Elder abuse is recognized as an increasing problem in senior communities; however, the extent of the issue is difficult to determine due to the absence of a clear definition and the lack of accurate reports of abuse. Over 3.2 million adults live in long-term health care facilities across the U.S and with the growing elder population, that number continues to rise. With the increase in the aging population, awareness of elder abuse also increases.
Elder abuse is a broad term covering types of abuse such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, and resident to resident abuse. In general, elder abuse can be defined as the mistreatment or harming of an older person. The National Institute of Justice estimates that 1 in 10 American elders are abused. Despite the fact that nursing homes are held to a high standard of care under the Nursing Home Reform Act of 1986 and other state and federal regulations that protect residents’ right to live free from abuse, the rates of abuse are still prevalent across the country.
Recently, the Office of Inspector General for Health and Human Services (OIG) performed two government studies that found that incidents of elder abuse and neglect are often underreported to enforcement agencies and that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) has failed to uphold their duty to adequately report potential claims of abuse. By focusing on the possible abuse of nursing home residents who pass through emergency rooms, the OIG discovered that nursing homes failed to report nearly 1 in 5 cases of neglect to Survey Agencies.
Additionally, it was found that even when nursing homes did report incidents to Survey Agencies, the agencies failed to report the findings to local law enforcement. In their second study, the OIG determined that the CMS failed to adequately record and track incidents of potential neglect and abuse that occurred in nursing homes. The OIG concluded that “CMS and law enforcement cannot adequately protect victims of abuse and neglect from harm if they do not know the harm is occurring.” However, CMS has rejected most of the reports’ recommendations to change the way that they report elder abuse.
In order to prevent abuse of elders, it is important to increase the awareness of this problem and to understand the possible signs of elder abuse. Signs of emotional withdrawal, unexplained injuries, changes in finances, lack of appetite, and poor living conditions can all indicate that an elder is being abused. If there is evidence of abuse of an elder, it is important to report the suspected abuse as soon as possible. The elderly population is vulnerable to harm and mistreatment. However, elder abuse can end through increased awareness of the problem and open communication among communities and families.
If you or someone you know has been abused by professionals or other residents at a long-term care facility, please contact the experienced attorneys at Forester Haynie, PLLC.