In recent years, there has been greater attention cast on nursing homes, particularly in regard to how the residents of these facilities are treated. In Florida, there have been a number of laws passed, expanding the rights of residents and hoping to eliminate instances of neglect and abuse. From guarding the resident’s right of religious freedom to safeguarding private communications, there are over 20 rights that elders in nursing homes now possess and those rights are now outlined in Florida public health statute § 400.022 and in Social Welfare statute § 429.28.
Florida Grants Rights to Nursing Home Residents
While some rights outlined in the law help to ensure a freedom of choice, other rights have been established for more practical reasons. For instance, the right to choose one’s own personal physician and the right to refuse medical treatment indicate a concern that some facilities have been acting without the consent of the nursing home resident. While it may make things easier for the staff, it’s illegal for a nursing home to force treatment on a resident without discussing the medical condition and treatment options with the individual patient or resident.
Other regulations are clearly set out to limit abuse committed against residents. This has become a growing concern for the families who have entrusted the care of their elder loved ones with a nursing home facility. Since abuse and neglect is often kept secret, it can be difficult to prove in a court of law. For that reason, there are certain rights that help to protect against the likelihood of abuse occurring in a nursing home. One of the most important rights granted under these conditions is the right to not be subjected to either physical nor mental abuse of any kind. This stipulation further specifies that nursing homes are prohibited from subjecting residents to corporal punishment, involuntary seclusion, and chemical or physical restraints.
Certain Injuries Suggest a History of Abuse
The following are injuries commonly experienced by elders who have been abused in a nursing home facility:
- Bruises – This may include black eyes. Since bruises take longer to heal in older adults, the bruises may change from a black and blue color to a yellow discoloration over time.
- Burns – A burn may be the result of intentional abuse or may be the result of an accident that occurred due to neglect. The resident may experience cooking burns or burns from friction, such as those that might occur from having been tied up with rope. Evidence of restraints is a sign that something is unusual in the elder’s care.
- Welts – Reddened skin with raised bumps may be indicative of abuse.
- Bedsores – Under most circumstances, bedsores suggest neglect, but they can also suggest abuse. If the caregiver allows bedsores to develop without taking preventative care measures, that can also be considered abuse.
- Cuts or Scars – If you observe lacerations, there’s a strong indication that the elder is being abused. Similarly, scars on the elder’s limbs suggest ongoing abuse.
- Broken or Fractured Bones – As people age, their bones become more brittle and can break more easily. While this isn’t proof of abuse in itself, if it occurs regularly or if the broken bones are unexplained, there may be cause to question the staff’s conduct.
- Head Injuries – This includes injuries to the face or to the teeth, as well as traumatic brain injuries. Especially where the injuries are insufficiently explained, there may have been abuse.
In some cases, sexual abuse may also take place. This can result in injuries that are difficult to spot and may only be identified in a thorough medical exam. For instance, there may be bruising of the breasts, or there may be bite marks in the tissue of the breasts. Additionally, there is often tearing of the vagina or rectum in cases of sexual abuse. The vagina, penis, or the anus may also appear swollen as a result of molestation.
When sexual abuse is suspected, be watchful for an increased interest in sex by the elder. He or she may show a greater interest in sexually suggestive material, as well. Also, you may observe inappropriate relationships between the elder and staff members or other residents. While this may appear as affection for the caregiver or other individual, the opposite can occur as well. If the elder seems fearful of another person in the facility, this strongly suggests abuse.
Elders will often try to hide signs of abuse out of shame and out of a fear of retaliation. For that reason, paying close attention to injuries and behavioral changes may be the only way to identify abuse or neglect. If you suspect your elder loved one is being abused by nursing home staff, you should consult an attorney. An experienced legal advocate can help you determine if abuse is taking place and can help you to help your elder loved one.
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