Nursing Home Neglect & Abuse Attorneys in Columbia
Of the 188 nursing homes in South Carolina, 48 of them have only a one or two-star rating from Medicaid, which considers them below or much below average based on health inspections, staffing ratios and other quality measures. On the other hand, only 24 of these facilities received a five-star rating. Nursing home abuse and neglect is a very real problem, and the facilities in South Carolina are no exception.
Seniors and others in need of skilled nursing or long-term care are some of our most vulnerable citizens. We trust the care of our loved ones to facilities and professionals with the skill and training to look after them appropriately, and when they fail us through abuse or neglect, the emotional and physical injuries they cause can be devastating.
At Peake & Fowler, we are outraged when we learn that a facility which was entrusted to care for our honored elders has violated this trust by allowing them to be mistreated. There is no excuse for this type of situation to occur, and nursing facilities have not done nearly enough to prevent it.
Our lawyers have extensive experience successfully representing victims of nursing home abuse in Columbia and the surrounding areas, and we fight hard to secure full damages for victims and their families, so that they can be compensated for their losses, and so that those who perpetrated these egregious actions (or knowingly allowed them to happen) are held fully accountable.
Signs & Symptoms:
If you see any of the following signs, you may want to get immediate legal help from an attorney who can act right away to stop any abuse or neglect that may be occurring and take steps to remedy the situation for the future:
- Any unexplained cuts, bruises or fractures could be signs of physical abuse
- If you see bruises or welts on both sides of the body in the same position, such as along the arms, this could indicate the patient was grabbed by another with excessive force
- If you identify marks or bruises around the wrists or ankles, this could be a sign that unlawful physical restraints were used that were not authorized by a medical professional
- Bedsores or pressure ulcers occur when a patient is not turned or moved on a regular basis, which is the appropriate standard of care and is necessary to avoid serious physical injuries
- If the resident is showing signs of fear, anxiety or depression, he or she could be a victim of verbal, psychological or emotional abuse
- If you see unexplained weight loss, confusion or disorientation, your family member may be malnourished or dehydrated, which can be attributed either to neglect or even an intentional deprivation of food as a form of punishment
The improper use of restraints is unlawful
The improper use of restraints is unlawful under South Carolina and federal law. Regarding the use of restraints, the law clearly states the following:
- The use of restraints for discipline or punishment is illegal
- The use of restraints for the convenience of staff rather than the wellbeing of the resident is illegal
- Restraints may only be used under written doctor’s orders to treat the medical symptoms of a resident and to ensure the safety of the resident and others
- Psychopharmalogic medication (chemical restraints) may only be used when ordered by a doctor as part of a written plan of care for a specific medical symptom, with an annual review by an independent, external expert to determine whether the medication is appropriate
Residents can be unlawfully restrained in many ways
Physical restraints may be more than just belts, straps, vests or ties that secure a resident to a bed or restrict the resident’s ability to move his or her arms. Many objects which have appropriate uses may be misused as a form of restraint. For instance, lap trays or tables that can help a resident eat or read can be misused to keep a resident from getting out of a chair. Bedrails that can help a resident sit up or turn in bed can also be misused to keep a resident from getting out of bed. Hand mitts which can be used to keep a resident from pulling out an IV line or tube can be misused to keep a resident from operating controls or making calls.
In addition to physical restraints, whole classes of drugs may be used as “chemical restraints” when they are administered to sedate a resident for something other than a medical reason. Such drugs may include benzodiazepines, dissociative anesthetics (hallucinogens) and antipsychotic medications. Studies have shown that such drugs are administered in nursing homes far out of proportion to any documented medical need. It is a good idea to find out about the medication being given to your family member and ask to see the doctor’s orders prescribing their use.
The improper use of restraints is harmful to residents in many ways
Besides causing pain and discomfort, prolonged use of restraints can cause loss of muscle strength and decreased mobility, hastening a physical decline in otherwise able-bodied individuals. The use of physical or chemical restraints can also have profound psychological effects, leading to anxiety, fear, depression, loneliness and isolation.
Misuse of Antipsychotic medication
Antipsychotic medications can be effective treatments for conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These conditions, however, are not the same as Alzheimer’s Disease or age-related dementia, and they should not be treated the same. Not only do antipsychotics have no therapeutic benefit in treating Alzheimer’s or dementia, they can actually cause serious harm, ranging from infections to heart failure or death. In fact, antipsychotic medications carry a Black Box warning required by the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about such harmful effects.
Use of antipsychotics in persons suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia could cause the following harmful effects, among others:
- A loss of balance, muscular coordination and muscle tone, leading to falls, decreased mobility, and a general decline in health
- Respiratory infections, which can lead to pneumonia
- Personality changes, including loss of independence and individual identity
Common Types of Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
There are many different forms of neglect and abuse that occur in nursing facilities, these include:
Also known as pressure ulcers, bedsores are one of the most common signs that neglect is occurring. Nursing home patients develop bedsores from being in the same position for too long and not being turned often enough. When this happens repeatedly, the pressure of sitting/lying in one position too long restricts blood flow to the affected areas of the body, causing sores to develop. If the sores are not treated right away and the situation is allowed to continue, deeper infections can develop and conditions can become far worse.
Falls and Fractures
Elderly individuals are more brittle and susceptible to serious fractures when they fall down. This is why nursing home patients need to be monitored closely to help ensure that this does not happen. A fall could be just an accident, but if the facility did not have adequate staff at the time and they did not properly monitor the patient, this could still constitute neglect.
Malnutrition and Dehydration
Seniors have a harder time eating certain foods, and they often take longer to finish their meals. Many are also on special diets due to various health conditions they may have developed. It is the responsibility of staff to make sure nursing home patients are given the correct meals (based on their requirements), and that they are given proper time to finish them. Unfortunately, this does not always occur, largely because of poor training and staffing shortages.
Most nursing home patients take multiple prescriptions on a daily or weekly basis to address various health conditions. And when this medication is not administered properly, it can result in life-threatening situations. Examples of medication errors that can happen in nursing homes include over or under medicating, losing track of medications, improperly mixing medications together, giving medications to the wrong patients, and mislabeling prescriptions.
Lack of Proper Medical Care
In addition to medication errors, there are many other types of substandard medical care nursing home patients regularly receive. For example, sometimes staff fails to notice clear signs that a resident needs medical attention. Patients may also be given improper or incorrect treatment plans, and patients who rely on breathing tubes sometimes get injured because they are not monitored closely enough and/or there is a malfunction with the equipment.
Abuse occurs in approximately one out of every three nursing homes in the United States, and much of this abuse is physical. Examples include pushing, punching, pulling, scratching, pinching, and misusing constraints for confinement. It is hard to believe that any nursing facility employee would do that to a patient, but sadly, it occurs far more often than most people realize.
Even harder to believe is that any nursing facility employee would sexually abuse a senior who has been entrusted to their care. And for family members, it is horrifying to think that an aging loved one has been forced to endure this type of abuse. Sexual abuse is most often perpetrated against patients who have Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, because abusers believe they can get away with it by claiming that the victim was just confused or that the situation was imagined.
A lot of the abuse that occurs in nursing homes is psychological. An elderly patient depends entirely on their caregiver for everything, making them much more vulnerable to this type of abuse. Examples of emotional/psychological abuse include insults, threats, humiliation, intimidation, harassment, and isolation.
Financial abuse is one of the lesser-known types of nursing home abuse. Here, the victim may have money taken from them, there may be changes in their financial power of attorneys, and abusers may even steal from them.
Protecting Loved Ones from Nursing Home Abuse
If you have an aging family member living in a nursing facility, it is important to take proactive steps to make sure they are protected from any kind of abuse, and to ensure that they are not living in substandard conditions. Here are some ways to accomplish this:
Make Frequent Visits to the Facility
A nursing home resident who has very few visitors and only receives visits every now and then is far more vulnerable to abuse and neglect. One of the best ways to reduce the chances of this happening to your loved one is to visit them as often as you can. If possible, try to set up a schedule with you and other family members to ensure that your loved one receives a visit at least once or twice a week. Also, be sure to visit at various times of the day and evening. By visiting frequently, you are letting the facility know that you are concerned about the care they are receiving, and that you are paying close attention to what is going on there.
Meet Frequently with Staff
While you are visiting the facility, it is also a great idea to meet with members of the staff, as well as their supervisors and directors, as often as possible. Request regular meetings to discuss, in detail, your expectations and any concerns you have. This not only reinforces the fact that you “mean business”, but it also gives you an opportunity to get to know the people who are looking after your loved one. In addition, if you are not satisfied with the answers you get from the people you talk to at the facility, this is one of the first potential signs that something is not right.
Why is Nursing Home Abuse So Prevalent?
Many people wonder why nursing home neglect and abuse is such a widespread problem. It is due to a combination of factors that have created a “perfect storm” in the industry. Aging demographics have placed a heavier burden on nursing facilities in recent years. With the Baby Boomers entering full retirement, an average of 10,000 Americans turn 65 years of age each day.
Unfortunately, nursing homes have done very little to address this issue. A growing number of these facilities have become “for-profit” entities, and they have not been willing to invest the resources needed to provide the standard of care our aging loved ones deserve. This has resulted in a number of problems that are contributing to abuse and neglect, such as:
- Underpaid Staff
- Staffing Shortages
- Inadequate Staff Training and Experience
- Poor Supervision
- Lack of Accountability
Until these problems are addressed, the crisis in today’s nursing homes is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Take Immediate Action to Stop Abuse and Neglect
There may be signs of nursing home abuse that you spot on your loved one. This may be a result of an improper use of restraints, or even misuse of antipsychotic medication. Complaints of abuse and neglect in nursing homes and long-term care facilities can be made to DHEC or the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging. These agencies are charged with receiving and investigating complaints and taking action against facilities when a complaint is verified.
However, these agencies may not have the staff or resources to take action promptly, considering they are responsible for the nearly 200 nursing homes in South Carolina, along with a number of other healthcare facilities and a host of other responsibilities. If you or a loved one is being abused or neglected, you want the abuse or neglect to stop now. An attorney in private practice has many tools available and the ability to move swiftly and put an immediate stop to such grievous misconduct.
Contact Our Skilled and Compassionate South Carolina Nursing Home Abuse Lawyers
If you or a loved one has been the victim of abuse or neglect in a nursing home or other healthcare facility in Columbia or other communities in nearby Richland, Kershaw and Lexington counties, call the personal injury attorneys at Peake & Fowler at 803-998-2412 for immediate assistance, or contact us online to arrange for a free consultation at our office or in your facility. Your call is completely confidential and will not obligate you in any way.
We now handle COVID-19 related injury and death cases in nursing homes.
Peake & Fowler Law Firm, P.A., is located in Columbia, SC and serves clients in and around Newberry, Lexington, Sumter, Allendale, Orangeburg, St. Matthews, Bishopville, Florence, Blythewood, State Park, Eastover, Columbia, Elgin, Irmo, Hopkins, Ridgeway, Lugoff, Ballentine, West Columbia, Kershaw, Camden, Dusty Bend, and Richland County, Lexington County, Calhoun County, Orangeburg County, Sumter County, Kershaw County, Newberry County, Fairfield County, Lee County, Clarendon County and Florence County.