Friday, October 10, 2008

How You Can Stop Nursing Home Neglect

Most nursing homes provide quality care to their residents. Nevertheless, there are reasons to be concerned about nursing home neglect. According to Medicare, the average nursing home in the U.S. will be cited for 8 health deficiencies at each state inspection. In 2001 a study for the House Committee on Government Reforms found that in a two year period, nearly one third of all certified facilities had been cited for some type of abuse violation.

Fortunately, there are things that you can do to ensure that you, or your family members receive good care:

1. Good support from family and friends

Patients who are in relatively good health may be able to advocate for themselves. For patients with dementia or Alzheimers, however, this may not be possible. Perhaps the best protection against neglect is the active involvement of friends and family. If your parent is in a nursing home, visit regularly and ask questions. Visiting at different times of the day and night will help you to determine if staffing and care are consistently sufficient.

2. Work with the nursing home

Before resorting to more aggressive measures, it is wise to attempt to work out any issues with the nursing home directly. Often a polite request is all that is necessary to ensure that a problem is corrected. The director of nursing is typically a good person to speak with about quality of care. Remember that nursing is a difficult and often thankless job. When the facility staff is doing good work, be sure to praise them for their efforts. When a lapse occurs, politely inquire.

3. Know your rights

During the time a person is in a nursing facility, it is their home. As such, they deserve the same dignity and respect as any other person. A resident who has stayed up late her entire life, should not be required to go to bed early simply because it is more convenient for the facility. Residents have the right to receive needed treatment or to refuse unwanted treatment. Knowing these rights is important. Some of the rights guaranteed to nursing home residents can be found in the “Patient Bill of Rights” which is often posted somewhere in the home. It is also available in a number of places online, including through the National Citizen’s Coalition for Nursing Home Reform at

4. Participate in family / resident councils

Many nursing homes have “Resident Councils” where residents can gather and discuss concerns about the care they are receiving. Similarly, some homes have “Family Councils” at which family members can discuss common issues. These councils can provide an excellent way to advocate for improved care. If the facility does not have such a council, there are many organizations that can help you to establish one. One such organization is Illinois Citizens for Better Care, which can be contacted at

5. Contact your local ombudsman

Every region of Illinois has a long term care ombudsman, whose job is to monitor nursing homes and advocate for good care. The ombudsman can provide a wealth of information to residents and families. They can provide assistance with everything from locating a good nursing home to negotiating improved care. You can locate your local ombudsman by calling the Illinois Department on Aging Senior Help Line at 1-800-252-8966.

6. Call Illinois Department of Public Health

When a nursing home violates a health or safety standard, you should report the violation to the Illinois Department of Public Health. The department maintains a hotline for any suspected violations. The investigation of these complaints can help to prevent further violations. It also establishes a record of any violations. The hotline number is 1-800-252-4343. Information about past violations by a particular nursing home are also publicly available from the department.

7. Call the police

Residents sometimes forget that they have a right to call the police. Anything that would be a crime outside the nursing home is also a crime in the nursing home. Anything from theft to physical abuse can and should be reported to the police department. Physical abuse by staff or other residents is not just unfortunate, it is a crime. It should be treated as such.

8. Call a lawyer

Calling a lawyer should be one of the last options to pursue. Nevertheless, some injuries are so severe that there is no other option. Likewise, there are some nursing homes that will not improve conditions unless it will affect their bottom line. Illinois has a number of laws that can protect neglect and abuse victims. It is important to locate a lawyer that is experienced in nursing home litigation.

Receiving good care is a process. By knowing your rights, demanding good care and knowing when to reach out for help, you can help to stop nursing home neglect.

Eric Parker is an attorney practicing in the areas of nursing home neglect, personal injury, and issues facing the elderly. He works with the firm of Stotis & Baird, Chartered in Chicago. Links to some of the resources described in this article can be found on the firm’s web site at

This article was first published in the Keenager News Published by Catholic Charities and is reprinted here with their permission.

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