Massachusetts Seniors Need to be Vigilant in Preventing Nursing Home Abuse

There are few decisions as difficult as when one family member has to decide when it is time to move another family member into a nursing home. If the day arrives when the elderly family member can no longer take care of him or herself, and others in the family are unable to provide adequate care, a nursing home may be one of the few options left.

Unfortunately, this need for the assistance of others makes elderly people in Massachusetts particularly susceptible to nursing home abuse. However, much can be done to not only protect Massachusetts' seniors from abuse, but also to hold their abusers liable for their behavior.

Signs of Abuse and Neglect

Even though we like to think that we should be able to trust nursing homes to provide adequate and safe care for our family members, many times that is just not the case.

There are many reasons elderly nursing home residents are abused or neglected - some as straightforward as nursing homes "cutting corners" with staffing and training. What makes it even more difficult is that sometimes the abuse is emotional rather than physical, which makes it more difficult to detect. According to HelpGuide.org, some signs that may indicate physical abuse is occurring include:

  • Unexplained injuries such as bruises, welts or scars - especially if they appear symmetrically on both sides of the body
  • Broken bones or sprains
  • Signs indicating restraints, such as marks on wrists
  • Reports of drug overdose or failure to take medications on schedule
  • Broken eyeglasses
  • Nursing home's refusal to allow you to see the resident alone

Moreover, emotional abuse may be occurring if nursing home staff exhibits threatening, controlling or belittling behavior, or if the resident starts to mimic signs of dementia such as sucking, rocking or mumbling to oneself.

However, these signs are not always indicative of direct abuse, but may be a sign of nursing home neglect instead. HelpGuide.org states that additional things to look out for if you believe your family member may be a victim of neglect in a nursing home include:

  • Unusual weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Dehydration
  • Unsanitary living conditions, such as the presence of bugs, dirty room or soiled/torn bedding and clothes
  • Poor hygiene and being left unwashed and dirty
  • Unsafe living conditions
  • Bed sores
  • Falls
  • Desertion of the resident at a public place, or allowing the resident to wander unsupervised

Protecting Nursing Home Residents in Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, residents of nursing homes are protected by both statutes and regulations - however, in addition to the statutes that protect all health care patients in Massachusetts, there are long-term care facility regulations that state that every nursing home resident has the right to "be free from verbal, sexual, physical and mental abuse, corporal punishment and involuntary seclusion" and free from "any physical or chemical restraints."

Moreover, it is clear from the regulation that residents are not only protected from direct abuse, but also neglect when it states that "all alleged violations involving mistreatment, neglect or abuse" must be reported. This regulation also requires that the mistreatment of nursing home residents must be reported immediately to the administrator of the facility in accordance with state law.

When a resident is injured, recourse is available. Residents may be bring lawsuits under the Massachusetts' Consumer Protection Act if the nursing home violates regulations. Specifically, the nursing home regulations state that the performance, or nonperformance, by the nursing home of particular enumerated acts will be considered an "unfair or deceptive act of practice" - thus actionable under the Consumer Protection Act.

Moreover, there is a "catch-all" provision contained in the regulations that makes it an unfair or deceptive act when a nursing home doesn't comply with "any existing state or federal statute, rule or regulation which provides protection to or for residents or prospective residents." It should also be noted though that these regulations do not contain an exhaustive list of prohibited acts, which means nursing homes can be held liable under the Massachusetts' Consumer Protection Act for acts not specifically enumerated in the regulations.

This article barely scratches the surface of the law surrounding nursing home abuse/neglect in Massachusetts, as it is extremely complex and difficult to navigate - for example, depending on the abusive acts committed by the nursing home, there may be criminal liability that may come into play as well. While this article should not be considered legal advice, it does illustrate the importance of contacting an experienced personal injury attorney if you believe you or a loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse or neglect.