Approximately a million and a half elderly Americans reside in nursing homes across the country. Unfortunately they sometimes encounter harsh abuse or unconscionable neglect at the hands of nursing home aides, nurses and other staffers, and this is often covered up or ignored by managers and administrators all in an effort to preserve the facility’s image to outside authorities and prospective customers.
What has been widely overlooked, however, is the threat posed by abuse between elderly residents at nursing homes. According to a Cornell-Weill Cornell Medical College study, as reported in the Cornell Chronicle, in 10 nursing home facilities in the state of New York, over the course of about one month, approximately 20% of the residents experienced at least some type of “aggressive encounter” by not a facility staffer, but another resident in the home. And much as abuse and neglect by nursing home staff can often be underreported and under-investigated, so is the abuse between residents themselves.
The Scope of the Problem
The investigation, which examined over 2,000 residents at these Empire State facilities, found that nearly 20% of the incidents involved “disruptive or hostile behavior,” 16% involved verbal abuse, 5.6% consisted of physical abuse “such as hitting, kicking or biting,” and 1.3% even involved sexual abuse, exploitation or touching of some kind, as well as attempts “to gain sexual favors.” Another 10.5% of incidents involved “unwelcome entry into another resident’s room or going through another resident’s possessions.”
The results also show that the relatively younger residents who have more of their physical and cognitive functions intact are more likely to commit these offenses. However, those prone to disruptive behavior, which can include residents who are somewhat mentally diminished but still physically callable, are also largely involved. As we have seen with abuse and neglect in general, those with less physical and/or mental functioning, such as those with dementia or Alzheimer’s, often are easy targets for others to abuse them, steal from them and neglect them simply because they are often confused and disoriented. Like nursing home employee against a resident, residents against residents can also be a game of the strong preying on the weak.
The threat of elder-to-elder abuse raises questions about a facility’s obligations to maintain safe premises for residents not just from the elements or from abusive or neglectful staffers, even as to the residents themselves. Nursing home facilities are required under our laws to exercise a certain level of prudence when hiring employees. This includes background checks including criminal histories, a thorough investigation of credentials, and other efforts to verify one’s qualifications and fitness to care for residents. In certain cases nursing homes may have a duty to ensure that residents admitted will not be a threat to others. We have seen this for example in one case where a state passed laws to require nursing homes to screen for sex offenders and disclose to residents and prospective residents if existing residents are registered sex offenders. Thus there could be a greater call over time for more protections that ensure residents are kept safe from other dangerous fellow residents.
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