Everything seems like it’s going fine. Your loved one appears to be happy and comfortable in the nursing home, and from what you have observed, the staff provides professional and compassionate care. Then, one day, your loved one gets a new roommate. Soon, you notice cuts and bruises, and your loved one suddenly becomes depressed and withdrawn.

This can be an extremely distressing situation. Sadly, it’s also a situation that a large number of families currently face in South Carolina and across the country. As Reuters reports, a study published in 2014 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that one in five nursing home residents in the U.S. suffers from abuse at the hands of their roommates and other residents.

What Kind of Resident-on-Resident Abuse Occurs in Nursing Homes?

When we think of nursing home abuse, we typically picture undertrained and overworked staff members as being the perpetrators. However, as the 2014 study revealed, fellow nursing home residents can commit abuse as well.

According to the researchers’ analysis of data collected from 10 nursing homes in New York, the most common types of abuse were:

  • Verbal abuse – This form of abuse accounted for 45 percent of the reported cases. Most of the cases involved residents screaming at other residents.
  • Physical abuse – Roughly 26 percent of the cases involved physical assaults such as hitting, kicking or pushing. Given the frail condition of many nursing home residents, this type of abuse is especially troubling.
  • Invasion of privacy – In about 20 percent of the cases, nursing home residents suffered harm from fellow residents touching or taking their property without asking or entering their rooms without permission.

Additionally, in three percent of the cases, residents suffered from sexual abuse committed by other residents in the nursing home facility.

According to a 2009 study of “resident-on-resident aggression” in nursing homes and other types of long-term care facilities, the abuse most often occurs in a resident’s room. However, it also frequently occurs in hallways and dining rooms.

Why Do Nursing Home Residents Abuse Other Residents?

More recently, in November 2017, a Minnesota newspaper published a five-part series on nursing home abuse. According to the newspaper, resident-on-resident abuse may be on the rise in nursing homes for several reasons. Those reasons include:

  • More senior care facilities today allow seniors with problems such as dementia to live in close proximity to “frail elderly residents.”
  • Many elderly people today reside in assisted-living facilities, “which operate under much less regulation than nursing homes,” according to the newspaper. In particular, they can operate with lower staffing levels than nursing homes. So, abuse by roommates and other residents may go undetected. Additionally, staff members may lack the training to recognize and address roommate abuse.

If you are in the process of choosing a nursing home for your loved one, you should consider those factors. For instance, you should look for a facility that properly separates residents who suffer from dementia or exhibit aggressive behavior from the other residents. Additionally, you should consider the staff-to-patient ratio and ask about the training that staff members receive on how to deal with abusive residents.

Who is Responsible When Nursing Home Residents Commit Abuse?

Although a nursing home staff member may not commit the abuse, the nursing home still bears responsibility for the health and safety of its residents. Unfortunately, staff members may fail to detect the abuse due to neglect, or they may simply “look the other way” even though they know it is happening.

Even worse, residents and/or staff members may report the abuse to nursing home administrators. However, the administrators may fail to report the abuse to the proper authorities, or they may try to sweep the problem under the rug because they want to avoid fines and bad publicity.

If a roommate or other resident has abused your loved one, and the staff members and/or administrators have failed to properly address it, then you have the right to seek just compensation for the physical, emotional and financial harm that your loved has suffered. It will be important to get legal help as soon as possible in order to protect your love one’s health and legal rights.

Do You Suspect a Roommate is Abusing Your Loved One in a Nursing Home?

Unfortunately, your loved one may be unable to take steps to address the abuse that he or she has suffered at the hands of a roommate. In reality, they may fear retaliation by the abuser or by the nursing home. For this reason, you should be prepared to take action if you suspect that a roommate or other nursing home resident has abused your family member. Three important steps you can take are:

  1. Document everything.
    The first thing you should do is document everything that you see and hear. What did your loved one say? What did the facility staff tell you? Try to be detailed. Write everything down. You can also take photographs of everything that you believe could help to prove what happened. Talk to your loved one. Talk to the staff and find out what they know. Ask lots of questions.
  2. Report the abuse.
    You can also report the abuse to your county’s Department of Social Services (DSS) by calling or reporting it online. Reporting the abuse to the proper authorities will usually trigger an investigation. The investigation may lead to fines and other penalties for the nursing home and force the facility to take the problem of roommate abuse seriously. It can be a crucial step in helping to identify what exactly happened to your loved one. 
  3. Contact Joye Law Firm.
    When you contact Joye Law Firm, an experienced nursing home abuse lawyer with a track record of fighting for the rights of the injured will provide a comprehensive review of your case and help you and your family to pursue all legal options available to you.

South Carolina law imposes strict deadlines on bringing a case against a negligent nursing home. So, you should not delay getting legal help. You do not want to risk losing your rights by waiting too long.

With offices located in North Charleston, Columbia, Clinton, and Myrtle Beach, Joye Law Firm is available 24/7 to take your call and offer real answers to your toughest nursing home abuse questions. Contact us today to learn more in a free and confidential consultation.

About the Author

Mark Joye is the Head of the Litigation Department at the Joye Law Firm. A Board-Certified Trial Advocate with nearly 30 years of litigation experience, he currently serves on the Board of Governors for the American Association for Justice and is a past president of the South Carolina Association for Justice. In a recent trial, Joye headed a trial team that secured $17 million for a family killed in a tractor-trailer accident.

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