What can I do if my mom's nursing home is mistreating her and I live out of state?

5 answers | Last updated: Dec 08, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...
My mother moved into a nursing home about a year ago. Lately she's been complaining of mistreatment and neglect. I live in another state. How do I assess the situation, and if there really is a problem, what's the best way to intervene?

Expert Answers

Randy Thomas is president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.

The best thing you can do is get on a plane. You need to see your mother with your own eyes. There's no substitute for seeing firsthand how the facility is treating your mom and reviewing her daily medical records. Visiting has another benefit: the presence of family members personalizes your mother to the staff and shows that she has loved ones who are looking out for her. You may find that a simple visit resolves the problem. If no family member can go, the next best option is to hire a local advocate, such as a care manager, to check in with your mom.

Keep in mind that most likely you'll be dealing with neglect and not intentional abuse. Nursing homes are often understaffed, and the aides may be overworked and undertrained. When you visit, keep an eye out for signs of neglect, such as pressure sores, dehydration, weight loss, or poor hygiene. Pressure sores generally appear on the buttocks, shoulder blades, and ankles when someone's been left in one place for long periods of time. Of course, pressure sores aren't a sure sign of neglect, they're just a red flag.

If she has experienced out-and-out abuse, your mother may appear reluctant to interact with staff or fearful of her care providers. She may have bruises or injuries.

In addition to your on-site visit, do a little homework. Medicare's nursing home comparison website is a great resource to find out about a nursing home's history of complaints. You can also check with the state agencies that oversee nursing home licensing -- every facility should have records on quality and complaints.

If the evidence suggests abuse or neglect, you can file a complaint with your local Long Term Care Ombudsman or Adult Protective Services agency (find your local Adult Protective Services agency , which will investigate). In some states, you can also file a report with the attorney general, who deals with Medicaid fraud control.

If it appears to be a clear situation of abuse, you should absolutely move your mother right away. If she's on Medicaid, though, finding another placement can be very tricky because of the shortage of beds. You'll have more nursing home options if you have available funds. You can also hire in-home care for your mother in her own house, if she still has one, or in your home. The important thing is to get her out.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

Contact your local area ombudsman. The contact information should be posted at the facility. Or contact your local Area Agency On Aging (AAA) for the ombudsman's contact information. The ombudsman is an advocate for the resident and is made possible thru the Older American's Act.

Nursinghomemonitor answered...

We went through this with my Father. It's important to get to know the staff (including Nursing supervisor and another management person). Keeping track of whether they are being fed, bathed, changed or becoming dehydrated is important...as well as whether they are administering their medications. Constipation can also be an issue. Record keeping can be a pain. We created this in memory of my Father, to help document and keep records to ensure better care: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/nursing-home-monitor/id542475080?mt=8 The more they know you are monitoring the situation and keeping track, the better the care will be. Sorry you are going through this as nursing home abuse and neglect is on the rise.....

Excellent eldercare answered...

I'm sorry to hear that your mother is going through this.

While I'm not intending to give you legal advice; I'm also not intending to tell you how to handle your situation. But, often a plane trip isn't necessary, nor is it financially feasible.

Check out http://www.nursinghomeabusecenter.org/filing-a-complaint.html for some help. At the end of the article there are tips that may be helpful to you since you live out of state.

Also you can make phone calls to appropriate agencies without ever leaving home. Just remember to have documentation of everything that your mother has told you.

If you need help with the numbers to those agencies look at http://ltcombudsman.org/ombudsman and select your mother's state.

I hope this gets resolved for you guys.

Hopefulnurse answered...

As a long term care nurse, I have found that there are many times that misunderstanding can be perceived as mistreatment. Don't get me wrong, sometimes bad things happen, but most caregivers actually care. Sometimes things like a shower are are felt to be abusive to a resident, however personal hygeine is very important for a number of reasons. First, I would be upset if I found my father smelling of urine, with visible dried feces on his body and obivously unwashed hair. A shower provides an opportunity to for nursing to assess skin and address any problems that may be occuring at an early stage. To the person being showered, this can be a dignity issue. I have bathed myself since I was five gears old, I don't need your help. Perhaps the shower room is a little too cool, or the water doesn't get hot enough. Maybe the aide is of the opposite sex...or the same sex. Maybe the towels are not soft enough. Maybe the room is too big, or too small. Maybe they don"t want to bathe where everyone else does, because that is just disgusting. The list goes on and on, and that is just one thing. I would suggest asking what the specific mistreatments are and finding ways to fix them before involving state agencies. I have heard the term "rough" used to describe a CNA on different occasions, but during the course of investigation and in asking what rough means the response is "they just go too fast." So often times rough=fast. When asking what problems there are, be careful not to inject your vision of what they may be. I have not met any family that likes to admit that Mom is not the same person she was 20 years ago, or that memory is failing, or that dementia is progressing. I once cared for a woman who had children that insisted mom watch the religious channel because her faith had always been so important to her. Mom always wanted to leave. While talking about this with mom she very casually said "they make me watch church all the time...it's driving me crazy". We changed the channel and the problem with elopement was solved. If she says someone is hitting or hurting her, be it staff or another resident, take it seriously. Give the home a chance to address, and expect them show and share how it was resolved. All homes have a policy for such issues.