Experts estimate that tens of thousands of elderly Americans suffer abuse each year – in their own homes, in the homes of relatives, and in nursing homes or other facilities designed to provide elder care. In fact there are over 500,000 reported cases of elder abuse each year in the U.S., and this figure does not even include the abuse that goes unreported. Elder abuse can be physical, mental, financial, or sexual – or any combination of these. It can be perpetuated by violence, threats and intimidation, trickery, or simple neglect. Whatever the type of abuse, it is usually the very people entrusted with the sacred duty of caring for these vulnerable individuals who perpetuate the abuse they suffer. Our nursing home injury attorneys have seen far too many cases to doubt these figures, or the severity of the problem.
Why are our elders vulnerable? Well, with age often comes physical frailty, as well as illnesses and physical conditions which affect strength and mobility. As elders lose the physical strength and stamina of their youth, they are less able to fight back physically if attacked. And the knowledge of their physical frailty may leave them too afraid to stand up to abuse if they believe it will lead to a physical attack or confrontation. Elders may also suffer from mental ailments, such as dementia, which make it harder fro them to remember, understand, or report abuse – or leave them wondering if they would even be believed.
One of the more troubling varieties of elder abuse is healthcare fraud and abuse. Depending on the circumstances, the victim of this type of abuse could be the elder herself, or the government, through a payment plan such as Medicare or Medicaid. Types of healthcare fraud and abuse include:
- Charging for healthcare that is not provided
- Overcharging or double-billing
- Accepting fees or “kickbacks” for providing unnecessary referrals, or for prescribing unnecessary medications
- Overmedicating, to ensure a docile, compliant patient
- Undermedicating, through pure neglect or for financial reasons
If you suspect that a caregiver, doctor, other healthcare provider, or care facility is neglecting or abusing an elder, look for the signs and symptoms of abuse. If you see these signs, report them – to the agencies listed below, to a trusted physician, or to an experienced personal injury attorney. The general symptoms of abuse include frequent arguments between the elder and the caregiver, a change in the elder’s personality or behavior, and any caregiver’s refusal to let you see the elder in private. Other signs and symptoms, specific to the type of abuse, are listed below.
- Unexplained injuries, particularly if they occur on both sides of the elder’s body
- Reports of a drug overdose
- “Leftover” prescription medication
- Signs of restraint, such as rope marks
- Rocking, sucking, or mumbling
- Threatening, controlling, or belittling behavior by a caregiver’s
- Bruising on the breasts or genitals
- Venerial disease or genital infection
- Vaginal or anal bleeding
- Torn, bloody, or stained underwear
- Weight loss or dehydration
- Bed sores
- Dirt, bugs, soiled clothing or bedding
- Weather-inappropriate clothing
- Significant withdrawals
- Missing items or cash
- Sudden changes in a will, power of attorney, insurance policy, or title
- Addition of names to a signature card
- Unpaid bills
- ATM activity when the elder is home-bound
- Duplicate billings
- Insufficient staff
- Inadequate responses to questions
- Evidence of over- or under-medication
If you notice any of these signs in an elder’s situation, do not delay, and do not second-guess yourself. Although some of these signs and symptoms can mimic dementia (or the caregiver may attempt to justify them that way), it is better to have an expert intervene and be sure. Talk to an injury or wrongful death attorney, who can help you sort out the situation and your options. Or, you can contact the Eldercare Locator’s hotline at 1-800-677-1116 on weekdays from 9 am to 8 pm, EST. You can also contact state Adult Protective Services, which in Illinois can be reached via the state’s Elder Abuse Hotline, at 1-866-800-1409.
So long as your report is made in good faith, the Illinois Elder Abuse and Neglect Act provides that you cannot be held civilly or criminally liable for reporting suspected abuse. Your report could free an elder from a dangerous or demeaning situation. And, once the elder is liberated from the abusive care, she could have a legal claim against her abuser, so that she can receive justice for the harm that was done. In particular, if the abuse or neglect took place in a nursing home or other long-term care facility, there are many legal options available in Illinois.
To discuss a potential case with a lawyer at Passen & Powell, call us at (312) 527-4500 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.