Many New Mexico families find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They can’t provide their incapacitated, aging, or otherwise vulnerable loved one with the around-the-clock care they need because they have to work or have other obligations, yet this attention is imperative to ensure their loved one’s wellbeing. This need often ends with a family bringing a home health aide into the home to provide supportive care or placing their loved one in an assisted living facility like a nursing home, where patient abuse or elderly abuse can unfortunately occur.
Understanding what is considered patient or elderly abuse matters. Comprehending these concepts may mean that you have a valid legal claim (or not). Below, our attorneys will expound upon what these two types of abuse consist of with the expectation that it may help you advocate for your loved one if they’re being mistreated and protect them from future, potentially deadly harm.
What Is Elder Abuse?
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) defines elder abuse as the mistreatment of older adults. The federal agency considers anyone over age 60 as an elderly person. Older individuals have rights, whether they are staying in a hospital, living in a private home, or in an assisted living facility. For example, our firm previously shared an article about nursing home residents’ rights.
The NIA says that the following are examples of abusive behaviors:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Financial exploitation
- Abandonment or neglect
This federal agency additionally warns that elder abuse isn’t just something that occurs in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, but can occur in an aging person or their family member’s home, an adult daycare, or virtually anywhere else.
What Is Patient Abuse?
A caregiver’s intentional or neglectful acts that cause their patients to experience harm, such as unreasonable suffering, are what constitute patient abuse.
Most governmental resources and academic journal entries describe elder abuse and patient abuse interchangeably, especially when highlighting the different types of mistreatment that a vulnerable individual may face at a caregiver’s hand like:
- Verbal insults
- Violent strikes
- The use of chemical or physical restraints
- Neglectful behavior like isolation
However, those same resources also note that, as mentioned above, elder abuse only refers to individuals 61+, whereas patient abuse can affect anyone of any age under someone else’s care.
How Common Is Patient or Elder Abuse?
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) contends that as many as 5 million older Americans face abuse each year in our country. The national organization estimates that this population loses as much as $36.5 billion in financial abuse every year.
As for patient abuse on a broader scale, finding specific statistics that don’t focus on just the elderly population can be challenging. However, one piece of data on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website highlights how, seniors aside, children often become patient abuse victims (which essentially amounts to child abuse).
Why Do Caregivers Abuse Patients or the Elderly?
One common reason you see cited in any literature discussing elderly or patient abuse is understaffing. Another is inadequate training.
The vetting of hospital workers, home health care aides, nursing home staff members, and other caregivers may be ineffective in ensuring a candidate is adequately skilled for the job at hand.
Additionally, while there are staff-to-resident ratios that nursing homes, for example, must abide by, many facilities ignore those requirements in an effort to cut costs. Inadequate staffing means employees may feel overworked, a frustration that they then take out on residents or patients. It may also cause them to drop the ball in checking on their wards as often as they should while on duty.
Additionally, the American Psychological Association (APA) contends that personal issues a caregiver has, such as the following, may lead them to abuse an older person:
- Job security issues, including loss of employment
- Drug or alcohol dependencies
- Mental illness or emotional problems
Caregivers may also target patients of any age, including the elderly, with their abuse because they know their vulnerabilities, such as an inability to resist or speak up about what happened.
Signs Your Loved One Is Facing Elder or Patient Abuse
There are certain indicators to look for if you suspect a family member is facing elder abuse or neglect, or patient abuse in general, such as the types of treatment described in an earlier section of this blog, which include:
- Unexplained cuts, bruises, or burns
- A distended stomach (often associated with malnutrition)
- The emergence of bed sores
- Unplanned weight loss
- Dwindling financial resources or unpaid bills
- Social withdrawal
- An unexplained pregnancy or contraction of a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
- Fearfulness of being left alone
- Soiled clothing or bed linens (or other unhygienic situations)
- Withheld medication or treatment
- Broken bones caused by falls
- Tears in the skin or trauma, such as around private parts
- Restricted access to assistive devices, such as a cane, wheelchair, hearing aids, dentures, or glasses
While there are surely countless other ways in which a caregiver may take advantage of a patient of any age, including an elderly resident at a nursing home, the listing above gives you a good idea of examples of abusive or neglectful behaviors that may warrant you considering taking legal action to protect you or your loved one’s rights.
Where To Turn When Your Family Member Is Facing Patient or Elder Abuse
The New Mexico Department of Health and other state agencies list a few different hotlines on their websites for reporting abuse and neglect. Some of those numbers, depending on the nature of the complaint, include:
- Adult Protective Services: (505) 388-0066
- Abuse, Neglect & Exploitation Reporting: (505) 388-0066
- New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department Abuse and Neglect Hotline: 1-855-333-SAFE (7233) or (505) 388-0066
- Health Facility Complaints (including hospitals and long-term care facilities): (505) 388-0066
Most hospitals in the area also have patient advocates on staff or suspected fraud, waste, and abuse hotlines with whom you can file formal grievances about patient care and other issues, including the University of New Mexico (UNM) Health System, Presbyterian Healthcare Services, and other major medical centers.
Medical providers, caregivers, and other professionals are required to notify the proper authorities when they suspect abuse or neglect; however, that doesn’t always happen for a variety of reasons. That’s why it’s imperative that you do so yourself (if you’re facing harm) or do so on behalf of your vulnerable relative.
It may be of value to you to speak with an Albuquerque nursing home abuse attorney who can advise you of legal remedies you can pursue if you can compile enough evidence to prove caregiver negligence as well. Our Buckingham & Vega Law Firm team is available to discuss your patient or elder abuse case during a free initial consultation.