Nursing homes are intended as places where society’s most vulnerable members can receive the care they need in order to enjoy longer, healthier lives. However, nursing home abuse can and does happen in even the most expensive privately run facilities. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, like many other states in the nation, has put forth laws and regulations pertaining to the care that is given to the elderly and disabled residents of nursing homes in an effort to protect them from being hurt or taken advantage of by the people who are providing their care.
The problem of elder abuse is not something that happens only in run-down facilities intended for low-income residents—it is a national issue, and possibly even a global one. In a study performed by the National Institute of Health regarding the mistreatment of elders, it was estimated that “between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection” (National Research Council, 2003).
According to Massachusetts state law, all nursing home employees are mandated reporters, meaning that they are required by law to make a report of any abuse they may witness. State law defines this abuse broadly, stating that “[f]orms of abuse include physical, sexual, emotional, neglect, financial exploitation, and self-neglect.” Penalties including fines or incarceration have been established for mandated reporters who witness abuse in a nursing home and fail to make a report of the crime. Often, abuse can be hidden and be difficult to detect for the victim’s friends and family members. Feelings of shame over the abuse or the desire to not be a burden can also contribute to victims failing to report their abuse to loved ones or to people in authority.
Massachusetts has made efforts to increase awareness of elder abuse in recent years, amending regulations for nursing homes in an attempt to hold these facilities accountable for the health and wellness of their residents. The Commonwealth’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs has also made access to incident report forms easy by providing multiple links to them across their official website and posting the elder abuse hotline number in relevant, highly visible locations across the state. Twenty-two different Protective Services agencies are located throughout Massachusetts, ready to open and pursue investigations into allegations of elder abuse as they arise.
Elder care facilities are often short on qualified staff members, leading to caregiver “burnout,” which may contribute to higher incidences of nursing home abuse. However, the National Institute of Health’s elder abuse research found that there may be ways to reduce victimization in assisted living facilities. By ensuring that staff members are well-screened and not overworked (i.e., due to the facility being short-staffed and enforcing mandatory overtime hours on staff members) and that they are also trained to calmly and effectively deal with stressful situations like handling an uncooperative or aggressive resident, nursing home abuse may be prevented from happening in the first place.
If someone you care about has been a victim of nursing home abuse, contact an attorney who specializes in elder and disabled abuse cases. Qualified legal professionals can offer a consultation free of charge in order to help victims of elder abuse and their families learn more about their legal options for seeking justice.