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Be on the lookout for hidden signs of nursing home abuse

Nursing home abuses can stay hidden for years -- often coming to light only when something serious happens to a resident who has family members who won't let the case rest or a conscientious employee finally has enough and steps forward.

For example, two former social workers at a Chicago facility have recently come forward with allegations that they were both fired when they refused to go along with instructions to fabricate medical records in order to hide signs of patient abuse.

Some of the allegations made by the two social workers include undocumented patient-on-patient violence, rape allegations that went without investigation and were kept out of medical records and incidents where staff members physically abused some of the facility's more difficult residents to punish them.

Other incidents cited by the two fired social workers are quite telling about the lengths that some nursing homes will go to in order to avoid any sort of investigation into the quality of care patients receive. For example, a supervisor rounded up some residents who were disheveled and showing signs of neglect and had one of the social workers take them on a "field trip" to McDonald's while state inspectors were at the facility.

Unfortunately, abuses can go undetected for years because the victims are highly vulnerable and the abusers are in a position where they have considerable power -- including the ability to deceive. A resident with dementia, for example, may not be able to convince family members that their bruises come from being hit them instead of the "fall" that the staff says happened. Non-verbal residents may not even be functionally capable of telling anyone about abuses. Many of the patients also don't have relatives who are actively involved in their lives, which increases their vulnerability.

If you have a loved one who is in a nursing home or a similar facility, it's important to be on the lookout for signs of abuse. Be attentive to statements made by your relative about being hit or otherwise injured or neglected. Even if your loved one has psychosis or a form of dementia, his or her statements shouldn't be dismissed without an investigation. Look for other signs of nursing home abuse and neglect, like fearfulness, matted hair, sudden weight loss, other signs of anxiety or bedsores.

To learn more, please visit our web pages on nursing home abuse.

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