Over the past several years, staff abuse and neglect of nursing home residents, including sexual abuse, has finally begun to receive the attention it deserves. But there is one important area in which both research and public information lag behind: Abuse of long-term care facility residents by other residents.
With more than 73,000 older and disabled adults in Ohio residing in long-term care facilities and the state’s population aging, the issue is a growing concern.
Projections suggest that as of the 2020 census, people aged 60 and up are expected to outnumber those 20 and under in Ohio. As of the 2010 census, just eight counties in Ohio had those demographics. The 2020 census is expected to show a dramatic shift, with more than half of the counties in the state skewing older. Those counties include Cuyahoga, Lake, Summit, Lorain, Medina, and Geauga.
Though data resident-on-resident abuse is limited, the information that is available is disturbing. At least one researcher concluded that resident-on-resident abuse in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities was more common than abuse by staff members.
In one study that involved surveying nurse aides in 249 nursing homes, researchers found that during a three-month period:
- 94% of nurse aides had witnessed residents grabbing, pushing, or pinching other residents;
- 39% of nurse aides had seen residents exposing body parts to other residents; and
- 67% of nurse aides reported high levels of residents yelling at one another.
That study concluded that “both the scale and scope of resident-to-resident abuse is high in nursing homes. Resident-to-resident abuse is common enough to be considered an issue of concern impacting the quality of life and safety of many residents.” Still, subsequent research and recommendations have been sparse.
Cognitive impairment and legal responsibility
Often, the residents involved in these incidents suffer from cognitive impairments themselves and are not legally responsible for their actions.
One widely reported example involved 98-year-old Laura Lundquist, who was initially charged with 2nd degree murder after allegedly strangling and suffocating her 100-year-old roommate in a long term care facility. Ultimately, at the age of 102, Lundquist was deemed incompetent to stand trial.
Nursing home abuse can take many forms
Of course, most incidents of resident-on-resident abuse don’t rise to this level. But physical, sexual, and even verbal and emotional abuse can take a serious toll on both the physical and psychological health of a nursing home resident. These residents are in a particularly vulnerable position for a number of reasons, including:
- Residents are often unable to remove themselves from the situation, due to their own physical limitations or assigned spaces and the density of the population within a facility;
- Physical frailty makes aggression that might seem slight in a different context dangerous–for example, a light push could lead to a fall and a broken bone;
- Cognitive impairments on the part of the victim can make abuse all the more frightening and confusing, leading to withdrawal and further cognitive decline, and;
- Victims may lack the physical or mental capacity to clearly report what has happened to them and seek the help they need.
Recognizing Signs of Nursing Home Abuse
The signs of abuse in nursing home residents are similar whether that abuse occurs at the hands of staff or other residents. Family members should be on the alert for warning signs such as:
- Withdrawal, isolation, or depression;
- Signs of anxiety;
- Physical symptoms of stress;
- Unexplained bruises, scratches, or other marks;
- Unexplained falls.
Residents who feel vulnerable and are dependent on staff care may be fearful of reporting or reluctant to make trouble. So even those who have the cognitive ability to remember clearly and report abuse at the hands of another resident may not do so. If your loved one is experiencing warning signs, it is important to probe for causes.
Who is Responsible for Resident-on-Resident Abuse in Long-Term Care Facilities?
Long-term care facility residents are often physically, mentally, and/or psychologically unable to protect themselves. Many are equally unable to police their own behaviors, as cognitive deterioration and certain medical conditions can lead to loss of inhibitions, aggressiveness, and other characteristics that may present a danger to other residents. Thus, responsibility for protecting residents from abusive actions by other residents, identifying cases of resident-on-resident abuse, and acting promptly to remedy dangerous situations and protect victims lies with the facility.
The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care has identified several risk factors associated with resident-on-resident abuse, including:
- Inadequate staffing;
- Lack of appropriate staff training;
- A high concentration of residents with dementia;
- Excessive noise;
- Crowded common areas;
- Lack of engagement and activity.
Clearly, most of these factors are within the control of the facility. Steps such as staff training, supervision of residents in common areas, and meaningful engagement with residents can significantly reduce the risks. Thus, resident-on-resident abuse often results at least in part from negligence on the part of the long-term care facility.
If your loved one has been the victim of resident-on-resident abuse in a nursing home or other long-term care facility and the facility has failed to take adequate measures to protect your family member, we can help. The attorneys at Plevin & Gallucci have extensive experience in helping victims of nursing home abuse and neglect.
To learn more about your rights and options, schedule a free consultation right now. Just call 855-4-PLEVIN or fill out the contact form on this page to get started.