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Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse: How to Spot It & Stop It

February 3, 2022  ·  By HM&M


There are 1.3 million people living in nursing homes. As the number of people residing in these facilities grows, some may not be receiving the level of care they deserve.

Congress passed the Federal Nursing Home Reform Act (NHRA) of 1987, requiring all nursing homes that receive Medicare or Medicaid funds to maintain facilities that are safe for their residents. The standards state:

“The resident has the right to be free from verbal, sexual, physical, and mental abuse, corporal punishment, and involuntary seclusion.”

Even with these standards for care, some nursing homes fail to protect resident rights. That’s why learning the warning signs of nursing home abuse and neglect can help to ensure the safety of your loved one, and guide you on the best course of action.

What is Considered Nursing Home Abuse? What is Considered Neglect?

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), under Illinois state law:

Abuse is defined as “any physical or mental injury or sexual assault inflicted on a resident other than by accidental means in a facility.”

Neglect is defined as “a failure in a long-term care facility to provide adequate medical or personal care or maintenance, which failure results in physical or mental injury to a resident or in the deterioration of a residents’ physical or mental condition.”

Because of the potential for unseen abuse and neglect, it’s important family members are aware of the various warning signs when a loved one is living in a nursing home.

What are Common Signs of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?

Nursing home abuse and neglect comes in many different forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, and financial.

Physical or Sexual Abuse in Nursing Homes

Some ways that nursing home employees physically abuse residents may include:

  • Active abuse, such as hitting, pushing or kicking a resident.
  • Allowing prolonged periods of inactivity or immobility, or failing to adjust the position of a bedridden or wheelchair-bound resident.
  • Failing to administer medications as prescribed.
  • Failing to report injuries or illnesses to appropriate medical personnel.
  • Using restraints for non-medical purposes or discipline.
  • Non-consensual sexual contact or touching.
  • Not providing enough food or water to a resident.
  • Not maintaining a sanitary environment or personal hygiene standards.

Some of the possible warning signs of physical or sexual abuse may include:

  • Appearing upset or agitated.
  • Complaints or reports of injury around breasts or genitalia.
  • Dehydration or malnutrition.
  • Diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Falls, trips, or slips.
  • Instances of wandering or elopement.
  • Muscle contractures of the extremities. Negative consequences of contractures include pain, increased fall risk, and weakened functional ability.
  • Mysterious bruises, scars, or welts on the body.
  • Decreased communication with loved ones.
  • Presence of bedsores, decubitus ulcers, and open wounds.
  • Rapid weight loss or gain.
  • Refusal to take medications or medication overdoses.
  • Sudden changes in behavior (ex: fear of touch).
  • Stained or torn clothing or bedding.
  • Unexpected signs of restraints on the legs or wrists.
  • Unexplained injuries, such as broken bones, dislocations, fractures, or sprains.
  • Unsanitary, unsafe, or unclean conditions.
  • Vaginal or anal bleeding unrelated to a medical condition.

Some of the above can develop into more severe complications over time if left untreated, including the development of cellulitis, bone/joint infections, sepsis, and cancer.

While the warning signs listed above are primarily physical or sexual forms of abuse, emotional abuse of nursing home residents is no less apparent.

Emotional Abuse in Nursing Homes

Deliberately causing anxiety or fear that inflicts unreasonable or unnecessary emotional pain on the resident constitutes emotional abuse. This may include the following:

  • Involuntary seclusion from others.
  • Not allowing free will over activities or schedules.
  • Purposely humiliating an individual.
  • Threatening or intimidating residents.
  • Using vulgar, derogatory or deprecative language.

Warning signs of emotional abuse may include:

  • Refusal by the caregiver to allow you to be alone with your loved one.
  • Unusual behavior in your loved one, including changes in personality, loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, withdrawal or fear around staff or other residents.
  • Witnessing belittling, controlling, or threatening behavior by the caregiver in your presence.

It’s the nursing home’s responsibility to protect your loved one from harm. When they fail to do so, you can take legal action.

Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes

Financial abuse is anytime that a caregiver steals money or personal belongings. This can include, but is not limited to:

  • Changing the individual’s will without consent.
  • Coercing or scaring a person into giving up assets.
  • Stealing valuables, medications, or cash from a resident’s room.
  • Stealing the resident’s identity.
  • Using credit cards, bank accounts or checks without permission.
  • Withholding money or financial documents.

What Should I do if I Suspect Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect?

If you suspect that your loved one is a victim of elder abuse or neglect, call your state’s Department of Public Health or your state’s Adult Protective Services (APS) department. You do not need to prove abuse in order to make a report. Hopefully that entity will have the staff and necessary resources to undertake an investigation of your situation.

Just as important, in any situation where you suspect abuse or neglect, you’ll also want to consult with an attorney who has experience handling these types of cases. A lawyer can help you file a claim that could result in financial compensation and closure for your loved one.

Who is Legally Liable for Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect?

If any of the following played a part in causing harm or hurt to your loved one, the nursing home is legally liable for that abuse and neglect, and all resulting injuries:

  • Violation of your state’s Nursing Home Care Act and associated Medicare guidelines.
  • Inadequate training.
  • Lack of proper treatment policies.
  • Medication errors.
  • Negligent hiring.
  • Understaffing.

The facility is responsible for the bad acts of its employees.

Let us Help you Make a Claim for Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect

If your loved one has suffered abuse or neglect as a resident of a nursing home, you should speak with an experienced elder abuse attorney as soon as possible to ensure that your legal rights to compensation are fully assessed and protected.

Hurley McKenna & Mertz has successfully represented hundreds of injured nursing home residents due to abuse and neglect in Chicago proper, throughout the surrounding Cook County suburbs, and across the nation.

Some example cases include, but are not limited to:

  • $6,800,000 (Chicago): Verdict plus settlement on behalf of an 81 year old woman who suffered loss of her kidney function and needed permanent dialysis due to improper use of gentamicin at a nursing home. Our successful appeal after the verdict increased the amount recovered for the plaintiff from $3,200,000 to $6,800,000.
  • $3,750,000 (Chicago): Settlement for an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s Disease who was sexually abused by an employee of her nursing home.
  • $1,000,000 (Geneva, IL): Verdict and settlement for a 90 year old woman sexually abused by an employee of her nursing home.

For assistance making a claim, contact us today for a free consultation.


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