UNDERSTANDING THE NEED TO PROTECT AND FIGHT AGAINST ELDER ABUSE AND NEGLECT. DON’T BE AFRAID TO SPEAK UP.
2016 gave us too many horrific stories of elder abuse and caregiver neglect across the state. We read about the elderly Alzheimer’s patient who begged her children to remove her from a Gaines Township assisted living facility, where a 21-year-old worker targeted her with daily abuse ranging from soakings to shoe throwing, to stalking. We saw the story of the Kent County man who drained $29,000 from his own mother’s bank account and left the 70-year-old woman laying in her own waste. And, the heartbreaking incident involving two women who were charged with first and second-degree vulnerable adult abuse after a 67-year-old Genesee County man in their care was found emaciated and in septic shock from infected bed sores. The bed sores were so severe that they went all the way to the bone. The man soon died after being put on life support.
Although Michigan has pushed forward fifteen state laws or amendments regarding vulnerable adults since May 2012, protection and advocacy for these individuals is still needed. As many as 90,000 adults in Michigan are victims of elder abuse, including but not limited to negligence in nursing homes. Many of the crimes go unreported because the victims are too scared to speak out. With baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, heading into retirement in packs, about 10,000 a day, it is so very important for the public to understand what elder abuse is, identify the signs and symptoms, and report any findings to correct the situation. Friends, neighbors, family, and health care professionals all need to speak up at the first moment they see or hear something jeopardizing a person’s physical and emotional health. Officials say it is often tips from the community that assist in addressing the issue. It is almost never the victims themselves who speak first.
BEHAVIORS AGAINST ELDERS AND VULNERABLE ADULTS EXPLAINED
Elder and vulnerable adult abuse, neglect, and exploitation are behaviors committed against elder or vulnerable adults who are unable to protect themself due to a mental or physical impairment or due to advanced age.
The State of Michigan categorizes these behaviors in three categories:
1. Abuse. Harm or threatened harm to an adult’s health or welfare caused by another person. Abuse may be physical, sexual or emotional.
2. Neglect. Harm to an adult’s health or welfare caused by the inability of the adult to respond to a harmful situation (self-neglect) or the conduct of a person who assumes responsibility for a significant aspect of the adult’s health or welfare.
3. Exploitation. Misuse of an adult’s funds, property, or personal dignity by another person.
The abuse, neglect or exploitation can occur in:
- A private residence,
- An unlicensed setting such as an assisted living facility,
- An adult foster care home,
- A home for the aged, or
- A nursing home where the suspected perpetrator is not an employee of the facility or the resident is on leave from the nursing home
Elder or vulnerable adult abuse, neglect or exploitation also often occur in:
- Nursing Homes
- Hospital Long-Term Care Units
- Homes for the Aged
- County Medical Care Facilities
- Adult Foster Care Facilities
- Assisted Living Facilities
CRIMINAL ABUSE AND NEGLECT
It is important to understand the four general categories of how criminal abuse and neglect are viewed to help onlookers identify this alarming issue. They include harmful neglect, assault and battery, criminal sexual conduct, or embezzlement and theft.
Harmful Neglect. A resident of a nursing home or residential care health care facility may be suffering from harmful neglect if they experience:
- Suspicious or questionable injuries or death
- Unexplained substantial weight loss or severe dehydration
- Painful bedsores
Assault and Battery. This is committed if an employee of a nursing home or residential health care facility:
- Threatens or strikes a resident
- Uses unauthorized physical or chemical restraints
Criminal Sexual Conduct. This occurs when an employee of a residential healthcare facility or nursing home:
- Engages in unlawful sexual contact with a patient
Embezzlement and Theft. Embezzlement of a resident’s funds occurs when a nursing home or residential health care facility employee:
- Wrongfully removes funds from a resident’s account
- Improperly obtains a financial “loan” or “gift” from a resident
- Employee uses privileged/personal information illegally to obtain credit cards, etc., resulting in identity theft
HOW CAN I PROTECT MY LOVED ONE FROM ABUSE AND NEGLECT?
This may be the most important piece you will read on the topic – How can I protect my loved one from abuse and neglect? The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Community Living says there are warning signs to look out for when identifying elder abuse and neglect. They include:
- Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns may be an indication of physical abuse, neglect, or mistreatment
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of emotional abuse
- Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse
- Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect
- Behavior such as belittling, threats, and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person are also signs
If you do have suspicions about the care your loved one is receiving, make sure to speak up and follow these precautions:
- Don’t make your visits predictable. Visit frequently, and at different times on different days.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions about care
- Check for bedsores, unexplained bruises, and sensitivity to pain
- Note the cleanliness of the residents and the facility
- Check for weight loss and/or dehydration
- Keep a small journal for notes after visits
- Take your camera. On each visit, have your photo taken with your loved one and date it.
- Report any suspected abuse
If you know the situation is serious, life threatening, or dangerous, immediately dial 911 for help. If you suspect criminal abuse, neglect or exploitation, immediately report the incident, to the facility’s administrator, director of nursing, charge nurse, social worker, or the facility’s designated patient advocate. You should also report the incident to the Michigan Department of Consumer and Industry Services, the Michigan State Police, or the local police or sheriff’s department. Do not delay. Be sure to obtain photographs of any physical injury and make a written statement detailing:
- WHAT you observed;
- WHAT you observed;
- WHEN you observed it;
- WHO was present, and;
- ANY other information that may be of assistance to an investigator
In addition to the Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C., there are many statewide resources available for you to report these behaviors:
- Bureau of Health Services Abuse Hotline: (800) 882-6006
- Attorney General 24-hour Health Care Fraud Hotline: (800) 24-ABUSE
The Lee Steinberg Law Firm, P.C. represents Michigan nursing home abuse cases throughout the state of Michigan. Our team of Michigan nursing home injury lawyers is ready to fight to ensure you and your family receives fair compensation and justice. Please contact us at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733) for a free phone consultation. There is no fee unless we win your case.