What to Do When You Suspect Nursing Home Negligence: A Step-by-Step Guide

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The United States Census Bureau estimates that 1 in 6 Americans—approximately 56 million people—are senior citizens. That number is expected to double in the coming decades. For families, moving an elderly or vulnerable loved one into an assisted living facility can be challenging. Even when you know it is the right decision, it is never an easy step to take.  

Unfortunately, too many nursing home residents suffer harm due to abuse or neglect. This raises an important question: What if you suspect negligence in a nursing home? In this article, our Seattle nursing home abuse lawyers answer the question by providing a step-by-step guide of what you and your family should do if your loved one were the victim of nursing home negligence in Washington. 

Know the Red Flags: Most Common Signs of Nursing Home Negligence

Families put a great deal of trust in the hands of nursing homes and other assisted living facilities. Negligence—the failure to take proper care—is a fundamental violation of that trust. A negligent nursing home must be held accountable. Knowing what to do to address nursing home negligence starts with recognizing it. You need to know the red flags. Here is an overview of some of Washington’s most common warning signs of nursing home neglect.  

  • Poor Personal Hygiene: Most nursing home residents need at least some help with personal hygiene. One of the fundamental responsibilities of nursing home staff is to assist residents with personal hygiene—from bathing to grooming to oral care. Neglect in this area often manifests as unkempt hair, dirty nails, bad oral hygiene, and soiled clothing. Poor hygiene can lead to reduced quality of life and terrible health complications. 
  • Unsanitary Living Conditions: You can tell a lot about the quality of a nursing home from the living environment. A nursing home or other assisted living facility should be clean, safe, and conducive to the resident’s health. Signs of neglect include dirty floors, uncleaned bathrooms, accumulated trash, and pest infestations. 
  • Sudden and Unexplained Injuries: If a nursing home resident has any sudden or unexplained injuries—such as bruises, fractures, or cuts—that cannot be adequately explained, that could be a sign of a lack of adequate supervision or, worse, even outright abuse. Nursing home negligence could lead to more incidents, resident fall accidents, and a wide range of other safety problems.  
  • Malnutrition and/or Dehydration: Proper nutrition and hydration are critical for elderly and otherwise vulnerable people. By definition, nursing home residents are at a higher risk of health complications. Signs of neglect in this area include sudden weight loss, dry skin, fatigue, and confusion. Both malnutrition and dehydration are dangerous. They can lead to devastating medical problems, potentially even death. 
  • Issues With Mobility Support: Residents often rely on staff for assistance with mobility, including walking, transferring from bed to chair, and preventing bedsores through regular position changes. Neglect in this area can lead to decreased mobility, increased risk of falls, and the development of pressure ulcers (bedsores). Indeed, bedsores are a common warning sign that a nursing home resident is not receiving the proper care. 
  • Lack of Staff Engagement: A nursing home staff should be highly engaged. They are providing care to elderly and vulnerable people. A noticeable disinterest from the nursing home staff is a serious red flag. Along the same lines, it is also a red flag if a facility is understaffed. Families may find staff members frequently unavailable, seem rushed or indifferent, or fail to establish meaningful communication with residents. Understaffing or improper staffing can be nursing home negligence. 
  • Medication Errors: Most nursing home residents are on some form of prescription medication. Many people in these facilities are on several different types of medications. Even a seemingly minor medication error can be a big problem. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cites data showing that as many as 9,000 people die each year in the United States due to medication errors. Prescription drugs are powerful. The nursing home must ensure they are being taken properly. 
  • Adverse Emotional Changes: Changes in emotional well-being, such as withdrawal from social activities, unexplained fearfulness, or sudden aggression, can be signs of neglect or abuse. These emotional shifts may result from feelings of isolation, frustration with poor living conditions, or direct mistreatment. In many cases, nursing home residents are not in a position to communicate their concerns directly. Any adverse emotional or psychological changes should be taken seriously and followed up on.  

Step #1: Ensure Your Vulnerable Loved One Receives Any Necessary Medical Attention

The health, safety, and well-being of your loved one should always be the top priority. If you suspect that your loved one has suffered harm due to nursing home negligence, you must ensure that he or she receives any necessary medical care. If you notice any signs of neglect, such as unexplained injuries, poor hygiene, or sudden changes in their health, it is critical to seek medical attention immediately. Generally, you should get professional medical help from a loved one outside the facility where the suspected neglect occurred. Doing so is not only a vital step to protect their safety, it also provides documentation of the harm suffered due to nursing home negligence. 

Step #2: Report the Suspected Nursing Home Negligence (Internally and Externally)

Suspicions of negligence in nursing homes should always be reported. Indeed, once your elderly or otherwise vulnerable loved one is safe, it is time to report your concerns. In many cases, you may want to start internally. For example, you could raise the issue with nursing home management. The facility may even take immediate corrective action with less severe negligence. Unfortunately, that is rarely sufficient in more severe cases. You should also report nursing home negligence externally—to the proper authorities. The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program advocates for nursing home residents and their families in Washington State. They are trained to handle complaints about poor care in assisted living facilities. 

Step #3: Investigate the Matter—Gather and Preserve Relevant Evidence

Nursing negligence requires a comprehensive investigation. You need to know what happened, what went wrong, why, and what corrective action will be taken to address the matter and protect your loved one. Of course, fathering evidence is crucial for proving negligence. Start by documenting everything related to your loved one’s care. Among other things, you may consider taking photos of any injuries, taking photos of poor living conditions, keeping records of medical treatments received outside the nursing home, and noting any changes in their health or behavior. When appropriate, a Washington nursing home neglect lawyer can help you gather testimony from other residents or even staff members. 

Step #4: Consult With a Washington Nursing Home Negligence Attorney

You and your family do not have to figure out how to navigate nursing home neglect or nursing home abuse alone. These are complicated cases. Your elderly or vulnerable loved one’s health, well-being, and overall quality of life matters. A top-tier Washington nursing home negligence lawyer can review your case, guide your rights, and help you determine the best course of action. Along with other things, an experienced attorney will understand the process of filing a complaint, the evidence needed, and how to seek justice for your loved one. Negligent nursing homes must be held accountable for the harm they cause to residents. 

Step #5: File a Complaint and Seek Justice and Financial Compensation

A nursing home resident who has suffered actual harm as a consequence of neglect has a right to pursue a legal claim for their damages. You can file a complaint against the negligent nursing home to seek financial compensation on behalf of your loved one. What type of compensation is available through a nursing home negligence claim? The answer depends on a wide range of case-driven factors. A Washington nursing home injury lawyer can help you determine what options are available in your specific situation. Damages that can be sought as part of a nursing home negligence claim include: 

  • Emergency medical care; 
  • Hospital bills and medical bills; 
  • The cost to relocate to another facility;
  • Other out-of-pocket costs; 
  • Pain and suffering and emotional distress; 
  • Reduced quality of life of the resident; and
  • Wrongful death of a family member. 

Schedule a Free Consultation With Our Nursing Home Negligence Lawyer Today

At Premier Law Group, PLLC, our Washington nursing home abuse attorneys are skilled, compassionate, and experienced advocates for residents and their families. If you suspect your loved one was harmed due to nursing home negligence, we are more than ready to help. Our firm has what it takes to hold negligent assisted living facilities accountable. Contact us today for a free, strictly confidential initial appointment. With law offices in Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, and Federal Way, we handle nursing home negligence cases throughout the surrounding area in Washington.