In California, approximately 225,000 cases of elder abuse occur every year. As startling as this figure may seem, experts estimate that for every reported case of elder abuse and neglect, as many as five cases go unreported. Of the unreported cases, many are likely to be cases of neglect, for neglect is often overlooked as the signs may be subtle, but neglect is perhaps the most pervasive form of nursing home abuse.
Neglect refers to the negligent failure of any person entrusted with the care or custody of an elder to exercise the degree of care that a reasonable person in a similar position would exercise. Given the dependency of elders on their caregivers, neglect can take many forms, including failure to assist in personal hygiene, such as bathing, grooming, and general cleanliness; failure to provide adequate food, clothing, or shelter; failure to treat physical and mental needs with proper medical care; failure to protect from health and safety hazards; and failure to prevent malnutrition or dehydration. Perhaps neglect is best understood through illustrations, which substantiate the legal and clinical definitions; the Attorney General’s Crime Office and California Department of Justice, in association with the California Health and Human Services Agency, offers the following examples of neglect:
- A wheelchair bound resident is taken to the bathroom and told by the nursing assistant to call when she is ready to return to the other room. The resident rings the call bell and no one answers. Frustrated, the resident tries to get into her wheelchair by herself and falls and fractures her hip.
- A resident repeatedly uses a call bell attempting to get attention. After several trips to the resident’s room, the nursing assistant unplugs the call bell so the resident can no longer use it.
- A registered nurse permits a nursing assistant to feed a peanut butter sandwich to a resident on a pureed diet.
- Despite a resident’s long history of wandering, she is not adequately supervised and walks outside the facility undetected. The resident is discovered later that day drowned in a nearby stream.
- Staff knows that a resident has bleeding gums, loose teeth, and has difficulty eating. The resident’s dentures were stolen and the resident has not been taken to a dentist.
- A resident has obviously been allowed to remain covered in feces or urine soaked undergarments all night.
The government agencies’ examples correlate with the neglect suffered by William Carl while he was staying at Rancho Specialty Hospital in Rancho Cucamonga. Among the atrocities that Mr. Carl was forced to endure, he was left to lie in his own waste for hours; his catheter was left unchanged and became plugged, resulting in Mr. Carl’s intoxicating himself on his own urine; and hospital staff failed to address spinal fluid leakage from his head. Such neglect contributed to and exacerbated Mr. Carl’s medical and health conditions, leading to his death.
Seek Experienced Representation
Because circumstances constituting neglect may not be readily apparent, communication is integral to uncovering nursing home neglect. Talk to your loved one if you suspect that he or she is not receiving proper care; the results of neglect can be just as devastating as physical and emotional abuse, leading to a decline in general health, and in some cases, accelerated death. Please contact The Law Offices of James R. Gillen for more information about elder neglect; we are committed to obtaining justice on behalf of abuse victims.