Nursing home abuse in California is still a huge problem. By way of example: The case of an 88-year-old Sacramento, California woman found dead in 2013 after living in a residential nursing home was unbelievably tragic. According to press reports, the elderly woman had developed severe bedsores, triggering sepsis–a life-threatening bacterial infection–and ultimately her death.
Who was to blame for this terrible neglect of an elderly Californian?
To the Department of Justice, it was the owner of the elder-care facility in which she had lived for many years. The federal government lodged felony charges, including manslaughter, against the operator. Local media called it one of the first prosecutions of its kind.
The ultimate resolution of this nursing home neglect case wasn’t immediately available, but the attention paid to such a high-profile case serves to highlight that elder abuse and elder neglect are serious crimes and severely punishable by law. In California, the state’s Welfare and Institutions Code Section 15610.57 requires that anyone caring for an adult exercise a “degree of care” that a reasonable person “in a like position” would exercise.
The statute defines neglect by the following (but is not limited to):
- Lack of medical care for physical or medical needs.
- Failure to protect from “health and safety hazards” and to “prevent malnutrition or dehydration.”
- Not assisting in personal hygiene or the “provision of food, clothing or shelter” and more.
Advocates with the Elder Justice Now initiative say the elderly deserve to be free from “abuse, neglect and exploitation.”
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, as many as 10 percent of respondents in one major study said they experienced elder abuse within the previous year. Another study highlighted by the organization says “only one in 14 cases of elder abuse ever comes to the attention of authorities.”
Who abuses elders?
While the vast majority of abusers are family members according to the NCEA, many U.S. elderly have their care coordinated by supposedly trusted and regulated caregivers.
The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates that in 2012 approximately 8 million U.S. residents were under the care of about 58,500 “paid, regulated long-term care services providers.”
So how can you tell if something is going wrong with the care you’ve coordinated? Advocates with Elder Justice Now say the signs and symptoms of abuse can come in many forms and are not limited to the following:
- Bruising or other obvious signs of physical abuse
- Signs of poor attention or hygiene, including bedsores and sudden weight loss
- Issues with caregivers, such as belittling behavior or anger
- Sudden changes in finances
For bedsores, it’s important to be armed with information about how they form and the different stages.
- Bedsores form from prolonged pressure on the skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- They can be “very difficult” to treat.
- The four stages outlined by Mayo Clinic experts can run from simply: “tender” skin to “exposed muscle, bone or tendons” and even dead tissue.
- The sores can form in different areas depending on mobility. For people in wheelchairs, bedsores may appear on the tailbone or backs of arms. Individuals who are confined to their beds may develop sores on their hips, backs of shoulders, the tailbone and other areas.
How can I learn more?
Government experts with the Administration on Aging have described bedsores as “indicators of possible neglect” and urge those who suspect abuse to seek out resources, which they list by state. If someone’s life is in danger, call 9-1-1.