Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect in Illinois and Indiana: Finding Justice

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect in Illinois and Indiana: Finding Justice

Illinois is the most dangerous state in the country for residents of nursing homes and skilled care facilities.   Indiana is also an extremely high risk, ranking 11th in the country for serious abuse and neglect cases.  See our previous post for details on these rankings from the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services.

These findings are to be taken very seriously.  The Inspector General’s August 2017 report on nursing home and neglect came with a public warning that everyone in Illinois and Indiana must know (see details regarding the Report and the Public Alert in our previous post).

From Inspector General Levinson:

These types of abuses and neglect cannot be tolerated…. be vigilant; visit your loved ones often who are in these facilities, ask them if they are being treated properly, and report potential cases of abuse or neglect to your local police and your state’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Helping the Helpless

For these vulnerable elders, as well as the disabled who live in nursing homes, group homes for the disabled, assisted living facilities, and residential care facilities, the reality today is that the police are rarely contacted after there has been an incident of abuse or neglect.

Most of these victims are either unable to complain or report what has happened to them, or even more tragically, they are afraid to do so. They are helpless to stop what is being done to them.

These victims deserve our help and allegiance.  Sadly, the federal government has lessened its oversight of the nursing home industry.  More and more, the families, friends, and loved ones of these residents must be hyperaware of the risks facing anyone living in a nursing home or care facility today.  Any suggestion of wrongdoing must be reported to local law enforcement, as well as the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit for Indiana or Illinois. 

And those acting on behalf of these victims also need to consider the possibility of filing personal injury or wrongful death claims against the nursing home or care facilities for civil damages.  Abuse and neglect in these situations may rise to the level of intentional torts where punitive (punishment) damages are available for the jury to award.

Why is this important?   Because these institutions are usually for-profit operations where money is their motivation.  See, e.g.,Care Suffers as More Nursing Homes Feed Money Into Corporate Webs,” written by Jordan Rau and published by The New York Times on January 2, 2018.

How Can We Help Victims Of Nursing Home Abuse Or Neglect Here In Illinois And Indiana?

We must all work together to help these people.  We can spread the word about this crisis here in our part of the country.  Tell your friends, your colleagues, your neighbors.  And we can educate ourselves about the signs of abuse or neglect so we can know what to look for when dealing with any resident of an Illinois or Indiana nursing home, group home for the disabled, assisted living facility, or residential care facility.

1.  Look for Signs of Neglect or Abuse in a Nursing Home

There are so many ways that a nursing home resident can be seriously harmed while in the care and control of a nursing facility.  Abuse can be physical or emotional.  Neglect can be physical or emotional, too.  People die from abuse and from neglect after being entrusted to the very place that exists to help them live comfortably in their golden years.  And because of their vulnerable state, these elders (and disabled residents) are also seen as prey by all sorts of predators – from sexual predators to thieves looking for an easy mark.

A.  Signs of Physical Abuse

Patients in nursing homes are hurt every day in this country.  Sometimes, it’s an accident.  Sometimes, it’s intentional.  There is an epidemic of rape in American nursing homes today; for more on this horror, read the CNN Expose in its investigation series, “Sick, dying and raped in America’s nursing homes,” written by Blake Ellis and Melanie Hicken.

The CDC defines physical abuse as “the intentional use of physical force that results in acute or chronic illness, bodily injury, physical pain, functional impairment, distress, or death.”  The CDC defines sexual abuse as “…forced or unwanted sexual interaction (touching and non-touching acts) of any kind with an older adult.”

Here are some things to look for:

  • Physical injuries of any kind.
  • Delayed reporting of an injury to the resident.
  • Any burn or bruise.
  • Bruising patterns: repeated strikes with a belt or cord will leave a specific series of marks on the skin.
  • Stoic response to pain. Victims of repeated abuse will stop responding to the pain as a defense mechanism.

B. Signs of Emotional Abuse

Nursing home residents should have happy and peaceful days.  Caretakers should help them fight against the blues, as well as building cozy environments that are gentle, warm, and kind.  Sadly, the nursing home administration may find this costs money.  The result will be vulnerable patients left alone and as prey for abusers.

The CDC defines emotional abuse as “verbal or nonverbal behavior that results in the infliction of anguish, mental pain, fear, or distress.”

Look for these signs of emotional abuse:

  • Withdrawn demeanor and lack of interest.
  • Acting fearful, especially of specific nurses or caretakers.
  • Any verbal insults or bullying behavior by an employee.
  • Isolated patients.
  • Cowering patients.
  • Crying residents.

C. Signs of Physical Neglect

It is heart wrenching to know that there are nursing home residents today in Indiana and Illinois that are suffering from serious physical neglect.  They are being ignored by the very caretakers that are tasked with helping them.  Physical neglect can lead to physical abuse because illness and accidents will result.  However, physical neglect is a crime and an actionable claim in and of itself.

The CDC defines neglect as “failure by a caregiver or other responsible person to protect an elder from harm, or the failure to meet needs for essential medical care.”

Here are some signs of physical neglect in a care facility:

  • Weight loss.
  • Very thin residents.
  • Resident has not been bathed.
  • Bad teeth.
  • Residents who try and hide their teeth when they talk.
  • Bedsores.
  • Pressure sores.
  • Begging for food.
  • Asking for food.

D. Signs of Emotional Neglect

Human beings are not robots; we all need loving kindness and emotional care.  Little things like a fresh flower in a vase, or a fluffed pillow can go a long way in showing someone that they matter and boost their day.  In many nursing homes, however, this takes time and effort that the employees fail to provide.

The American Psychological Association defines emotional neglect as “withhold[ing] appropriate attention from the individual to intentionally failing to meet the physical, social or emotional needs of the older person.”

Here are some examples of things that suggest emotional neglect of a nursing home resident:

  • Room is barren of personal items.
  • Room is not clean.
  • Room is dark.
  • Clothing is dirty, torn, or smelly.
  • There are no gathering places.
  • There is no opportunity to go outside.
  • There are no planned events (movie nights, etc.).
  • The facility is eerily quiet.

2.  Report Any Suspicions of Abuse or Neglect to the Authorities

If you suspect there has been abuse or neglect, then you don’t have to investigate and confirm your suspicions for yourself.  You can report your suspicions to the authorities who are employed to investigate these cases.  Here are some helpful links for those who may want to report suspected abuse or neglect of a nursing home resident in Illinois or Indiana:

  • The Police: Call the emergency 911 if you suspect abuse or neglect and especially if you witness it firsthand.
  • The State Investigators: The Indiana Attorney General has a hot-line for Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect which you can call (1-800-382-1039) as well as an online form you can submit.  The Illinois Department of Public Health has an Abuse/Neglect Hotline at 1-800-252-4343.
  • Federal Health Care Fraud Investigators: At the federal level, nursing home abuse and neglect investigations happen under the umbrella of insurance fraud and the misuse of federal funds.  To notify the federal authorities, contact the state’s Medicaid Fraud Unit.  In Illinois, that hotline is 1-888-557-9503.  In Indiana, the hotline is 1-800-403-0864.

3.  Consider Civil Actions for Justice

Along with reporting your suspicions, it’s imperative that you consider all avenues for holding these wrongdoers accountable for what they have done.  As we have discussed earlier, the lessening in fines and penalties is a red flag that there will be an increase in nursing home abuse and neglect.   Under the civil law of Indiana and Illinois, these victims have legal rights that are independent of any criminal investigation.

Learning what those legal rights and remedies are for the victim (and perhaps his or her loved ones) is vital now.  Cases based upon intentional abuse and neglect, as well as negligence, medical malpractice, and wrongful death may be available.  In some instances, punitive (punishment) damages may be available, as well.

It is horrendous to know that Illinois and Indiana rank so high in allowing our elderly to be victims of abuse and neglect.  This must change.  Putting profits over people is always wrong, but these cases are truly malevolent.  Let’s all be vigilant in protecting our elders and disabled!  Let’s be careful out there.

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