3 Steps to Protect Loved Ones From Nursing Home Abuse

An older woman sitting next to a nursing home care worker
3 Steps to Protect Loved Ones From Nursing Home Abuse
An older woman sitting next to a nursing home care worker

Entrusting a loved one to a nursing home or assisted living facility is never an easy decision. Even if you carefully vet the facility, you can't know what's going on there 24/7. And, unfortunately, reports of neglect and abuse are on the rise. In Minnesota alone, nursing home complaints tripled between 2016 and 2018.

So what can you do to keep a loved one safe?

1. Do your homework.

Research your options thoroughly. Use Medicare's online nursing home comparison tool to scour facilities' track records, including any complaints or citations. Schedule a facility tour, but keep in mind that you'll probably only see a snapshot of the facility's best side rather than a complete picture. Ask tough questions, such as:

  • Is the facility Medicare/Medicaid certified? (Even if you're not planning to use Medicare or Medicaid, the certification means the facility meets certain requirements and provides safeguards.)
  • Is the facility licensed with the state, and is that license in good standing?
  • What is the staff-to-resident ratio?
  • What kind of training and qualifications do staff members have?
  • What kinds of services are provided? (For example, is there physical therapy and rehab onsite?)
  • What kinds of activities do they offer?
  • Can residents keep seeing their current doctors and care providers?
  • Is transportation provided for medical appointments and other outings?
  • Does the facility have a patient bill of rights?
  • Does the facility have overly restrictive visitation policies?
  • What is the facility's grievance procedure? (A written procedure is required for facilities that accept Medicare/Medicaid.)

Of course, you'll want to tailor these questions to your loved one's needs and conditions.

2. Stay involved.

Close monitoring is the best way to ensure that your loved one is well cared for. When the staff sees that you visit regularly and keep tabs, they will be more likely to provide a high level of care. Additionally, by checking in on your loved one regularly, you can quickly pick up on warning signs of nursing home abuse and neglect such as:

  • Bedsores
  • Dehydration or malnutrition
  • Poor hygiene practices
  • Wandering
  • Falls
  • Unexplained bruises
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Personality changes
  • Withdrawal
  • Complaints of mistreatment

For those who are especially vulnerable – such as memory-care patients – frequent contact is all the more important.

3. Report anything suspicious.

If you do notice red flags, take action sooner rather than later. Call 911 if you believe your loved one is in immediate danger – for example, if there are signs of physical abuse or sexual assault. For less immediate concerns, follow the facility's grievance procedure, and consider filing a complaint with the appropriate state agency in Minnesota or Wisconsin. You can also file a complaint through Medicare for certified facilities. Speak with a lawyer for greater clarity on your options.