West Virginia is the 9th smallest U.S. state but with the third largest population of residents over 65. In fact, according to the Population Reference Bureau, about 21% of West Virginia residents fall into the “Senior” category. Unfortunately this means increased potential for nursing home abuse in West Virginia.
According to Medicare.gov, 59 of the 121 nursing homes in the state rank “below average”. That means roughly 49% of elders in West Virginia long-term care (LTC) are not getting the attention they need.
And sadly those stats are only going to get worse. Especially since the older population keeps growing while 94% of American nursing homes report staffing shortages.
If you or a loved one experienced nursing home abuse in West Virginia, keep reading. There are many rights afforded to residents, as well as federal and state agencies poised to help. You may also need the advice of a nursing home abuse lawyer to navigate the state’s system.
Whatever your case, this guide will help you through because no one should tolerate nursing home abuse. Ever.
West Virginia Nursing Home Resident Rights
The 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act guarantees that vulnerable adults in LTC will receive adequate levels of care. The government helps ensure this by withholding Medicare and Medicaid payments for residents unless facilities can show they’re in compliance.
It also establishes a Residents’ Bill of Rights, which every person entering a nursing home should receive. Additionally, West Virginia has state laws ensuring the rights of individuals in LTC under W. Va. Code R. §64-13-4.
Some of these federal and state protections include:
- 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 and to execute a medical directive
- 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
- The right to manage personal financial affairs unless legal restrictions are in place
- The right to have a safe and home-like environment
As you can see, residents of nursing homes have more agency than most believe. Make sure to share these rights with residents and their caregivers so they know they deserve quality treatment.
What is Nursing Home Abuse in West Virginia?
Nursing home abuse can take many forms—all of them being harmful to the wellbeing of a resident.
By definition, nursing home abuse involves single or repeated episodes of intentional or negligent behavior that causes harm. The perpetrator may be a caregiver, staff, another resident, or other trusted individual.
Nursing home abuse in West Virginia typically falls in the following categories:
- Financial abuse
However, several may occur simultaneously. Consulting with a skilled nursing home attorney can help determine under which areas your case may fall.
Physical and Emotional Abuse
Physical abuse occurs in nursing homes when someone intentionally causes bodily injury to a resident. It may show up as bruises, bleeding, broken bones, burns, swelling, and more.
Unfortunately, a 2016 WHO report finds almost 24% of adults in nursing homes will experience some kind of physical abuse.
Examples of physical abuse include:
- Excessive use of restraints
- Refusal of resources
Psychological and emotional abuse may take the form of:
- Name-calling or insults
- Screaming or cursing
- Isolation from other residents
- Blaming for minor offenses
Once again, it’s vital to reassure nursing home residents they have protected rights and needn’t accept abusive treatment by caregivers.
This category may crossover with the physical and emotional since elder sexual abuse is also frequently categorized as assault. Not to mention inappropriate and inexcusable.
Signs that sexual abuse may be occurring include:
- Unwanted intimate touching of any kind
- Forced observation of sexual acts
- Forced nudity, penetration, or rape
- Photographing a person in a sexual way without their consent
- Non-consensually looking at pornographic materials
While perpetrators are sometimes staff, know that other residents may engage in abusive behavior as well. Regardless of the source, no one should have to deal with any non-consensual touching or lewd conduct of any kind.
Most seniors have accumulated savings throughout their life, which makes them prime targets for financial exploitation. Instances of theft and scamming may be prevalent throughout your loved one’s nursing home, requiring further investigation.
In fact, according to the FBI, over 92,000 victims of financial fraud over age 60 lost $1.7 billion in 2021.
Common types of financial abuse seen in nursing home settings include:
- Taking belongings or money from a resident’s room
- Unauthorized use of a resident’s credit, debit, or bank card
- Changing the recipients of a will or life insurance policy
The saddest part of elder financial abuse is that it often happens without them knowing due to trusting their caregivers.
Nursing Home Neglect
Though technically a form of abuse, nursing home neglect falls on its own category since it’s frequently unintentional. However, whether it’s “on purpose” or not, negligence has serious consequences for nursing home residents in West Virginia.
Remember that every elder residing in a West Virginia nursing home has state and federal protections that mandate they receive quality care. When a nursing home fails to provide a basic level of caretaking, then neglect enters the picture.
Neglect may manifest in many forms, but some prime examples are:
- Failure 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
Unfortunately, nearly half the nursing homes in West Virginia receive ratings that are below average for meeting resident’s needs. So, the risk of neglect is high in West Virginia’s LTC facilities.
How to Prevent Nursing Home Abuse
One of the best ways to prevent nursing home abuse is to know how to spot the signs.
While situations may vary, here are some symptoms of abuse the Department of Justice suggests constitute as a warning:
- Bruises, black eyes, welts
- Bleeding, cuts, lacerations
- Sprains, dislocations, broken bones
- Unusual changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Personality changes, such as excessive apologizing
- Extreme withdrawal or unresponsiveness
- Refusal to allow caregivers to see the resident alone
- Depression or anxiety
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or possessions
- Abrupt changes in their will or financial documents
- Unsanitary or unclean living conditions
- Torn or dirty clothing or undergarments
Frequent visits may also help stave off abuse if you have a loved one in a nursing home. That way you can readily recognize the signs, and the staff may be less likely to risk care transgressions. Sadly, very ill or bedridden residents become some of the most likely to receive subpar care or experience abusive behaviors.
Reporting Nursing Home Abuse in West Virginia
If you suspect nursing home abuse in West Virginia, it’s vital that you speak up.
Fortunately, West Virginia law protects anyone reporting in good faith from civil or criminal liability (WV Code §9-6-12). Also, nursing homes cannot discriminate against or discharge anyone who makes a report. This is good news because fear of retribution shouldn’t be part of the decision to file.
There are also mandatory reporting laws in West Virginia for certain humanitarian professions (WV Code §9-6-9). Any professionals on the mandatory reporting list must file their complaint within 48 hours of becoming aware of the abuse. Failure to report may lead to fines or even jail time.
“Any person subject to the mandatory reporting provisions of this article who knowingly fails to make any report required herein or any person who knowingly prevents another person from making such a report is guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not more than $100 or imprisoned in the county jail for not more than ten days, or both fined and imprisoned.”
However, one would hope that anyone suspecting a nursing home resident is suffering mistreatment would want to assist.
Information to Gather Before Reporting
Before filing, it’s helpful to compile as much information about the incident(s) as possible for your case. Here are some details you may need to collect:
- 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 to whom you speak (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
Anything you can gather will accelerate the investigative progress. Should you need to acquire an attorney, it will also help them when developing your claim.
How to File Your Grievance
There are several ways to file a complaint for nursing home abuse in West Virginia.
First and foremost, if you think the victim is still in immediate danger, you should always call 911. Then try to resolve the issue through the nursing home’s grievance process.
If that isn’t successful, you’ll want to get in touch with Adult Protective Services (APS) as soon as possible. In West Virginia, complaints go through the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR).
The number for the DHHR 24-hour abuse and neglect hotline is 1-800-352-6513.
You can also find your local DHHR office on their website and contact your specific area’s APS that way.
If your complaint is against the nursing home itself, file with the Office of Health Facility Licensure & Certification (OHFLAC). You may do that by completing their online Health Facility Complaint Form. Or by calling the Health Care Facility Complaint line at 1-304-558-0050, and the Home Health Hotline at 1-800-442-2888.
West Virginia Ombudsman
In addition to the above options, you should also reach out to the West Virginia Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. Functioning under the Bureau of Senior Services and managed by Legal Aid of West Virginia, this program advocates for seniors.
A no-cost program, an ombudsman will investigate and try to help resolve complaints, including abuse, in West Virginia LTC facilities.
You can call 1-800-834-0598, or find the advocate serving your area via the Legal Aid of West Virginia website.
Damages for a West Virginia Nursing Home Abuse Claim
Under these classifications, there are two types of damages a person may seek: compensatory and punitive.
These are damage awards meant to cover some of the loss associated with nursing home abuse in West Virginia.
Economic damages are quantifiable, referring to losses like medical expenses or financial exploitation. In West Virginia, there is no cap on the amount you can recover for personal injury claims in this area.
Non-economic damages are less tangible, meaning you cannot assign a monetary value to them like economic losses. But personal injuries like pain and suffering and emotional distress deserve compensation nonetheless.
Non-economic damages have a $250,000 cap in West Virginia but may increase to $500,000 for cases involving catastrophic injury.
There are no caps on punitive damage awards in West Virginia. And a claimant may recover both compensatory and punitive damages in wrongful death cases.
The catch with punitive damages is they require proof of malice and intent. So, anyone making a claim must have a strong case in place to be successful. It’s highly recommended to hire an attorney for cases that include punitive damages to strengthen your argument for malice and intent.
West Virginia Statute of Limitations
The filing deadline for personal injury or wrongful death cases for nursing home abuse in West Virginia is two years. Called a statute of limitations, if you do not file before that deadline, the court will dismiss your claim.
Though two years may sound like there’s no rush, remember that gathering evidence and going through legal preparation takes time. It is much wiser to get moving on a claim immediately while details are fresh, and witnesses are still available.
It will also give your lawyer more time to prepare your case, increasing your chances for a positive settlement.
Find a West Virginia Nursing Home Lawyer With LegalASAP
There is no doubt that nursing home abuse is a traumatic experience — both for the victim and their loved ones. Unfortunately, most older adults who really need the assistance won’t speak up for themselves.
If you are trying to help someone facing nursing home abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. LegalASAP’s network of 500+ law firms can connect you with a nursing home lawyer in West Virginia. Consultations are always free, so there is no risk in getting advice.
Get the help you need so your loved one can have the safe environment West Virginia nursing home law promises.
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