• Suspect nursing home abuse or neglect?
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file000430141928Nursing home abuse is a serious problem in San Diego. For a number of years, elder safety advocates have been looking for new ways to prevent nursing home abuse, as well as to properly identify it when it does happen. According to a recent article from USC News, “doctors, first responders, and other health care professionals can use techniques inspired by law enforcement to better identify and address cases of elder abuse.” This new methodology for detecting nursing home neglect arose from a clinical study at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.

When we say that healthcare providers and emergency responders should take a cue from law enforcement when looking for signs and symptoms of elder abuse, what, precisely, do we mean? In short, the study suggests that a “forensic lens” approach can help those not trained in law enforcement to determine where there is “cause to believe neglect or abuse [has] taken place.”

Looking for Clues in Two Different Case Studies

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799px-Alcohol_bottles_photographed_while_drunkHow broad is the term nursing home neglect? For instance, when a senior has a problem with drug or alcohol abuse and lives in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility in Southern California, does the facility have a duty to prevent the senior from obtaining potentially harmful substances? And if the facility knows about a history of drug or alcohol abuse and does not take precautions to limit a senior resident’s access to alcohol or prescription drugs, can the nursing home be responsible for injuries that occur? According to a fact sheet from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), it can be difficult to recognize signs and symptoms of substance abuse among older adults.

Should we be able to expect that facilities will look into signs and symptoms of substance abuse among elderly residents? And if a facility in San Diego already knows that one of its residents has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, what must it do differently in other to avoid allegations of nursing home negligence?

Difficulty Identifying Senior Residents with Substance Abuse Problems

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Q2191986_noun_108043_ccNicolasVicent_elderly.svgWhen you have a loved one residing in a San Diego nursing home, it is extremely important to think about how the facility is managing fall risks. According to a fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), millions of seniors suffer injuries from falls each year, and about 25% of the elderly population will fall in any given year. As the CDC points out, about 20% of those falls among seniors result in serious injuries such as a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or broken bones. More than 800,000 older adults require hospitalization because of a fall-related injury each year, and around 300,000 seniors need to be hospitalized specifically because of a hip fracture. All in all, approximately 2.8 million elderly adults are treated in emergency departments each year due to falls. Of those seniors who get hurt, about 1,800 die as a result of their injuries.

Since falls are so common among older adults, and given that they often result in serious injuries, what should nursing homes do to help prevent falls from happening? If nursing facilities in San Diego do not take proper precautions when it comes to fall prevention, can they be liable for nursing home neglect?

Nursing Home Falls Occur in Many Different Contexts

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Very Old LadyIs the quality of life improving for Southern California residents in assisted-living facilities? And if so, how much attention do we need to pay to the risks of nursing home abuse and neglect in these communities if a majority of seniors say they are content? According to a recent article in McKnight’s Senior Living, “residents of assisted living communities in California are very satisfied with their living situations” on the whole. While this is good news for many elder justice advocates in the state, we should not let it obscure the fact that there remain a number of seniors who are not satisfied with their living situations and who become victims of elder abuse.

Although the recent article presents promising data on elderly assisted living in the state, we still need to consider the risks to California seniors who do not fall into this depicted majority.

Many Seniors in California are Indeed Happy, Survey Says

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DSC05005Do you know enough about restraints in nursing homes and the importance of restraint-free care? According to a fact sheet from the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR), we as a society used to believe that the use of restraints was acceptable in nursing homes for elderly adults and those with disabilities. Yet the use of restraints in nursing homes is very dangerous, and it may rise to the level of nursing home abuse. As the fact sheet highlights, restraints “often entail more risks than benefits,” and recent studies “recommend more dignified methods to improve residents’ safety.”

Yet, as the CANHR fact sheet illumines, many nursing homes and assisted-living facilities continue to use unnecessary restraints, putting patients at risk of physical harm. And on the whole, California nursing homes, in particular, may be particularly heavy-handed in their use of unnecessary restraints. The fact sheet notes that “California nursing homes use physical restraints at a rate about fifty percent higher than the rest of the nation.” What else do you need to know about restraints and helping your loved one to obtain restraint-free care in a skilled nursing facility in San Diego?

California and Federal Law Prohibits Unnecessary Restraints

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NAMI_logoWhat do you know about mental health and nursing home neglect?

According to an article in Psychology Today, mental illness has become “the biggest economic burden of any health issue in the world, costing $2.5 trillion in 2010” alone. By 2030, that cost is expected to nearly triple to $6 trillion. However, despite the prevalence and costliness of mental illness—approximately 450 million people across the world currently suffer from some form of mental illness—the article emphasizes that mental health conditions continue to carry a stigma that prevents us as a society from talking about them openly and honestly. Unsurprisingly, the continued stigma of mental health or mental illness also makes its way into nursing homes, where patients who suffer from a mental health condition often becomes victims of nursing home abuse or neglect.

What can we do to prevent elder neglect among mental health patients?

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file000790132663Throughout the San Diego area, residents are aging and requiring care in nursing homes. According to a fact sheet from the California Department of Aging, our state is “projected to be one of the fastest growing states in the nation in total population” of seniors. By the year 2020, the California Department of Aging predicts that around 14% of California’s population will be aged 65 and older, totaling nearly 16 million people. Given that so many adults in California will need to think about long-term care, it is important that they, along with their families, have the right tools for choosing the best nursing facilities and avoiding situations of elder abuse.

What goes into choosing the right nursing home for your elderly parents? What questions should you ask? What should you look for at the facility to determine quality of care? A fact sheet from the California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) provides helpful information for selecting a facility.

Thinking About Medicare and Medi-Cal

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Snapchat_LogoOver the last several months, states across the country have been contending with incidents of nursing home abuse that involve social media. Now, according to a recent report ABC 10 News San Diego, federal authorities are “stepping in to make sure elderly residents of nursing homes and senior care facilities are not abused on social media.” The investigation, according to an article from NPR, comes after ProPublica released a series of reports that showed nursing home employees taking “demeaning photographs and videos of residents and post[ing] them on social media.”

Will an investigation by federal health regulators actually be able to put a stop to this kind of elder abuse?

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Issues Memo Regarding Social Media Abuse

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PET_scan-normal_brain-alzheimers_disease_brainWe often read news stories about nursing home abuse and dementia patients, but are elders who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia at greater risk of elder abuse? According to a fact sheet from the University of California, Irvine’s Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect, advocates generally agree that seniors who suffer from dementia “are thought to be at greater risk of abuse and neglect than those of the general elderly population.” What else should you know about dementia and its connection to nursing home abuse?

Growing Number of Americans with Dementia

As the fact sheet notes, the total number of elderly Americans is expected to grow substantially in the coming decades. As the total population of America’s seniors grows, the total population of elders with dementia will also increase. Currently, around 5.3 million seniors in our country have Alzheimer’s disease. Of those people, a little over 5 million are aged 65 or older, while about 200,000 people under the age of 65 suffer from this disease. By 2030, however, the Center predicts that approximately 7.7 million elders will have Alzheimer’s disease. Any by year 2050, that number will grow to around 16 million older adults with Alzheimer’s.

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file3451272140532How often does the California Department of Public Health fine nursing homes and assisted-living facilities for elderly patient injuries and deaths? When facilities do receive significant fines as a result of nursing home abuse or neglect, are those fines sufficient to protect other residents in the future? According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Daily News, the California Department of Public Health issued a $75,000 fine for a Southern California nursing home due to neglect resulting in a patient’s death.

Fatal Injuries Caused By Nursing Home Neglect in Canoga Park

As the article explains, Topanga Terrace, a nursing home in Canoga Park, was issued a $75,000 fine “after staff there failed to monitor a resident who kept removing his own breathing tube, resulting in death.” The patient needed a tracheostomy tube in order to breathe following a surgery in 2013. In addition to the use of the tracheostomy tube, the patient also “suffered from multiple illnesses including dementia, chronic respiratory failure, and tuberculosis.” Despite his medical needs, however, the facility did not have a treatment plan that included methods to prevent or deter the patient from removing his breathing tube.