As life expectancies in the U.S. have increased over the last century, our population is aging. This means that we, as a society, are under increasing pressure to find ways to equitably and adequately care for our elderly. Often, this entails placing our senior citizens in the care of an assisted-living facility, nursing home, or engaging the services of paid caregivers. These institutions and caregivers provide important services for the health and well-being of seniors. However, seniors are also highly vulnerable to abuse, neglect, and exploitation from the very people who are supposed to take care of them. Data from the National Center on Elder Abuse suggests that there may be as many as 5 million Americans aged 65 and older who are injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by a caregiver annually, much of which goes undetected and unreported.
The nursing home industry is a huge multi-billion dollar business. Oftentimes, these for-profit facilities, administered by large corporations, are understaffed or are staffed by personnel who are not adequately trained or screened. Care homes have a legal responsibility to provide professional and adequate care for seniors and should be held accountable when they fail to do so. Federal laws such as the Nursing Home Reform Act and state laws like the Washington Abuse of Vulnerable Adults Act and the Oregon Elderly Persons and Persons with Disabilities Abuse Prevention Act establish clear rights of elderly and vulnerable adults and protections against their abuse and exploitation.
If you have reasonable cause to believe that a senior is being harmed through either intentional abuse or neglectful, inadequate care, the first step is to contact Adult Protective Services and make a report. In Washington, the phone number for the APS office serving Clark, Cowlitz, and Skamania counties is 1-877-734-6277. If you suspect that a person living in adult family home or nursing home is being abused, you can also call the Complaint Resolution Unit, which is reachable at 1-800-562-6078. These reports are confidential and anonymous, and as a reporter, you face no liability in the matter if you act in good faith. In Oregon, concerns should be addressed to the Department of Human Services at 1-800-232-3020. In either state, you should also call local law enforcement or 911 in case of serious injury or harm.
Next, consider contacting me to set up an appointment to further discuss the matter. Whether you are a senior who has been abused or exploited, or you are concerned on behalf of an elderly loved one, you may be able to pursue civil action against the person(s) or institution(s) involved and receive compensation. Though the authorities will conduct an investigation if mistreatment or neglect is suspected, any documentation or records that you can provide will also help to strengthen your case.
Keep in mind that elder abuse can happen anywhere—it knows no socio-economic, racial, or ethnic boundaries. It also comes in many different forms: physical, mental and sexual abuse, neglect, abandonment, and exploitation, which can be either financial or personal (subjecting a senior to undue influence or coercion). Some of the warning signs to look out for include unexplained injuries (such as bruising, bed sores, and broken bones) or unusual behavior (like anger, fear, depression, or withdrawal), a sudden decline in physical appearance (including weight loss), the absence of necessities such as eyeglasses, hearing aids, or mobility aids, or the sudden disappearance of possessions and property, or suspicious money transfers and use of bankcards. These are just some of the conditions you may notice; if you suspect that a loved one has been a victim of nursing home or elder abuse please call my office to set up a free consultation so that we may further discuss your situation and your potential legal options.