Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect
Former nursing home abuse defense attorney, Matthew Waring, discusses what you should know about nursing home abuse and neglect.
Attorney Matthew Waring is a nursing home abuse lawyer and nursing home neglect attorney based in Deerfield Beach, Florida near Boca Raton.
Before Matthew Waring began representing people who have been abused or neglected in nursing homes in South Florida, Matthew Waring defended nursing home abuse claims.
There are very few lawyers who have experience on both sides of the aisle.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been abused or neglected in a nursing home in Boca Raton, Boynton Beach, Delray Beach, or in South Florida, speak with Attorney Matthew Waring today for free to discuss your options.
Disclaimer: Not all nursing homes are guilty of widespread abuse and neglect.
Let me start by acknowledging all the hardworking caregivers which assist our elderly on a daily basis. Many of them deserve our gratitude.
Most jobs in skilled nursing pay staff very little and staff members are expected to go above and beyond on a daily basis.
Perhaps, if society adequately recognized the selfless service provided by caregivers at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, we wouldn’t be so fearful of admitting our loved ones to a skilled nursing facility.
That said, nursing home residents are still abused and neglected on a daily basis in Florida.
The Florida legislature takes nursing home abuse and neglect seriously. Florida has passed a Nursing Home Resident Bill of Rights (included in its entirety here) which guarantees that a resident will be treated with dignity, respect, and receive quality care.
When a nursing home violates resident rights and causes physical harm, the nursing home resident or his or her family can bring a claim against the nursing home for damages in the form of financial compensation.
The Florida legislature has structured the law so that plaintiff personal injury attorneys shoulder the bulk of the responsibility for policing nursing home abuse and neglect.
Why is there so much abuse and neglect at nursing homes in Florida?
Nursing homes are motivated by profit.
Most nursing homes in South Florida are operated by private, for-profit companies who pay more attention to reducing costs and maximizing profits than to the elderly and febrile residents for which they provide care.
Most nursing home residents pay for services through government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.
Medicare and Medicaid often set the daily rate that nursing homes receive per resident per day.
Moreover, nursing homes are highly regulated by State and Federal laws which cap the number of residents they may house on a single day.
Thus, nursing homes must carefully balance and even cut overhead expenses in order to return any sort of profit.
The profit equation results in widespread abuse and negligent care.
Nursing homes are frequent targets and they struggle with insurance.
Many nursing homes are uninsured or underinsured.
Due to the profit equation discussed above, combined with the highly sensitive field of skilled nursing services, nursing homes are frequently presented with lawsuits.
Some insurance companies have refused to do business with nursing homes in South Florida and those that still do, charge relatively high premiums in exchange for coverage.
High premiums make it harder for nursing homes to make a profit.
The expensive insurance market has prompted many nursing homes to further reduce costs by cutting insurance coverage altogether and explored other ways to minimize risk.
It is not unusual to see nursing homes in South Florida engage in the following activity:
- Maintaining low-coverage limit insurance policies with very high deductibles or self-insured retentions
- Failing or refusing to purchase any liability insurance
- Creating relatively low-capitalized corporate entities to license and run the nursing home facility on behalf of a larger, high-capitalized corporate entity
- Attempting to evade and avoid pre-suit claims and lawsuits hoping it will go away versus attempting to settle claims in good faith
- Forcing residents and residents’ loved one to sign a lengthy admission packet which includes an arbitration provision limiting a resident and his or her families legal rights to recover compensation for nursing home abuse
What should you ask before admitting a loved one to a nursing home?
Typically, you or a loved one has been hospitalized, been treated, and has become stabilized, i.e. eligible for discharge to a skilled nursing facility.
Most often, the particular hospital has a list of nursing homes it is partnered with or prefers using.
The hospital may recommend one or several nursing homes to you based on you or loved one’s health insurance plan.
Naturally, you or your loved one will scan the list of potential nursing homes, look them up on Google, and choose the home with the highest rating.
But oftentimes, the highest rated nursing home may not accept your insurance or it may not have any beds available (nursing homes are capped at how many residents they can house each day).
So, you may find yourself or your loved one not gaining admission to the most desirable nursing home.
Don’t dwell on it. Even the highest rated nursing homes can be guilty of abuse and neglect. Protect yourself and your loved ones by asking the following questions of any nursing home, regardless of its reputation:
- Is the arbitration agreement mandatory to sign or will the nursing home agree to admit you even if you do not sign it?
- Is the nursing home properly insured? If so, ask for a copy of the nursing home’s Policy Declarations Sheet and see if there is at least $1,000,000.00 in coverage and a minimal deductible.
- Who owns the nursing home?
- Has the nursing home been inspected by Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration? If so, have there been any violations within the past 5 years? [PRO tip: You can find out most of this information right here at Floridahealthfinder.gov]
- Does the nursing home look clean, well lit, quiet, and peaceful?
Any nursing home should be able to answer the questions above in real time without doing research. While the questions sound obnoxious or intrusive, the way the nursing home answers the questions may be indicative of the care you or your loved one may receive.
Be familiar with the Nursing Home Resident Bill of Rights.
Before you or a loved one becomes a resident in a nursing home in South Florida, you should get familiar with the Nursing Home Residents’ Bill of Rights. You may view it in its entirety here.
It states that a nursing home resident is guaranteed to live in a safe and decent place where he or she will be treated with respect and dignity.
Anything less is a violation and the nursing home is responsible for any harm caused by their violation.
What are the common signs of nursing home abuse or neglect?
Many of the telltale signs of abuse and neglect are obvious:
- Weight loss
- Unexpected hospital admissions
- Head injuries
- Frequent falls
- New or unresolved skin ulcers
- Untreated festering wounds
- Signs of sexual assault (including new STDs, torn underwear, or bruising on the sides or near the breasts)
Signs above such as weight loss, dehydration, and unexpected hospital admissions are signs of general neglect. If a resident is dehydrated, it may be because the nursing home staff are not adequately measuring the resident’s fluid intake. Weight loss is also a sign of general neglect and is tied to how well staff monitors intake. Unexpected hospital admissions indicate a general loss of control of the resident’s health which can be an indicator of neglect.
The other signs such as bruising, fractures, head injuries, and lacerations are strong evidence of nursing home abuse and neglect. Frequently, nursing home staff fail to put proper procedures in place to prevent nursing home residents from falling out of bed, falling in the halls or bathrooms, coming into contact with belligerent residents, or being accidentally dropped by staff.
Other common signs of nursing home abuse and neglect surface only after its too late. I have seen many cases in which nursing home residents have died as a result of asphyxiation (choking) on fluid which was administered to the resident without staff supervision.
Another common case I’ve seen is where nursing home neglect allows a wound to fester and become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria. After being left untreated, or inadequately treated, the infection spreads to the resident’s blood and causes sepsis which is very often acutely fatal.
What to do if you suspect nursing home abuse or neglect?
Throughout my years of defending AND suing nursing homes, I have observed dozens of different ways that violations result in harm to a resident.
If you or someone you love has been harmed by a suspected violation, Florida allows the resident or his or her guardian to conduct an informal investigation with the help of an attorney.
I have participated in many pre-suit investigations and know what to look for to connect the harm to a specific violation or a set of violations under Chapter 400, Florida Statutes.
Here is how the process of investigating a claim usually begins:
- First, consult with a lawyer who actually has experience in pre-suit investigations.
- Second, obtain a copy of the nursing home’s “facility chart” for the entire period of the resident’s admission. If you are the resident or a resident’s guardian or personal representative, you may visit the nursing home and request a free copy.
- Third, obtain copies of any medical records for any other medical providers that the resident visited before, during, and after the admission to the nursing home.
- Fourth, with the assistance of a knowledgeable attorney, comb through the records to determine whether the documented care provided to the resident was consistent with the standard of care. This is a complex process which depends on the skill level of your nursing home abuse attorney.
- Fifth, serve a notice of intent which includes all of the statutorily required language and certifications upon the nursing home’s registered agent.
- Sixth, engage in informal discovery with the nursing home or its legal counsel. Note that the pre-suit investigatory period is 75 days from date of service of your notice of intent.
Many pre-suit investigations conclude with a pre-suit mediation, however, it has become increasingly normal to see nursing homes refuse to mediate or engage in any settlement negotiations whatsoever.
If you do not resolve your nursing home claim within the 75 day pre-suit period, your only method to pursue your claim and recover compensation includes filing a lawsuit in Circuit Court.
It is important to understand that you have a very strict and limited period for filing a lawsuit against a nursing home in Florida.
Under Florida law, you only have two (2) years from the date of the harm to bring a claim against a nursing home.
At Waring Law, we handle nursing home cases on contingency. That means that you don’t pay anything for your attorney’s services unless Waring Law recovers money on behalf of the nursing home resident. If you would like to speak with Matthew Waring about a particular violation at a nursing home, you may call or text him at 954-388-0646. Don’t worry, your consult will be free.
Disclaimer: this article is meant solely to provide general information to the public about nursing homes and nursing home abuse and neglect. Nothing in this article is individually tailored legal advice. Nothing in this article forms an attorney-client relationship with any reader. All readers should consult with their own attorney before relying on any of the information contained in this article.