How to Prove Emotional Abuse in a Nursing Home

Written by AskTheLawyers.com™ on behalf of Tad Thomas with Thomas Law Offices.

How to Prove Emotional Abuse in a Nursing Home
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While the hope for nursing homes is that they will provide a warm, attentive home-like environment for aging loved ones, this is unfortunately not always the case. Additionally, without being constantly present, it can be difficult to identify signs of abuse or neglect within a care facility, especially emotional abuse. There are many kinds of abuse ranging from physical, to psychological, to financial and more. Emotional abuse is an often overlooked category of abuse but can have severe effects on not only the quality of life of an abuse victim but even the health and wellbeing of that person.

Unfortunately, many of the residents in these homes do not come forward to report the abuse on their own due to many factors such as intimidation, fear, and a lack of ability to communicate. One of the key indicators that emotional abuse is occurring within your loved one’s nursing home is an unexpected or seemingly unexplainable change in behavior or mood with your loved one.

Signs that could indicate the presence of emotional abuse in a nursing home:

  • Becoming suddenly withdrawn or isolated
  • Easily agitated
  • Behaving with overt aggression
  • Sudden changes in personality
  • Lack of eye contact
  • A caregiver will not let your loved one speak for themself
  • Appearing fearful, hopeless, or anxious
  • Threatening, harassing, blaming, or demeaning remarks reported by your loved one from nursing home staff, management, or other residents

It’s important to make sure your loved one has a way to contact you from within the nursing home.

This might mean ensuring they have their own cell phone in addition to teaching them how to use it so they can call you if something is wrong. This also allows them to record or film instances of emotional abuse if they are able to. It’s also important to check in on your loved one inside the nursing home on a daily basis and build a relationship with the staff responsible for caring for your loved one. This ensures a line of open communication, and the knowledge that you are actively aware of and involved in your loved one’s life could encourage nursing home staff to remain attentive and kind to your loved one.

If you suspect any kind of abuse or neglect in a nursing home, reporting it can result in an investigation.

If your loved one is showing signs of abuse or neglect regardless of the kind, take action. The following are some tips for reporting nursing home abuse:

  • Call your state's elder abuse hotline, often found under your state’s Health and Human Services (HHS) department. To access the Cabinet for Health and Family Services in Kentucky, go here and make a report.
  • Some states are mandatory reporting states, including Kentucky. This means that if a person is aware that abuse could be occurring they are legally obligated to report it.
  • You may use your state’s elder abuse website to file a report, but this could result in a delay in the report’s processing. In many cases, calling the state’s elder abuse hotline is more likely to result in quick results.
  • You can choose to remain anonymous when you report the abuse, but by doing so you waive the right to be informed of the results of the investigation.
  • When filing an elder abuse report, you will be asked to answer a series of questions and should do so as thoroughly and accurately as possible. This includes providing the names of any nursing home staff you suspect may be involved in the abuse or those allowing the abuse to happen under their supervision.
  • In addition to filing a formal report, you have the opportunity to file a civil claim to pursue compensation for the damages your loved one experienced due to the abuse, including non-economic damages which is often the case in emotional abuse situations.
  • If you directly witness nursing home abuse or neglect, or if you fear an elderly person is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 to file a report with the police immediately.

Nursing home abuse experts unfortunately expect the instances of nursing home abuse to rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, with family members more isolated from each other than usual and nursing home staff under extreme stress and threat of burnout. If you suspect your loved one has suffered emotional abuse in a nursing home, seek legal counsel to learn what kind of action can be taken and what compensation your loved one might be eligible for.

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