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Should you allow your loved one to remain in a nursing home or assisted living facility after disturbing care is discovered?

abused-assisted-living-patientPhoto of patient allegedly abused from court file via nj.com

It seems like rarely a day goes by when I’m asked by families, “where should I put my loved one” following an incident involving an injury or abusive event. Like most decisions related to caring for a loved one, the decision on what to do and how to react to a situation is indeed a personal decision that likely has many different angles depending on the individuals needs and wishes.

To move or not to move

While there are very persuasive arguments that can be made– both for and against relocating a patient in the wake of a disturbing event, I feel like the need to relocate a patient should take precedence over factors related to convenience, disruption of services— and assurances made by the facility that care will “immediately improve”.  For my taste, no matter how the assurances appear, they are really nothing more than lip service following a disturbing event.  Similarly, the concept of instantaneously eradicating a problem really doesn’t exist in a nursing home setting.  The majority injury and abuse episodes derive from a systemic problem as opposed to a rogue employee or two. Even in episodes of physical abuse carried out by one or two troubled individuals, my guess is that numerous other employees were witness to the atrocious acts or had knowledge of the situation— yet most of the time they fail to come forward with their information. All of this contributes to my belief, that troubling events tend to occur at troubling facilities where there in fact is an underlying problem that will likely take some time to repair.

Legal considerations to consider when relocating patients

From a legal perspective, allowing a loved one to remain at a facility following injury and abuse only plays into the litigation tactics employed by many nursing home chains.  While considering the implications that a decision to relocate a patient following an incident may have in a forthcoming lawsuit probably is a distant thought when a loved one is recovering from an injury, it does make a difference. By keeping a patient at a facility following an abusive event, families are essentially allowing lawyers for a nursing home to present the argument, “if our facility was so bad, why did you allow your loved one to remain there?” There may be a million reasonable explanations for the continuation of care at a particular facility, but my experience is that such arguments just don’t resonate particularly well with most jurors.  In the end, I’ve seen jurors hone in on this particular fact, no matter how powerful the facts are of the underlying case.

Recent Allegations Of Abuse

I was again reminded about this ongoing dilemma of relocating patients who have been abused, when I read about a recently filed lawsuit against Sunrise Assisted Living of Morris Plains (NJ).  According to news reports, two elderly male patients at the facility were allegedly physically abused by a staff member at the facility in late 2010.  The physical evidence of the abuse was so apparent that they required medical attention at a hospital for: bruising, fractured ribs and a broken finger. An investigation into the incident by the Department of Heath and Senior Services revealed little about the incident itself, but it was critical of the fact that Sunrise took no independent action into investigating the incident even though a caretaker graphically described the characteristics and behavioral changes in the patients. While the lawsuit gets underway, the news report of this incident did report that both men who are named plaintiffs in this legal filing presently remain at the facility.  The families of the men reasoned that they are safer remaining at the facility because it remains under the watchful eye of state officials. Indeed, I certainly hope that these families assumptions prove true.  However, as the lawsuit names the facility itself as responsible party for the alleged abuse, I fear that a jury will substantially reduce any award based upon this seemingly innocent decision.

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