Who is responsible when nursing home residents suffer neglect?

A nursing facility can be held accountable if a resident is injured due to neglect.

The pandemic is responsible for the death of an estimated 90,000 residents within nursing home facilities. Unfortunately, it appears that the pandemic is only part of the problem. COVID-19 has drawn attention to the fact that many facilities do not have sufficient staff to meet their residents' needs. Added to the above noted estimate, nursing home experts estimate tens of thousands more suffer from death due to neglect resulting from overburdened workers. These workers, who often have the best interest of their residents in mind, are unable to keep up with the needs of residents within these facilities.

The Associated Press reports a surge in cases of neglect - of residents not receiving the care they need to survive. Unsanitary conditions, such as a failure to help residents take care of basic needs like hygiene and nourishment, are worsening the health of residents. Additional issues include a failure to change diapers that contribute to urinary tract infections, a failure to help residents eat and drink leading to dehydration and malnourishment. Reports are also present of bedsores so severe that they lead to dangerous, life threatening complications.

In addition to neglect, some residents are so frustrated with the inability to socialize with friends and loved ones that they are suffering from what medical professionals refer to as a "failure to thrive." Ultimately, these factors have translated to an estimated 15% increase in fatalities over the expected rate within nursing facilities.

So what happens next? What options remain for those who believe their loved ones were the victims of neglect within a nursing facility? First, it is important to understand neglect. In this setting, healthcare and legal professionals generally define neglect as the failure of a caregiver to fulfill the obligations or duties required of the resident. As noted by the National Research Council, this can include a failure to provide food, water, clothing, medicine, shelter, supervision and other forms of medical care as well as "services that a prudent person would deem essential for the well-being of another." Examples include a failure to provide dental care, motion exercises or other forms of physical therapy, caring after the resident after an episode of incontinence, wound care, bathing, proper transfer, meeting hydration needs and acting when a resident requests assistance.

If one or more of these is present, a civil claim against the nursing care facility for neglect is likely available. This could include a claim that the facility was negligent in supervision, care, hiring and retention of employees, maintenance of the facility or equipment. The next step is to gather evidence to show the owner or employee of the facility breached the duty of care to the resident and that this failure led to the injury or death of the resident. With this information, you can hold the facility accountable for their negligent actions.