issues in many facilities.

If you find yourself in a situation where nursing home abuse is in play, consider finding an attorney to help. LegalAsap’s network of 500+ law firms across the United States can connect you with a Rhode Island nursing home lawyer. Because no one should be suffering where they live, especially our elders.

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:, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann