Seattle Nursing Home Abuse Attorneys
What is commonly referred to as the "Baby Boom" includes Americans born, roughly, between the years 1946 and 1964. Until recently, Baby Boomers represented the largest segment of the U.S. population. The oldest members of this group have now entered retirement, and the youngest are expected to follow in the next 15 to 20 years. What this means, overall, is that a large segment of our population has become, or will soon become, senior citizens. This means that the number of people entering nursing homes and other assisted living facilities is going to be growing for some time.
Tragically, many older people in such facilities are subject to various types of cruelty and abuse. If you suspect that a loved one living in one of these institutions is being abused or exploited in any way, shape, or form, you need to take action by contacting authorities and seeking the representation of a skilled elder abuse attorney. The Seattle injury attorneys of Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. have dedicated the last four decades to fighting for injury victims of all types, winning their clients substantial settlements. To find out how we can help you and your family, call (425) 228-3860 or toll-free at (888) 228-3860 for a free consultation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines elder abuse as "any abuse and neglect of persons age 60 and older by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust." Elder abuse can take many forms, including:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional and psychological abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial exploitation
Unfortunately, all of these types of abuse have been exposed at various nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the country.
While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have outlined specific types of abuse that are most common, the State of Washington has gone one step further with the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Statute. This statute is meant to further protect those adults who are most vulnerable to abuse.
According to the statute, a vulnerable adult is any adult who is unable to provide for their own basic necessities of life. Vulnerable adults may be:
- Adults over the age of 60 who can no longer care for themselves
- Adults who are disabled, have a disease, or have a developmental disorder that prevents them from caring for themselves
- Adults who live in facilities providing long-term care such as nursing homes, boarding homes, or other assisted living facilities
- Adults who live in their own homes but still require health care and assistance with the basic necessities of life
Abuse can involve physical acts of violence, but there are other types of abuse as well. The Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Statute also highlights neglect as another main form of abuse.
Under the statute, neglect is defined as failing to provide the goods and services a vulnerable adult needs in order to maintain proper mental and physical health. The statute also identifies neglect as an act that clearly demonstrates a severe disregard for the consequences of certain actions that could pose a threat to the vulnerable adult’s well-being.
Common examples of this type of abuse are:
- Physically hurting a vulnerable adult
- Shouting at, threatening, or intimidating a vulnerable adult
- Stealing or "borrowing" money from the adult with no intention of paying it back
- Allowing self-neglect, when an elderly individual will not care for themselves or their belongings, and the healthcare professional or facility does nothing about it
Self-neglect can include things such as hoarding, failing to take medications, improper hygiene, and failing to dress appropriately for the weather.
Because many senior citizens who experience nursing home abuse have no living relatives or no nearby relatives to spot signs of abuse, are afraid to report abuse, or no longer have the mental capacity to report abuse, there are no firm statistics about the rate of abuse in nursing homes. But, studies have shown that older people living in communities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities suffer abuse more often than older people living in other settings, such as with family or relatives.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home or assisted care facility, you need to watch out for the following signs of abuse:
- Bedsores or open wounds
- Sudden, extreme weight loss
- Chronic infections
- Withdrawal from normal activities, changes in mood, signs of depression
- Unexplained disappearance of personal items
- Falling, due to neglect, understaffing, or lack of supervision
- Unaccounted for depletion of funds
- Fearful behavior toward nursing home staff
- Inadequate explanation for an unexpected illness or death
- Sleepiness or confusion not associated with a previously diagnosed condition
- Access to a loved one denied or delayed
- Refusal of a staff member to leave during a visit
- Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, broken bones, cuts, abrasions, and burns
- Appearing overly medicated
- Poor personal hygiene
- Changes in appetite
For more information, visit the National Center On Elder Abuse.
Nursing home malpractice occurs when healthcare professionals and other nursing home staff have acted improperly or failed to act in a reasonable manner. When that negligence has caused injury or death, the elderly resident or their family may be entitled to file a personal injury claim.
Under Washington law, a nursing home must provide adequate and proper care for its residents, and that care must fall within standards set forth by state and federal law. This is one way in which nursing home malpractice differs from other medical malpractice cases.
In medical malpractice cases, expert witnesses are usually called in to testify on the proper standard of care. But in nursing home malpractice cases, because the standards of care are clearly defined within the law, these cases can be much easier to prove.
Proper care for nursing home residents must also account for their failing health and how susceptible they are to infections. Many residents are immunocompromised, meaning a disease that wouldn’t affect a younger, healthier individual could lead to deadly consequences. Nursing homes are required by both state and federal law to ensure their facilities are routinely cleaned and inspected per sanitation guidelines, including checking for mold, employing strict hand sanitation guidelines, properly cooking and preparing meals to avoid food poisoning, and wearing personal protective gear when treating patient’s wounds or injuries. If a staff member is ill, they should be advised to remain home until they have recovered.
Among the various infections that can seriously injure or even kill a nursing home resident, the most common ones include:
- Seasonal flu
- Skin infections, such as bed sores
- UTI’s or Urinary Tract Infections
In addition to properly cleaning the facility and practicing sanitation guidelines, nursing home administrators are also responsible for developing Infection Prevention and Control Programs (IPCP). The programs are designed to limit the spread of infectious diseases throughout long-term care facilities and are heavily recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Through one of these programs, a nursing home can effectively stop a large-scale outbreak, such as those seen during the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak. These programs must include a quarantine plan as well, which has proven to minimize the spread of deadly viruses among immunocompromised residents. Failing to develop and implement an IPCP is a federal violation and can constitute negligence in a civil claim for damages.
Under Washington law, certain social workers, medical staff, and other healthcare providers are required to report any suspected signs of abuse. Private citizens are not required by law to do so, but it is crucial that abuse is reported as soon as it’s suspected.
Of course, for the most urgent situations, calling 911 is always the best option. However, individuals can also report the instance to the police, or call the statewide hotline that has been set up in Washington at (866)-ENDHARM.
Like with any business, hospital, institution, or entity, nursing homes have a duty of care and can be sued for breaching that duty. To find out more about your family’s legal rights and options (particularly if your loved one contracted COVID-19 in a nursing home), contact the Seattle area attorneys at Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. Just call (425) 228-3860 or toll-free at (888) 228-3860 for a free case evaluation.
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