Throughout the United States, America’s senior population often relies on nursing homes and long-term care facilities for medical treatment and support. Thousands of nursing homes provide these services, and they have a duty to care for residents with compassion and competence. Unfortunately, rising numbers of negligence and abuse in nursing homes have negatively impacted the long-term care industry. In many of these cases, wrongful death claims have been filed against facilities and their staff members by surviving family members. While nursing home insurance provides some level of liability protection in the face of legal action, facility managers must understand the factors that go into a wrongful death claim.
Negligence and Abuse in Nursing Homes: Statistics
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are close to two million licensed beds spread across 16,000 nursing homes in the U.S. Recent statistics are not yet available, but in 2015, the CDC pinpointed the number of residents in these facilities at 1.3 million individuals.
The National Association of Nursing Home Attorneys conducted a study regarding elder abuse, compiling statistics from the National Center on Elder Abuse, surveys of facilities, and the CDC. According to their findings, about 5 million elders experience some form of abuse each year. In surveys conducted on a national level, about 36% of all nursing home residents witnessed at least one incident of physical abuse in the previous year. This alarming statistic is only made more chilling by the fact that nursing home staff members reported:
- 10% of staff committed at least one act of physical abuse toward elderly residents.
- 40% admitted to abusing elderly residents using psychological tactics.
In all, about one in every ten Americans aged 60 or older have experienced some form of abuse, including:
- Psychological abuse
- Financial exploitation
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
Only about 20% of cases are reported each year, according to estimates from the National Center on Elder Abuse. This equals just over 250,000 complaints from nursing homes per year, on average.
Wrongful Deaths in Nursing Homes
Death occurs on a regular basis in America’s nursing homes. Elderly residents with serious health conditions lose their lives, and this is wholly expected within the industry. Unexpected deaths, on the other hand, are cause for concern.
In cases where an elderly nursing home resident were to die due to neglect, improper medical care, or hazards present within the facility, surviving family members may often have a legitimate wrongful death claim. Common wrongful death claims in nursing homes include:
- Malnutrition or dehydration
- Slip and fall injuries
- Physical/sexual abuse
- Medical malpractice
It is important to note that each state has its own laws governing who may file a wrongful death claim. Typically, an immediate family member, such as a child or spouse of the deceased party, is the plaintiff in a lawsuit. In most states, life partners or those financially dependent on the deceased party may sue. Some states allow for anyone who suffers financially due to a wrongful death to file a claim.
Avoiding Wrongful Death Claims
In many of these wrongful death cases, patients die as a result of the actions, inaction, or negligence of the caregivers employed by long-term care facilities. Facilities and their staff members have a duty to provide compassionate and accurate healthcare; failing to do so can create situations where wrongful death claims may be pursued. Again, nursing home insurance offers some level of liability protection, but even this may not be enough to withstand the financial drain on facility assets, not to mention loss of reputation and business interruption.
Nursing home facility owners and managers must take the appropriate steps to avoid liabilities in wrongful death claims. Nursing home insurance is only one part of the risk management process; hiring great staff, ensuring adequate staffing levels, and eliminating hazards within the facility are also important parts of the equation. Wrongful death claims are on the rise, and regulatory agencies are tightening oversight of long-term care facilities. Avoiding the tragic and financially-damaging consequences of a wrongful death claim should be a priority in nursing home management.