Preventing and Reporting Elder Abuse

Nursing Home Abuse and Neglect in South Carolina: Preventing and Reporting

Nursing homes can be over-crowded and understaffed. Caregivers may be unqualified by not having the proper skills, knowledge or psychological disposition to provide proper care to residents. This results in a high-risk environment for abuse, intentional or unintentional, neglect and exploitation. Here are the key signs you need to know:

Physical Abuse at Nursing Homes

Under South Carolina law, physical abuse includes: slapping, hitting, kicking, biting, choking, pinching, burning, drugging a patient or confining a patient to control behavior. SEC. 43-35-10.  A person does not have to inflict abuse to be held responsible for the physical abuse. One is culpable by allowing it to take place without doing anything to stop or prevent the abuse.

Signs of Abuse:

Nursing home residents suffering from physical abuse by their caregivers (home caregivers, family member caregivers) may show:
  • bruises, welts, burns
  • unexplained fractures or other physical injuries
  • repeated accidents
  • injuries left untreated
  • references to caregiver’s temper or anger
  • nervous or quiet around caregiver
  • runs away from the home or tries to
  • has marks or scars from restraints on wrists
  • shows effects of chemical restraints such as incoherence, grogginess, excessive sleep
  • sudden fear, restlessness, anxiety
  • prevented from getting medical treatment or being alone with visitors

Emotional Abuse at Nursing Homes

In South Carolina, emotional abuse is defined as deliberately threatening, harassing or engaging in any act of intimidating behavior that causes fear, humiliation, degradation, agitation, confusion, or other forms of serious emotional distress. SEC. 43-35-10

Signs of Emotional Abuse:

  • unexplained changes in behavior
  • withdrawal
  • fear, restlessness, anxiety
  • unexplained weight gain or loss
  • sudden loss of interest in life
  • appearance of sudden demise of mental health
  • signs of nervousness, distrust or fear toward caregiver, conflicted
  • symptoms of extreme shock such as the development of tics: rocking, refusing to speak
  • isolation

Take Action:

In addition to reporting your concerns to Adult Protective Services, consider having your loved one examined by a trusted doctor who has some history with the individual or your family and will review medical records including medication and dosing. Finally, you may want to make immediate arrangements to move the resident, not waiting for APS to complete an investigation.

Sexual Abuse at Nursing Homes

South Carolina law punishes for actual or attempted sexual battery, which can be summarized as: “any intrusion, however slight, of any part of a person’s body or of any object into the genital or anal openings of another person’s body, except when such intrusion is accomplished for medically recognized treatment or diagnostic purposes.” Section 16-3-651

Signs of Abuse:

  • unexplained bruising around genitals or breasts
  • unexplained anal or vaginal bleeding
  • symptoms of veneral disease
  • unexplained fear, restlessness, anxiety
  • appearance of sudden demise of mental health
  • symptoms of shock
  • unexplained change of staff policy that isolates the resident or prevents you from being alone with the resident

Take Action:

Though every first step begins with Adult Protect Services, South Carolina also has hotlines set up so you can immediately speak with a person within the Department of Social Services who will be or has access to those trained in emergency care.

  • Private or foster homes: 803-898-7318
  • Richland county long-term care facilities: 803-734-9900
  • Long-term care facilities outside Richland County: 800-868-9095

Nursing Home Neglect

“Neglect,” as per South Carolina code, means “the failure of a caregiver to provide the care, goods, or services necessary to maintain the health or safety of a vulnerable adult.” This failure to provide includes inadequate nutrition, clothing, housing, supervision (if needed), medical services and medicine in accordance with treatment plan.  S.C. code also recognizes that neglect may consist of repeated conduct or a single incident that has resulted in serious physical or psychological harm, or substantial risk of death. SEC. 43-35-10

Signs of Neglect:

1. Bed sores & Unexplained Rashes

Bedsores, also known as decubitus ulcers, and pressure sores can usually be prevented by frequently turning the patient and using a higher quality mattresses with overlays. If these simple steps are not taking, Decubitus ulcers will typically develop at the heels, the backs of knees, the buttocks, and other boney parts of the body.

Bedsores begin as a red sore on the skin. If left untreated, the sore breaks the skin. Over time, if proper steps are not taken, the wound increases in size and in depth.

Eventually, the wound becomes so deep that it may reach down to the bone and become infected.

When this happens and antibiotics do not work, amputation may be the only means of saving the patient’s life at this point. If sepsis (blood poisoning) develops and reaches an advanced stage, however, even amputation may not help and the patient dies.

2. Unexplained Falls 

Falls are another common problem encountered by the elderly in nursing homes. In some cases, patients may not be properly secured into wheelchairs and fall or slip out. Patients are also left in their beds without rails to protect them. When left unattended by the staff, these patients fall, often receiving lacerations, abrasions, bone fractures, disfigurement and even head injuries.

3. Malnutrition and dehydration 

Malnutrition and dehydration slows down healing and can worsen existing health problems. Over time, malnutrition and dehydration lead to severe complications and may result in the death of the patient. In some cases, patients with special dietary requirements are deprived of the nutrition they need to survive. In other cases, patients who have lost the ability to feed themselves are left with food in front of them but no one to help them reach it.

4. Body odor, soiled sheets or clothing, unkempt

Neglect of proper care shows on the individual and their surroundings. Unannounced visits to the nursing home or being asked to wait before you can see your loved one may be a sign that you can’t see with your own eyes.

5. Injury from Elopement & Wandering

Neglected supervision of long-term care residents who can’t protect themselves and/or may be cognitively impaired can lead to the resident disappearing from (or eloping from) the nursing home. At this point, the resident is vulnerable to serious harm, especially when the disappearance goes unnoticed. Under neglected supervision, vulnerable adults may also wander into a dangerous environment within the nursing home and suffer injuries from neglect.

Reporting Elder Abuse & Neglect

Anyone who suspects neglect, wrong-doing, abuse or fraud regarding a resident in a nursing home, may anonymously Report Elder Abuse & Neglect to Adult Protective Services.

South Carolina’s Adult Protective Services is tasked with investigating complaints and Reports Elder Abuse & Neglect against nursing homes for elder abuse, neglect or exploitation. Following investigation, Adult Protection Services is then responsible for seeking remedy, preventing recurrence of mistreatment and providing appropriate medical services for the individual.

If you seek legal counsel for damages in an elder abuse or neglect case, Adult Protective Services must first investigate and provide a written Report Elder Abuse & Neglect for the incident(s). During the investigative period, as your attorneys, the Strom Law Firm would begin gathering information and evidence for your suit, as well as maintain communication with Adult Protective Services on your behalf.

Remedy of Nursing Home Neglect

In certain situations adult protective services may be able to meet the needs of a nursing home resident who has been abused, neglected, or exploited.  If Adult Protective Services concludes that an allegation of mistreatment is well-founded, it will respond by offering the victim appropriate services, such as medical assistance, counseling, special transportation, assistance with money management, or placement in a different residential setting.

In South Carolina Adult Protective Services will secure and coordinate existing services (mental health etc.), arrange for living quarters, obtain financial benefits to which a vulnerable adult is entitled, and secure medical services, supplies, and legal services.

When Complaints Against Nursing Homes Warrant Legal Action

Adult Protective Services cannot turn back time to reverse an injury or untimely death.  If the victim’s family does not feel satisfied or justly compensated for the injury or indignity suffered at the hands of the nursing home after working with Adult Protective Services, the victim’s family can proceed against the nursing home for negligence.

Preventing Elder Abuse in Nursing Homes in South Carolina

The promise of a place that offers care and safety for you or a loved one is what nursing homes and long-term care facilities are supposed to deliver. And too many do not. We can no longer go about our lives believing family or friends are well cared for by their paid caregivers.

Here’s how you can reduce risk of neglect for your loved one:

1. Evaluate the Long-Term Care Facility. Watch for nursing homes, long-term caregivers, and assisted living facilities in South Carolina that place profits before patients. Review the following factors at least once a year (as management and facility operations change).

  • Is the staff qualified and adequately trained? Poorly trained staff is a big risk factor that leads to abuse, neglect, exploitation and even theft.
  • Does the facility investigate staff history violence or drug use? Ask for confirmation and notice of new hires.
  • Are there adequate numbers of staff employed at all times? Negligence can occur unintentionally by honest, professional caregivers because of their day-to-day situation. They cannot reasonably keep up with demands because the facility is not hiring appropriately.

2. Make routine contact to monitor your friend or family member’s well-being. Phone, in-person or even e-mail and skype can help you stay in touch with the person’s condition.

  • Is your friend or family member isolated from outside contact or from other residents? Isolation adds to risk of neglect or abuse.
  • Is the resident routinely asked about conditions at the facility? It’s well known that seniors are reluctant to report abuse out of embarrassment or fear. Or trying to not be a bother.

3. Report any suspicions to South Carolina’s Adult Protect Services. Reporting suspicions of elder abuse is not an accusation. It’s a request for authorities to investigate the facility, and those actions could be preventing elder abuse. It is the first step to rule out or establish conditions for abuse or neglect. If Adult Protective Services have not found any violations, and you still suspect elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, consult a legal professional in nursing home abuse.

Call Today for a Free Nursing Home Abuse Consultation

You have the right to recover compensation for ongoing nursing home neglect or elder abuse provided that you can prove that the nursing home breached its duty of care.  Do not hesitate to request an investigation from South Carolina’s Adult Protective Services board. If possible, stay involved with staff and nursing home management, especially after a one-time wandering incident. You’ll get better insight into the facility. Plus, the more involved you are, the less the risk to your loved one.  If you feel your loved one is not safe, or suffered serious injury from elder abuse or neglect, reach out to our attorneys to learn options for recovering losses for your loved one. We’ll help you evaluate your case.

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