preventing elder neglect

Preventing Elder Neglect and Abuse

It is an unfortunate fact that the elderly are one of the most vulnerable populations in modern society.  Those who are placed in long-term care homes, also known as nursing homes are often at a higher risk of neglect and abuse by the very people charged with caring for them.

To make matters worse, seeking justice and compensation in cases of nursing home neglect and elder abuse can be difficult.  Because the elderly are already retired, a number of personal injury compensation measures, based around loss of income, no longer apply.  In cases where the victim suffers from Alzheimer’s Disease or Dementia, personal injury compensation based on loss of companionship can be difficult to prove, as the victim may no longer be capable of providing it.  And, any potential civil suit faces the hazard that the victim may not survive long enough to see the trial through to the end, and their evidence may be thrown out due to an inability to testify or be cross-examined.

This does not mean that justice is unavailable.  While civil suits are difficult to prosecute, they are not impossible, and victims and their families can sue a nursing home for neglect and/or abuse.  Grounds for a lawsuit include:

  • Lack of supervision.  Particularly in a nursing home, there is supposed to be somebody close at hand in case there is an accident or incident.  If there is not, and a resident suffers an injury such as broken hip that is caused or made worse by lack of attention, this is grounds for a lawsuit.
  • Failure to provide medical treatment.  Residents of a nursing home are entitled to medical treatment in a timely fashion.  If the nursing home has not provided it or sent the resident out to receive it, they are liable.
  • Physical and/or sexual assault.  This can not only result in civil liability, but also criminal charges for the perpetrator.
  • Malnutrition.  A nursing home is required to provide sufficient food to its residents.  Failure to do so, particularly when it contributes to health problems, is grounds for a lawsuit.

Neglect and abuse in nursing homes not only creates liability in civil courts but also result in criminal charges.  Perpetrators of elder abuse can be tried for charges including criminal negligence, failure to provide the necessities of life, forcible confinement, fraud, and assault.

However, considering the difficulties involved in seeking justice, the best approach is to prevent elder neglect and abuse in the first place.  This requires the careful selection of a nursing home and an understanding of the rights of its residents.

All nursing home residents have a bill of rights under Ontario’s Long-Term Care Homes Act, which governs all nursing homes in the province.  The 27 rights under this act include:

  • Dignity and respect
  • Protection from abuse
  • Privacy, and private communications
  • Freedom from unnecessary restraint

In cases where these rights are violated, any complaint must be investigated and, by law, a report sent to the Ministry of Health within ten days of the complaint.

The Ontario Ministry of Health also requires all nursing homes and long-term care facilities to submit to inspections, particularly after complaints or incidents.  The reports from these inspections are made public on the Ministry’s website, and can be searched using the name of the nursing home.  The Ministry also provides a checklist (PDF) for those seeking long-term care for their family members, to ensure that the right questions are asked.

To protect your loved ones when choosing a nursing home, it is best to start with careful research, including checking the Ministry inspections and incident reports for each possible selection.  And, if neglect or abuse does happen, consult a personal injury lawyer to see what can be done to rectify the situation, and what compensation is possible.
Author Robert B. Marks is a writer, editor, and researcher in Kingston, Ontario, who spent several years working as a writer and editor for the Queen’s University Faculty of Law.

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