The state of Florida has always been a popular retirement destination, but when older and retired people in our state are no longer able to care for themselves at home, they may reside in one of Florida’s 683 licensed nursing homes or in one of the state’s more than 3,000 assisted living facilities. Floridians can be quite proud of the superlative care that so many of our elderly loved ones receive in the overwhelming majority of our state’s residential nursing facilities. Unfortunately, however, at some of the nursing homes in Florida, elderly residents have been neglected or abused. That has to stop.

Why does nursing home abuse happen? Across the United States, nursing home facilities have been facing a personnel shortage that is severely impacting the quality of care that can be offered to nursing home residents. Some nursing home owners simply will not hire the staff that is needed. Federal guidelines require only that nursing home facilities employ “sufficient” personnel, but letting the nursing home owners decide what is “sufficient” has resulted at some facilities in abuse, negligence, and genuine hazards to the health and safety of the residents.

WHAT IS THE WORST ABUSE IN NURSING HOMES?

In the worst cases – which are exceedingly rare – nursing home patients have actually been physically attacked. At the Palm Gardens Nursing Home in Winter Haven in 2014, two nursing assistants were arrested and charged with battery against a 76-year-old Alzheimer’s patient. The man’s son had suspected abuse, so he placed a camera in his father’s room and was able to record several episodes of physical abuse. This kind abuse of the elderly is never acceptable, and anyone who is guilty of it must be held accountable.

The incident in Winter Haven has not been the only time that worn-out, low-paid staffers at a nursing home have vented their frustrations on the facility’s residents; other employees, more deceptively, have robbed or financially exploited nursing home residents. Usually, the reasons behind nursing home abuse boil down to understaffing and/or the undertraining of staff. In other words, the nursing home’s owners are not spending what they need to spend, and residents suffer as a result.

Florida’s finest nursing homes, of course, are definitive proof that profits can be made at a nursing home without any sacrifice in the quality of resident care. When a nursing home’s owners put profits above the security, health, and well-being of residents, abuse of the elderly can happen, and responsible parties need to be held accountable.

Nursing home abuse and neglect include but are not limited to:

  • failure to monitor residents
  • dehydration and malnutrition
  • verbal, emotional, or physical abuse
  • bed sores or ulcers
  • negligence or medical malpractice

A nursing home’s staff can prevent bedsores simply by routinely turning patients so that pressure does not build up at a particular spot. Quite candidly, a failure to conduct this kind of simple, basic routine is unacceptable, and it indicates that negligence may be widespread in a nursing home facility. Other signs of abuse can include bruises, cuts, thirst, hunger, poor hygiene, and attitude changes such as depression or withdrawal.

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER CONCERNS REGARDING NURSING HOMES?

Theft and the financial exploitation of nursing home residents is also a growing concern. In 2014, an employee at the Allegro Senior Living Facility in St. Petersburg was charged with one count of grand theft and four other counts of theft after a resident called the police to report that someone had removed a diamond ring from her finger while she slept. Nursing home employees have cashed checks without authorization, forged signatures, stolen jewelry and cash, and have sometimes tricked or bullied nursing home residents into signing financial documents against their will.

In 2013, the New York Times reported on an “epidemic” of poor dental hygiene in nursing homes. Nursing home residents in Florida and other states have suffered from gum disease, cavities, cracked teeth, and overall dental neglect. For the elderly, neglected dental care can rapidly become a disaster.

Poor oral hygiene can be a contributing cause of pneumonia, which is frequently fatal for nursing home patients. Just as nursing home workers are expected to help residents bathe, they are supposed to brush the teeth of residents who cannot do it themselves. That’s a federal law which was established by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987.

If you discover any indication that an elderly member of your family is a victim of neglect, abuse, or financial exploitation at a nursing home facility in Florida, arrange to speak immediately with an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney. When fraud or theft is involved, or when nursing home abuse is intentional rather than negligent, your attorney may determine that the police should become involved.

IS THERE A STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR NURSING HOME ABUSE CLAIMS?

When you believe that an elderly loved one has been abused or neglected in a Florida nursing home, do not wait to act. Speak to a personal injury lawyer as quickly as you can. The longer you wait, the more difficult it becomes to prove your case; evidence can disappear or deteriorate, and witnesses’ memories fade. Thus, the Florida Legislature has established – for most cases – a two-year statute of limitations for legal action for abuse or neglect that has occurred in a nursing home.

If an incident of abuse is not discovered when it happens, the statute of limitations allows a claim to be filed within two years of the discovery. No legal action can be taken later than four years from the date of the incident of abuse or neglect, unless “fraudulent concealment or intentional misrepresentation of fact prevented the discovery of the injury,” in which case the statute of limitations may be extended to six years.

Nursing home abuse is sometimes difficult to confirm because some nursing home residents do not understand that they are being abused. Elderly persons with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and dementia are especially vulnerable. If you believe that someone you love is at risk in a nursing home in Florida, let an experienced Tampa personal injury attorney explain what steps you can take. Every abuse and neglect case is different, so you will need a personal injury lawyer’s advice from the moment you first suspect nursing home abuse.