I’m Wendy York from the York Law Firm in Sacramento.
Several times each week, someone calls me because their Mom is suffering from one or more of the following problems:
- Head Injury
- Medication Errors
- Recurring falls
- Poor hygiene
- Being left in wet or dirty briefs
- Unavailable caregivers
- Caregivers who don’t respond to alerts
The caller wants to know: Do I have a case?
Let me answer that question by telling you first what our firm does and does not do, and then tell you how to get help for the kinds of problems my firm cannot resolve directly.
Neglect or abuse can occur in different settings. One setting might be in the home, where there’s a family member who is caring for a Senior, and that Senior is being neglected, abused, or financially being taken advantage of. I refer to that as “A Family Caregiver Problem” which is an area that is best handled by the District Attorney’s Office, Adult Protective Services (APS) or the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, among other referral sources. If you are dealing with a family caregiver problem, please call my office and we will be glad to help you find and connect with the right department or agency.
If the setting for the neglect or abuse occurs in a facility, or if someone is abused or neglected by what I call “the long-term care industry” in an assisted living facility, skilled nursing facility, hospital, long-term care or acute center, or by someone from a home health agency, my office probably can be of help.
So, back to the question: Do I have a case?
Abuse or neglect by a facility of facility caregiver may be either a single event or an accumulation of events that occur over many days, weeks, months or even years.
What is a single event? A single event might be when a staff member drops a patient who then suffers a significant injury like a fracture. A significant injury, even if it happens only one time, may still rise to the level of abuse or neglect. The way to tell if it’s abuse or neglect is by looking at the facts and understanding why the injury occurred.
Sometimes an injury might not even be physical but may instead be emotional or simply callous and demeaning behavior. In one recent case in Illinois two months ago, a certified nursing assistant filmed a 91-year-old woman being taunted with a hospital gown. The woman had dementia, and her nurse posted a video of her online showing her throwing a hospital gown on top of the patient, and next to the video post were two laughing emojis with a caption that read: “Margaret hates gowns.”
Fortunately, the indignity did not go unnoticed. The two staff members from the Nursing Home who were involved were both fired, and the woman’s family has since sued the facility for more than $1 million. That case is still pending.
What about an accumulation of events? An accumulation occurs when a Senior is repeatedly deprived of appropriate care by an institutional caregiver which results in a significant medical issue such as bedsores, contractures or infections. Or, if bad things keep happening over and over. The way to tell if it’s abuse or neglect is from the fact pattern.
In a 2017 case, the family of a 98-year-old World War II veteran sued a North Carolina nursing home following his death a week after incurring several instances of broken bones. The man fell twice in 2016, the second time fracturing his femur. In 2017, he suffered another fall and the staff decided he had a hand and shoulder injury. Seven hours later, when he was still screaming from the pain, the nursing home staff x-rayed him and discovered he actually had an untreated leg injury. He was taken to a hospital where he died two weeks later.
Based on the number of similar cases my firm has handled, I am dismayed that such events are common. Instead of listening to patients who complain, a routine response to pain is to prescribe pain killers or sedatives in hopes that the problem will just go away. Or worse, the facility is understaffed and does not have qualified nurses who can properly assess the patient.
Of course, the lack of care is not elder care at all. It is elder abuse. And we need to hold the institutions that care for our seniors accountable.
If you have concerns about a loved one in a care facility, please give us a call at York Law Firm (916) 643-2200