The District of Columbia has a reputation for being a relatively “young” city with Time Magazine calling it “Peak Millennial.” However, there are over 84,000 older adults calling DC home right now as well. And experts see that number swelling by as much as 24.4% by 2030. Unfortunately, that statistic also means there will be more chances for nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. to surface.
That’s because while the elderly population is growing, the number of caregivers ready to meet increasing demand is not. As a result, the World Health Organization reports 64% of nursing home employees engage in some type of abuse annually. In many cases it isn’t intentional, but rather due to the unfortunate truth that staff cannot keep up with demand. However, whether it’s intentional or not, elder abuse is always unacceptable.
With that in mind, it’s important to know that there are laws in place to protect nursing home residents. And there are also viable ways to hold the abusers responsible.
Read on to find out how to help yourself or a loved one caught in an abusive nursing home situation.
Rights of Nursing Home Residents in Washington, D.C.
Individuals living in long-term care (LTC) facilities sometimes feel they lack agency to improve their situation. But that’s precisely why it’s important they and their loved ones know they have federally protected rights.
Additionally, the DC Board of Health mandates that all nursing home residents in the district receive compassionate and competent care.
Some of the protections afforded DC LTC residents via the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act include a resident’s right to:
- Participate in and have information on their care plan.
- Have privacy — in their communications, records, and their rooms.
- Receive treatment, services, and care that promote a positive quality of life.
- Refuse treatment by staff members and raise grievances without retribution.
- Be free from the use of restraints — whether they’re medical or physical.
- Leave the facility when they desire and enjoy visits from friends and relatives — consistent with the facility’s rules and hours.
- Choose their schedule, activity, and other preferences, as long as they don’t interfere with another resident’s rights.
- Personally manage their own finances.
- Be safe from physical, verbal, sexual, or mental abuse.
- Be treated with consideration, respect, and full recognition of their human dignity and individuality.
There are even more rights than those 10 listed above, but that shows the breadth of protections afforded LTC residents. It is a core competency for nursing homes to afford these rights to the individuals living in their facilities. Transgressions of these basic laws may necessitate contacting a lawyer, because they carry civil and criminal penalties.
Types of Nursing Home Abuse
What exactly constitutes nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C.? In general, elder abuse may take many different forms. That said, the most common forms of nursing home abuse are as follows:
D.C. Code § 22–933 defines criminal elder abuse as follows:
“A person is guilty of criminal abuse of a vulnerable adult or elderly person if that person intentionally or knowingly:
(1) Inflicts or threatens to inflict physical pain or injury by hitting, slapping, kicking, pinching, biting, pulling hair or other corporal means;
(2) Uses repeated or malicious oral or written statements that would be considered by a reasonable person to be harassing or threatening; or
(3) Imposes unreasonable confinement or involuntary seclusion, including but not limited to, the forced separation from other persons against his or her will or the directions of any legal representative.”
-D.C. Code § 22-933
Just as it sounds, physical abuse is someone intentionally causing bodily injury to a nursing home resident.
It may take the form of obvious physical assault such as punching, kicking, or slapping the victim. Or it may be less overt, such as the improper use of straps and ties to subdue a resident.
Frequently, caregivers or residents will try to explain away the signs of physical abuse as normal aging frailty. Many victims of nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. are afraid to speak up for fear of retribution. Accordingly, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms.
Some common signs of physical abuse in a nursing home resident may include:
- Black eyes
- Broken bones
Seniors experiencing mental or emotional abuse can be harder to spot since those symptoms don’t manifest externally. But make no mistake, this type of abuse can be just as injurious, if not more so than physical trauma. So, what are some common signs of emotional nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C.?
Psychological and emotional abuse in a nursing home often takes the following forms:
- Name-calling or insulting the person’s appearance
- Isolation from other residents
- Blame for minor offenses
- Talking down to the resident
Some of the telltale signs of emotional abuse to be on the lookout for include:
- Unusual changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Emotional upset or agitation
- Personality changes, such as excessive apologizing
- Depression or anxiety
- Distress when left alone
The Long-Term Care Community Coalition (LTCCC) finds that speaking up is a consistent issue with emotional abuse. In their They Make You Pay interviews with abused elders, it becomes clear “saying something” is frequently met with retribution. As a result, emotionally abused nursing home residents often stay silent.
It’s vitally important for loved ones to reassure residents that they have rights so they feel safe to speak up.
Though this is one of the least reported types of elder abuse, it does still happen in nursing home settings.
In 2020, the World Health Organization found that 1.9% of nursing home residents experience sexual abuse. And seniors may suffer this type of abuse from both staff and other residents.
At a base level, unwanted sexual contact, or advances of any kind count as abuse of a vulnerable adult. It may also go as far as:
- Sexual assault
- Coercion to perform sexual acts
- Taking inappropriate photos and sharing those pictures without the resident’s knowledge or consent
Symptoms to keep an eye out for in the sexual abuse category include:
- Inexplicable STDs
- Torn, stained, or bloody undergarments
- Increased difficulty walking or sitting for a long time
- Pain when urinating
- Displaying symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially around certain caregivers or residents
Exploitation of an elder’s finances is one of the most common types of abuse.
One reason, unfortunately, is that most caregivers are underpaid (which increases the temptation for financial manipulation of their wards). Then there is the fact that most seniors generally have pensions, Social Security payments, and other means of accumulated wealth.
This makes them prime targets for financial abuse, which commonly looks like:
- Unauthorized use of a nursing home resident’s credit, debit, or bank card(s)
- Changing the beneficiaries on a will or life insurance policy
- Taking items from a nursing home resident’s room
- Opening financial accounts in the elder’s name without permission
Signs of this that should pique your awareness and trigger a closer look at your loved one’s finances may include:
- Unusual activity in an older adult’s bank account, including frequent unexplained withdrawals or transfers
- Sudden unpaid bills or insufficient funds
- Missing items in the resident’s room (like jewelry or electronics)
- Unusual or even outright forged signatures on checks or financial forms
Many nursing home residents don’t realize their accounts are missing funds until it’s too late because they trust their caregivers. This makes financial exploitation a particularly nefarious way to take advantage of the elderly, and demands legal action.
Though technically a form of abuse, nursing home neglect falls into its own category legally. That’s because it’s characterized by negligence rather than intentional infliction of harm.
Nonetheless, it’s abusive to refuse adequate care to a nursing home resident even when there is an absence of malice. Furthermore, it’s a requirement of all licensed nursing home facilities that they meet the basic needs of their residents. When there is a breach in this care commitment, that is when neglect enters the picture.
Neglect may take shape in many ways, but some examples are:
- Failing to provide shelter, food, or clothing
- Leaving residents in bed too long
- Not providing wheelchairs or walkers to those with mobility issues
- Refusing to change residents after episodes of incontinence
- Not performing required medical care or distributing prescriptions
- Turning off the call light or ignoring help requests from residents
Some possible neglect symptoms you may notice include:
- Bed sores
- Soiled clothes or dirty room
- Lack of personal hygiene
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
Every nursing home resident has the right to adequate care. If caregivers or a facility in general are regularly ignoring requests for help, staffing shortages or not, that is neglect.
Proving Nursing Home Abuse in Washington, D.C.
Spotting the signs of nursing home abuse is one thing, but being able to prove them is another.
If you suspect a case of nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C., then there are certain details you should gather.
While you may not have access to all the information on this list, these are some smart facts to seek:
- Name and age of the victim
- Any known mental or physical impairments
- Name, address, and phone number of the nursing home’s owner/manager
- Your contact information and relationship to the resident
- Verifiable details and statements about the abusive event
- Contact information for any witnesses
- Date(s) of the suspected abuse
- Any other agencies you involve (e.g. law enforcement or social services)
- Details about the alleged abuser(s), including name, age, physical description, and contact info, if available
How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in Washington, D.C.
The first step when suspecting nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. is to call 911 if there’s still present danger. Then, you should file a complaint with the facility itself.
The next step is to report it to the Health Care Facilities Division (HCFD) of the DC Department of Health. The DC Board of Health has jurisdiction to investigate and punish any healthcare facilities in violation of local law. Individual infractions may require legal counsel, but the process should start with filing a complaint.
To report suspected nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C., an individual may complete the following DOH Complaint/Incident Report Form online.
This form may also serve as a guide when filing complaints via the telephone hotline at 202-442-5833.
For those who prefer a more traditional approach, there is a PDF paper form that one can fill out. Then, submit it by mail to:
899 North Capitol Street, NE, Second Floor
Washington, DC 20002
Alternatively, you may also fax the hard copy complaint to the DC Board of Health at 202-724-8677.
Additionally, always file abuse complaints with Adult Protective Services. They have a 24-hour hotline you can call at 202-541-3950.
Damages to Recover After Nursing Home Abuse in Washington, D.C.
Most civil claims for nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. reach settlements out of court without ever going to trial. This is because nursing home facilities wish to preserve their reputations. That’s why it’s important to have a good lawyer in your corner who can negotiate an appropriate settlement for you.
Washington, D.C.’s Superior Court hears all instances where a civil case involving nursing home abuse does go to trial. All cases worth more than $10,000 (which is most nursing home abuse cases) are matters for the civil division.
A plaintiff in a personal injury case may seek two main types of damages: compensatory and punitive.
In general, someone will receive compensatory damages to help mitigate any incurred losses. Typically, these will be either for economic or non-economic damages.
Economic damages come into play when victims can easily quantify those losses. In other words, you can produce receipts. These are typically for things like medical bills, or funds lost via financial exploitation.
Non-economic damages may be harder to prove, in the same way emotional abuse is less obvious to outside observers. However, it’s possible to receive substantial settlements for conditions such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. Make sure you keep detailed records, so you have documentation to support your case.
In a successful nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. claim, a court may award punitive damages. However, this compensation is not a type of reimbursement for the plaintiff’s losses.
Instead, the court’s goal in awarding punitive damages is simply to punish the perpetrator. The idea is that by making the disciplinary action severe enough, it helps deter others from trying the same actions.
Punitive damages are rare and usually reserved for only the most egregious cases. However, they are a possibility. A skilled attorney can help you determine if seeking these is an appropriate move for your claim.
Washington, D.C. Statute of Limitations
The deadline for filing personal injury lawsuits for nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. is three years (DC Code §12-301). The clock starts ticking from the recorded date of the incident.
In wrongful death cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the victim’s passing (DC Code §16-2702).
While having years to file a claim may sound like a long time, it’s really not. Remember that missing the deadline means your case cannot move forward. As such, it’s a smart idea to get going sooner than later with your nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. claim. Filing right away when details are fresh and evidence is readily available will also likely lead to a better outcome.
File Your Claim with a Washington, D.C. Nursing Home Attorney
If you’ve made it to the end of this, you’re probably dealing with suspected nursing home abuse in Washington, D.C. In that case, please let us help you find a lawyer to assist you through this complicated process. Someone who knows all the legal ins and outs can help ease the stress of trying to navigate the system. That way, you can put your focus on improving your loved one’s situation quickly and get the settlement you deserve.
LegalASAP’s attorney network of 500+ law firms can connect you with an experienced legal advocate in your area right away. Additionally, all consultations are free, so you have nothing to lose today ― just a better tomorrow to gain.
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