Nursing home abuse may come as a shock to many people who have little experience with nursing home facilities, but statistics show that the overwhelming majority of nursing home facilities have been cited for various forms of abuse and many of them for numerous violations of state and federal regulations. One common form of nursing home abuse is malnutrition.
Malnutrition is simply not getting the food and nutrition your body requires. While seniors may not eat as much as younger individuals, they still need the same vital nutrients as everyone else. Because of understaffing, cutbacks to increase profits, or plain neglect, many seniors are either not getting the food they need or receiving adequate nutritional meals. One study shows that 35% to 85% of seniors in long-term nursing facilities are not getting the nutrition they need and are considered malnourished.
Seniors suffer more readily when not being fed properly and are highly susceptible to dehydration and physical weakness that can quickly lead to physical and mental decline. When in a weakened state, seniors are prone to falls from dizziness or muscle atrophy. Many elderly residents suffer from osteoporosis, a common age-related affliction, where your bones are highly vulnerable to being broken, even in a simple fall. Hip fractures from falls in nursing homes are very common. If injured, a senior has a high risk of sustaining an infection that leads to complications, increased medical expenses and more significantly, a diminished quality of life.
While some cases of malnutrition appear intentional on the part of the nursing home as they cut costs or have staff that cares little about an individual resident’s needs, it is often the fault of understaffing. Certified nursing assistants are usually responsible for feeding and ensuring that a resident’s meal is in accordance with their plan but these staff members are usually overwhelmed. The New York Times reports that an overwhelming majority of nursing homes are understaffed and one nurse’s aide may be responsible for 15 or 20 residents while they should be only handling 2 or 3. There is also the problem of turnover and finding trained staff. Nursing home jobs are difficult and low paying and turnover rates in most facilities are as high as 93%.
Under Massachusetts law, nursing home staff are required by law to report to authorities any observed signs of abuse, which includes physical, sexual, emotional, financial and self-neglect. Under-reporting of nursing home abuse is widely suspected.
Signs of Malnutrition in the Elderly
Anyone who has a loved one in a nursing home should scrutinize the care being provided and especially be concerned about the food they are receiving. Consider an occasional stay with your loved one and have a meal with them in their room if they are not ambulatory or in the dining hall. You can judge for yourself the quality of the food. Many seniors have special dietary restrictions so it is vital that the facility is adhering to the medical and meal plan specially tailored for him or her.
You can also observe your loved one’s demeanor and outward appearance. Look for the following as possible signs of malnutrition:
- Skin complexion and nails. Has her skin suddenly become very wrinkled or do her nails have a whitish tinge? Do you notice that her skin is yellowish in tone? Or is it dullish?
- A possible indication of malnutrition is redness, a glassy look or even swollen corneas. If she or he suddenly has vision problems, have your loved one immediately checked out by an opthamologist.
- Cognitive difficulties. While it is not unusual for an elderly patient to show signs of cognitive decline, if it suddenly happens within a few weeks or days, then have him or her examined.
- Fatigue and muscular problems. Has your loved one experienced dizzy spells or do simple tasks bring on fatigue? Is this unusual?
- If a blood test shows anemia, then you may want to monitor her meals and intake.
If you see any physical signs of possible abuse, take photographs of each suspected area on her body. If you loved one is capable, talk to her or him and take notes of what he or she is experiencing.
What a Nursing Home Abuse Lawyer Can Do
If your loved one is ill, injured or is displaying signs of malnutrition, if not other indications of nursing home abuse, immediately have her or him examined by their regular physician. If they are malnourished, then you should look at the resident’s chart and medical plan and talk to the nurse in charge. If they allege that they are following the plan or are being evasive, report the abuse and then contact an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer.
Your attorney can conduct an investigation and examine the facility records to see if abuses are occurring. In many cases, the nursing home administrators will be far more responsive to attorney inquiries. The facility may already have a record or history of violations that could also include reported and confirmed allegations of malnutrition. Your attorney will know what to look for and what questions to ask.
Damages in a Nursing Home Abuse Claim
A nursing home is liable to the resident in a successful claim of abuse. Damages can include:
- Medical expenses if the abuse results in the need for medical care
- Lost earnings if the resident is young enough and capable of earning after leaving temporary care but is prevented from working because of harm sustained from the abusive treatment
- Pain and suffering
- Diminished quality of life
Punitive damages in Massachusetts are only available in wrongful death claims. If your loved one did suffer a fatal injury or died from a condition related to abuse from a nursing home’s neglect or abusive practices, then you may have a punitive damages claim in addition to compensatory damages.
Retain Tetzel Law
Call Paul Tetzel at the Tetzel Law Firm if your loved one has been harmed because of malnutrition from nursing home abuse. You will be given a free in-depth consultation about what he can do for you and your loved one. Call now at (617) 933-3858.