We know that elder abuse is common, but widespread under-reporting makes it virtually impossible to fight the problem on a large scale.  Many seniors fear that they will be retaliated against, be evicted from their nursing homes, or “place a burden” on their family members if they complain about neglect or abuse.  We all need to work together to help erase these fears and empower seniors so they can lead safer, happier lives during their golden years.  If you’re worried that a senior is being abused or neglected at a nursing home or assisted living facility, don’t stay silent!  Voice your concerns by filing a formal complaint with the state of Pennsylvania.  After you file a complaint, you should contact a nursing home abuse lawyer for legal help.  Your loved one may be able to get compensated.

What is Elder Abuse and Caregiver Neglect?

Abuse isn’t always easy to detect, because it can involve more than just punching, hitting, or kicking.  Some forms of abuse do not leave any physical marks, so it is important to pay close attention to your loved one’s general mood and emotional response during your visits and conversations.

Pay attention to his or her body language and tone of voice around the nursing home staff and other personnel.  If he or she seems unusually withdrawn, aggressive, depressed, or fearful, be on high alert.  Everyone has “off days,” but ongoing uncharacteristic behavior may indicate that sexual, physical, or emotional abuse or nursing home neglect is taking place.  Abuse can even be financial, though in these instances victims are generally unaware that they are being exploited for monetary gain.

Speaking broadly, abuse means intentional mistreatment or deprivation, while neglect means failure to provide.  Neglect is often unintentional and results from under-staffing and lack of resources, but that doesn’t make its effects any less harmful to the victim.  Common warning signs of neglect include, but are not limited to:

  • The development of bed sores (pressure ulcers).  Bed sores usually occur because nursing home staff fail to change the victim’s sheets and/or regularly reposition the resident to improve circulation.
  • Advancement of manageable conditions like diabetes, which can generally be controlled with responsible use of medication, diet, and exercise.
  • Frequent nursing home falls.  Staff are supposed to provide special assistance to residents who are known to be “fall risks.”
  • Poor hygiene.  Residents often need assistance with physical tasks like bathing and brushing their teeth.  These tasks may not be accomplished if staff fail to provide help.

Sad Old Lady in a nursing home

Resources for Victims: File a Complaint Against a Pennsylvania Nursing Home

If you’re concerned about elder abuse or caregiver neglect in Pennsylvania, the Department of Health (DPH) should be able to help you and provide resources.  In addition to handling health and safety issues like immunizations, organ donation, and emergency medical services, the DPH also deals with abuse and neglect in nursing homes, assisted living centers, and other facilities designed to care for senior citizens.

The DPH recommends taking these three steps:

  • First, speak to the Director of Nursing and/or the Nursing Home Administrator at the home where your loved one resides.  This may be enough to resolve the issue.
    • These individuals act like managers and are responsible for the way the home is run.
    • As provided by the DPH, all nursing homes must “have a system in place to address your concerns and develop a plan to lead to a reasonable and acceptable solution.”
  • If the nursing home fails to address your concerns adequately, the next step is to call the Pennsylvania Department of Aging.  To contact the Department of Aging, call the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman at (717) 783-8975.
    • The Department of Aging protects the rights of nursing home patients and helps enforce the Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA).  OAPSA makes reporting elder abuse mandatory for employees and administrators who work in settings like hospices, adult day centers, community homes, rehabilitation centers, and mental health facilities.
    • You can also use the linked directory to find your local Ombusdman.
  • In addition to calling the Department of Aging, you should also call the DPH itself.  The toll-free number to contact the DPH is (800) 254-5164.
    • If you’re leaving a message, make sure to state (1) the name of the nursing home, (2) the nature of the problem, and (3) any other pertinent information you can think of.
    • You may leave an anonymous message or state your name and phone number.  The DPH will keep your information confidential.
    • Instead of calling on the phone, you can also send an email to [email protected].
    • As another alternative, there’s also an online complaint form you can use.
    • If your issue specifically involves assisted living or a personal care home, call (877) 401-8835

If your grandparent or parent was injured at a nursing home in Pennsylvania, or was the victim of financial exploitation or sexual abuse, your family may be able to recover compensation.  Compensation can help to cover your medical bills and keep your loved one more comfortable while they recuperate.

To start discussing your concerns in a free and completely private legal consultation, call nursing home abuse attorney Brent Wieand at (800) 481-5206.  Brent also handles cases throughout New Jersey.