Nursing Home Abuse in South Dakota – How to File a Complaint


Kimberly Dawn Neumann

Complaints about nursing home abuse in South Dakota have reached their highest levels in at least eight years. This is especially worrisome since South Dakota already ranks low for nursing home care, landing 36th in 2023 AARP reports.

To make matters worse, of the 97 nursing homes in South Dakota, 79 of them have citations for infection-related deficiencies. And fines for inadequate care in the state top $1.81 million in penalties.

Unfortunately, a nationwide shortage of qualified caregivers means that nursing home abuse statistics are increasing everywhere. Nonetheless, there is simply no viable excuse that makes the mistreatment of older adults acceptable.

If you suspect a case of nursing home abuse in South Dakota, keep reading. This guide will give you the information you need, and if necessary, help you find a nursing home abuse attorney.

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South Dakota Nursing Home Residents Rights

All long-term care (LTC) residents have rights protected by state and federal law.

In South Dakota, this includes not only the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act, but also state-specific protections.

South Dakota law requires that nursing home residents receive oral and written notification of these rights during the admission process.

Some of the rights that these rules afford LTC residents include:

  • The right to dignified and respectful treatment, while recognizing individuality and preferences.
  • The right to receive quality care that is fair and absent of discrimination.
  • The right to be free from interference, coercion, and retribution.
  • The right to have a person act on the resident’s behalf. The facility shall record and keep up-to-date the address and phone number of the resident’s appointee.
  • The right to privacy and confidentiality.
  • The right to be fully informed of the resident’s total health status. This includes functional and cognitive status, medical care, nursing care, nutritional status, psychosocial status, and sensory and physical impairments.
  • The right to refuse treatment or participation in experimental research.
  • The right to receive visitors in accordance with SDCL §34-12-67. Visiting hours and policies of the facility must permit and encourage the visiting of residents by friends and relatives.
  • The right to have a safe, clean, and home-like environment.
  • The right to freedom from abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

There are more rules than the 10 we reference above, but this gives a solid sampling. Also, make sure to acquaint yourself with the rules specific to your facility as well.

The most important thing to remember here, however, is that individuals living in LTC have protections. Nursing home abuse in South Dakota is not only unforgivable, it’s against the law.

How to Define Nursing Home Abuse in South Dakota

The definition of nursing home abuse is the intentional infliction of physical or emotional pain or injury of a resident. This includes willful deprivation by a caregiver or other person of services necessary to maintain mental and physical health.

The most common kinds of abuse are physical, emotional, sexual, financial and nursing home neglect. Occasionally, several types of abuse may occur simultaneously. As such, it’s wise to speak with an attorney to determine where your claim lies.

However, knowing the difference between categories of nursing home abuse is important so you can spot the signs immediately.

Physical Abuse 

Physical abuse occurs when a caretaker or another resident intentionally causes bodily injury to an elderly adult living in LTC. It may become evident as bruises, bleeding, broken bones, burns, swelling, and more.

Expressions of physical abuse include:

  • Punching
  • Kicking
  • Slapping
  • Improper use of restraints (physical and pharmaceutical)
  • Intentional refusal of resources

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 64.2% of staff from institutional settings reported abusing residents in 2016. And WHO projects that nursing home abuse numbers will escalate even more as U.S. populations continue to age.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional or psychological abuse may be more difficult to identify due to the damage not leaving visible marks. Also, many nursing home residents stay quiet about this type of abuse for fear of retaliation from their abuser.

Nursing home emotional abuse may look like:

  • Humiliation and harassment
  • Intentional embarrassment
  • Isolation from other residents
  • Intimidation
  • Name-calling
  • Blaming for minor offenses

This kind of abuse takes a heavy mental toll on the elderly. That’s why it’s so important for nursing home residents to understand they have protected rights and don’t have to suffer.

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation of the elderly is astonishingly common because of their fixed incomes and wealth accumulation over time. Social security benefits, savings, and other assets paired with potential cognitive decline make seniors prime targets for financial deception.

Tragically, many nursing home residents don’t realize the manipulation until their savings are drained. This is especially true if they trust or fear their caregiver. So, it’s important to keep an eye out for potential warning signs.

Examples of exploitation may include:

  • Taking belongings or money from a resident’s room
  • Unauthorized use of a nursing home resident’s credit, debit, or bank card
  • Changing the recipients of a will or life insurance policy

Sexual Abuse

Non-consensual touching of a vulnerable adult is the definition of sexual abuse. Though many people cannot believe this would still happen to the elderly, it does. This is particularly true for women and patients with dementia.

In South Dakota, sexual abuse includes:

  • Sexual assault
  • Rape
  • Coercion to perform sexual acts
  • Inappropriate advances
  • Forced nudity
  • Forced observation of sexual acts

Though less frequent than other abuse types, the WHO found that 1.9% of nursing home residents are victims. Oftentimes the perpetrators are not just caregivers, but also other residents. Still, any individual living in LTC has the right to protection from unwanted sexual advances, regardless of the source.


Though close in harmful nature, nursing home neglect differentiates itself from nursing home abuse owing to intent.

While abuse tends to be “on purpose,” neglect results from inadequate care or apathy for the resident.

In other words, nursing home neglect is a form of negligence as opposed to overt mistreatment. Nonetheless, inaction or shoddy care is still just as detrimental as blatant abuse to South Dakota nursing home residents.

Unfortunately, neglect is pervasive in nursing home settings as 94% of facilities face understaffing. And in South Dakota, the average nursing home staff turnover rate is 52.9%, opening the door for even more neglect.

Concrete examples of nursing home neglect may include:

  • Failing to provide care, shelter, clothing, or food
  • Ignoring an incapacitated or vulnerable adult
  • Not performing 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

How to Spot Early Signs of Nursing Home Abuse

It’s not unusual for caregivers or visitors to try explaining away signs of abuse as simply the frailty of aging. That’s why it’s extremely important to be aware of what nursing home abuse actually looks like to stop further escalation.

While the actual symptoms depend on the abuse type, the Department of Justice suggests you be on the lookout for:

  • Bruises, black eyes, welts
  • Bleeding, cuts, lacerations
  • Sprains, dislocations, broken bones
  • Unusual changes in sleeping and eating patterns
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Emotional upset 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

Make sure you keep lines of communication open if you have a loved one in a South Dakota nursing home. Regularly call or visit older adults. Ask outright how they’re doing.

You want them to feel comfortable sharing openly with you about the care they are (or are not) receiving.

The reality is that many seniors hesitate to share their thoughts because they assume it’s standard treatment. Some stay quiet because they don’t want to cause problems. Make sure they know that they can be honest with you. And don’t hesitate to report any inklings of abuse you obtain.

How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in South Dakota

Individuals suspecting nursing home abuse in South Dakota have several options for reporting their suspicions.

The first step always is to report your suspicions of abuse to someone at the facility itself. In South Dakota, any nursing home employee with suspected abuse information must report it to a superior within 24 hours.

Then the facility’s management has a duty to report the suspected abuse following mandatory reporting rules. Failure to follow this protocol can actually lead to misdemeanor charges per SDCL §22-46-10.

However, while anyone in South Dakota can report abuse, some individuals actually have a legal requirement to do so. These people are what South Dakota law calls mandatory reporters.

The list of mandatory reporters includes individuals who are in close contact with potential nursing home abuse victims. For example, doctors, dentists, nurses, social workers, clergy, firefighters, and psychologists are all mandatory reporters. 

But even beyond those who have a legal duty to report, every individual suspecting abuse should consider it their concern. Fortunately, there are agencies in place to help investigate and curtail incidents of nursing home abuse in South Dakota.

Since most facilities are currently facing staffing shortages, it’s generally wise to also report potential abuse to the following groups.

Adult Protective Services

Contacting Adult Protective Services (APS), through the South Dakota Department of Human Services (DHS) is the easiest option for reporting. The agency has an online portal it encourages both mandatory reporters and ordinary civilians to use.

If you have evidence of nursing home abuse in South Dakota, fill out the Adult Protective Service Referral Form.

You can also contact APS through Dakota at Home:

Division of Long Term Services and Supports
Hillsview Plaza, 3800 E Hwy 34
c/o 500 E. Capitol Avenue
Pierre, SD  57501

If you’re not sure what information you’ll need, the DHS offers help via its Guide to Completing APS Referral.

Also, per SDCL §22-46-12, anyone filing a report should prepare the following information if possible:

  • The name, age, address, and contact information of the elder adult victim
  • Your name, age, address, and contact information
  • The name, address, and contact information of the caretaker or facility where there victim resides
  • The name of the alleged perpetrator
  • The nature and extent of the incident of abuse and subsequent injuries and condition of the victim.
  • Any other pertinent information

Health Facility Complaints

If your complaints are with an entire facility, which includes individuals working there, you may also file a report. The South Dakota Department of Health (DOH) is the correct avenue for logging concerns about poor care, abuse and neglect.

To file complaints with the South Dakota DOH, you may call or write at the following:

  • By phone: 1-605-367-5368, 1-605-773-6373, or 1-605-367-4640
  • By fax: 1-866-539-3886

South Dakota Ombudsman

Another reporting resource to explore is the South Dakota Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. For those who don’t know, an ombudsman serves as an advocate for older adults in long-term care (LTC) accommodations.

While the ombudsman office doesn’t have the power to enforce resolutions, they can push management to change their conditions. The ombudsman office can also independently investigate complaints and advocate for nursing home residents and their families.

To learn more, you can once again contact Dakota at Home to get the proper referral in your area. Or, email the State Ombudsman at [email protected].

Finally, remember that you can always call 911 if you think a nursing home resident is still in immediate danger.

How to File a South Dakota Nursing Home Abuse Claim

When a nursing home abuse case leads to loss, it may warrant filing a civil claim to recover damages.

To pursue litigation against a nursing home or individual, you will definitely want a skilled attorney in your corner. A lawyer can help you determine which categories of abuse your claim falls under, and what type of suit to file.

Types of Damages in a Nursing Abuse Claim

There are generally two main types of damages available for civil cases brought over nursing home abuse in South Dakota. These are compensatory (awarded to make up for losses) and punitive (assessed to act as deterrents). South Dakota law also allows you to sue for any attorney’s fees.

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are financial 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.

The amount of an award will depend on the proven harm, loss, or injury to the victim.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are payouts not meant to cover losses, but instead to punish the perpetrator.

These only show up in cases where it’s clear the defendant was acting with malice and intent to harm. The idea is that by assessing steep fines, it will deter others from trying the same behaviors. Adding punitive damages serves as a means of prevention against future cases of nursing home abuse.

South Dakota Statute of Limitations

Time matters when filing nursing home abuse claims. The evidence will be fresher when presenting your case sooner, which may lead to a more positive resolution. Additionally, there are legal deadlines by which you must abide.

The statute of limitations for filing a nursing home abuse lawsuit in South Dakota is three years. The countdown starts from the date of the incident so it’s better not to wait to start your claim.

This three-year limit also holds for wrongful death cases, but the clock starts from the date of the victim’s passing.

Do not miss these deadlines because a court will invalidate your claim outright if it’s past-due.

LegalASAP Can Connect You With a Nursing Home Attorney

Specialized nursing home abuse lawyers know the ins-and-outs of the system and can help accelerate the process. Plus, a lawyer can potentially secure you a higher settlement than you might get otherwise.

Uncovering a case of nursing home abuse is traumatic enough. We’d like to connect you with one of the attorneys in our network for a free consultation.

Most nursing home abuse attorneys also work on contingency, which means it won’t cost you anything out-of-pocket to start your claim.

Let us help you do everything possible to hold those responsible accountable, and improve an otherwise unthinkable 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 toCosmopolitan. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Maryland, College of Journalism. For more,, Instagram @dancerscribe, and Twitter @KimberlyNeumann