When Care Turns into Abuse: A Disturbing New Trend

I have a lot of respect for the work that carers do when looking after the elderly. It was a job my mother had for several decades and one that my father undertook when my mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. She was a hard-working, down-to-earth woman who truly cared for her patients and who earned every bit of their respect, and thankfully she was not the exception.

You need to have a certain caring, empathetic mentality to want to undertake this job in the first place, or so you might think. But that’s not always the case. There are an increasing number of stories coming out of nursing homes across the US where carers have abused their positions by verbally and physically abusing their patients.

Growing Number

There are over 2 million cases of elderly abuse taking place in nursing homes every single year. This means that as many as 1 in 10 elderly patients in the US can expect to be the victim of some form of abuse.

For over 1 million of these, the abuse will be in the form of neglect. They are not being fed or offered basic personal hygiene and in some cases they are kept locked up like lab rats. In one fairly recent case, a 75-year old was kept locked in a basement, where she suffered serious abuse and neglect at the hands of a registered carer.

Described by on-scene police officers as the Worst case of abuse [they] have seen,” this victim was severely malnourished with “bed sores to the bone” and while this was an extreme case, it’s not the only one.

Growing Trends

A recent case in the UK has mirrored a much more serious issue in the US. An award-winning care home manager was fired after posting pictures of residents on Facebook, something which goes against the code of conduct of all nursing homes.

She had worked at the home for 21 years, the residents were enjoying themselves at the time and she just wanted to share the fun, but there was no leniency. Opinion was divided on this one, with the majority saying that she should have been allowed to keep her job, but this is far from an isolated incident. In the US in 2015 there were 65 reported cases of inappropriate social media posts were images of residents had been posted to the wider public.

The majority of these displayed some kind of abuse or neglect and were far from innocent pictures of smiling residents. In one image the naked backside of a patient was said to be visible in the background as the camera focused on a gloved hand holding fecal matter. Another showed residents engaging in sexual acts and another displayed the genitalia of a resident.

Social media is becoming more a part of our everyday lives, but these are private settings where the dignity of the vulnerable is at stake, so in these extreme cases it’s not a simple oversight. It’s criminal.

Lack of Regulations

The aging population is increasing. We’re all living longer and as the standard of living increases with medical technology and understanding, then the aging population will continue to rise. This means that more nursing homes are needed, yet the ability to regulate what we already have is seriously lacking.

It has been that way for some time now. At the turn of the century, when the problem was really first noted, it was said that as many as 1 third of all US nursing homes had been cited for some kind of abuse or neglect, with 10% of the homes cited being at risk of causing serious harm to patients.

And as hours increase, pay remains the same and stress levels go through the roof, even those stable, honest employees are losing their ability to perform their job as they would like. According to one study, as many as half of all employees have admitted to losing their cool at one point, shouting, screaming and swearing at patients.

What is Being Done?

Thankfully, there is some work being done to stop this problem before it gets out of hand but with more homes, more residents and more employees than ever before, it’s a problem that is not going to go away any time soon.

In the meantime, if you suspect that your loved one has been the victim of nursing home abuse, lawyer-up and do all you can to bring the abusers to justice. Get the media involved, name and shame, and don’t let it go unheard. When abuse is silent then the abusers win.