What to Do if You Suspect Elder Abuse During the COVID-19 Pandemic
As the Coronavirus continues its spread, many states and counties across the U.S. have reported drastic drops in calls reporting elder abuse. While this reduction in elder abuse reports may seem like a good thing, it is actually a cause for alarm.
Just as child abuse reports have also dropped because teachers, who are legally obligated to report suspected abuse, are no longer in contact with kids, it is likely that less elder abuse reports are being made because elders’ loved ones are unable to visit them at long-term care facilities.
If you are concerned that the older adults in your life may be suffering from nursing home elder abuse during COVID-19, know that you have options. Learn what you can do to help your elderly loved ones during this complicated time.
Awareness of the issues facing the elderly during the COVID-19 pandemic
Before we cover the steps you can take to report or fight nursing home elder abuse, it’s important that we review some of the special circumstances surrounding our elders and nursing homes during COVID-19.
Two days after the WHO declared that COVID-19 had officially reached pandemic status, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released a list of regulations that nursing homes should follow in order to protect the lives of the American elderly.
These measures included the restriction of visitors, including family members, non-essential personnel, canceling group activities and communal dining, and regular testing. These controls were put in place to protect the health of older people, especially those with pre-existing conditions, but they have drawbacks.
For one, the elderly have much less access to and comfort handling technology. While many of us have been able to keep up with family and friends via virtual meetings, for the elderly in nursing homes, social distancing has often meant complete social isolation from everyone except staff personnel.
This isolation can not only generate mental health issues, but also creates the perfect breeding grounds for both increased rates of nursing home elder abuse and neglect and decreased rates of reporting.
What can I do if I suspect my loved one is suffering from nursing home elder abuse?
First and foremost, if you believe that your loved one is in imminent danger and needs urgent attention, you should contact 9-1-1 immediately. Otherwise, considering taking the following steps:
1. Learn what constitutes nursing home abuse or neglect
There are legal ramifications for nursing home abuse as well as failure to follow the guidelines for providing proper care during COVID-19 (such as what happened with this San Antonio nursing home).
Nursing home abuse doesn’t necessarily have to include bodily harm or sexual abuse. For example, nursing home abuse may occur via neglect by dehydration and hunger, neglect in administering medication, and leaving the elderly in soiled or unsanitary conditions. Nursing home elder abuse may also take the form of verbal threats, verbal assault, isolation, and theft.
2. Get familiar with and look out for signs of nursing home abuse or neglect
For various reasons, including fear of not being believed, older adults are often reluctant to admit that they are being abused or neglected. In some cases, they may not be physically able to report the abuse.
In these cases, it’s imperative to look out for some of the typical signs of elder abuse. These can vary widely, any may include anything from unexplained injuries to strong odors to changes in personality.
3. Check in with your elders regularly
When possible, keep in close and regular contact with your loved one via the phone, email, texting, or, if possible, virtual calls. Regular contact will allow you to monitor their health and improves the likelihood that you will notice when something is not right.
4. Do not confront the nursing home personnel
If you suspect elder abuse or neglect, you may be tempted to confront the nursing home personnel directly. However, this often works against your and your elder’s best interests. Instead, do your best to remain calm. Instead, try as best you can to gather notes and information by speaking with your loved one and the staff about what may be occurring.
5. Report the suspected abuse and call a nursing home elder abuse lawyer
The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services is in charge of protecting our loved ones from Houston nursing home elder abuse. Their contact information is in the first bullet point of the resource list below.
If, for whatever reason, you are uncomfortable reporting the possible abuse of an elder, consider speaking to a trusted doctor regarding your loved one’s situation. Doctors (like teachers) are “mandatory reports,” i.e. professionals who are typically required to report suspected abuse and neglect.
It is at this time that you may also wish to contact an experienced elder abuse attorney. The sooner you contact a lawyer, the sooner they can help you begin collecting evidence and building your case.
Resources for Houston advocates for elders during COVID-19
The following is a list of additional resources that will be helpful to advocates looking to learn more about how to help victims of nursing home elder abuse during COVID-19.
- The Texas Adult Protective Services (APS) site, hotline (1-800-252-5400), and online reporting system.
- The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) website for both general information on elder abuse and for specific COVID-19 resources.
- The Federal Trade Commission’s Coronavirus advice on avoiding COVID-19 scams for elderly consumers.
- Justice in Aging’s resource center for advocates serving older adults during COVID-19.
- HPD’s Family Violence Unit – Elder Abuse site.
Contact a nursing home abuse attorney and fight for the rights and dignity of our elders
Whether we as a country are living amidst a pandemic or able to go about life as normal, our elders should never have to suffer the indignity of nursing home elder abuse. Depending on the type of abuse occurring, those responsible for the offenses may face civil or criminal charges.
Grimes & Fertitta are Houston nursing home elder abuse lawyers with experience handling the sensitive and sometimes painful circumstances surrounding elder abuse cases.
We are especially cognizant of the way in which society often tries to sweep the problems of the elderly or severely ill under the rug, and will do everything in our power to protect the rights of your loved ones.
Hire a nursing home abuse lawyer in Houston that treats you like more than a case number. Contact Grimes & Fertitta online or call us at 713-224-7644 today.