As millions of Americans prepared to enjoy the holidays with family and friends last week, a disturbing report from ProPublica gained national headlines. A review of the nation’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities since 2012 revealed 35 confirmed incidents of staff members horrifically violating the dignity and privacy of our most vulnerable population- the institutionalized elderly.
The ProPublica investigation revealed episodes of staff members filming demented residents naked, going to the bathroom, being mocked and even assaulted by staff members. These images were then posted on Facebook or other social media outlets. Arguably the most frightening vehicle for this form of abuse is Snapchat since the image “dissolves” once it is sent, so proving the abuse is incredibly difficult.
The law is crystal clear. Every nursing home resident has:
– The right to be treated with respect and dignity
– The right to be free from physical, emotional or sexual abuse of any kind
– The right to a safe, clean, homelike environment
– The right to participate in resident and family groups
– The right to exercise rights of a resident and citizen
– The right to organize and participate in a residents’ council
– The right to personal privacy in accommodations, medical treatment, and personal care
42 CFR 483.10
The nursing home industry must address the issue of cell phone use by staff. Residents’ families should participate in resident and family council meetings and ensure that their loved one’s facility is addressing this very serious issue. There is very little reason for cell phones in residents’ rooms during toileting, dressing and bathing. Staff must be trained on the seriousness of these insults to the dignity of this vulnerable population.
As a nursing home abuse litigator for nearly two decades, I am outraged and saddened but not surprised by this investigation. One would like to believe that individuals who voluntarily seek employment caring for the elderly who cannot care for themselves would champion these amazing human beings and never intentionally humiliate them. I’d like to believe that spending just 5 minutes with a resident suffering from advanced dementia would be enough to never seek them harm. Unfortunately, when the industry chooses to pay the lowest possible wage to maximize profits, it gets the most unqualified individuals to care for our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. We need a systematic change in how we as a society look at our elderly. Until then however, family members must remain vigilant. Visit often and vary your times. Staff are much less likely to abuse or neglect a resident if at any moment a family member might show up. Demand to know the names of the caregivers who are caring for your loved one. Be suspicious of anyone who won’t immediately give you their name, title and job description. You should never be in a position where you are trying to find out the name of an individual after suspected abuse or neglect has occurred. Ask questions. Remember that this staff works for your loved one. You are their boss in a very real way. If you suspect anything is amiss, bring it to the attention of the director of nursing. If you aren’t getting the answers you want, contact your state Ombudsman for assistance or seek the advice of experienced nursing home counsel.
Ashcraft & Gerel has been representing the families of victims abused and neglected in nursing homes for twenty years. If you or a loved one suspect a violation of a residents’ right to privacy and dignity please contact us. We can help.
How we treat our children in the dawn of their lives and the way we treat our elderly in the twilight of their lives is a measure of the quality of a nation. – Hubert Humphrey