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Delaware Personal Injury Law Blog

Nursing Home Abuse / Neglect FAQs

Nursing home abuse cases are usually actions in medical malpractice or personal injury which in Delaware must be brought within 2 years of the date of the injury or the date the abuse was (or should have been) discovered. 

1. What is considered neglect in a care home?

Neglect in a care home is the failure of the care home to provide services and goods to a resident that are necessary to avoid physical harm, pain, mental anguish, or emotional distress. The National Center on Elder Abuse classifies neglect as a type of elder abuse, which is any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult.

2. What constitutes neglect of an elderly person?

Neglect of an elderly person is the failure to meet that person’s basic needs, such as food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care. The CDC defines neglect as a type of elder abuse, and it is a growing problem in America’s aging population, both in residential facilities and in the community.

3. What are the warning signs of abuse or neglect in a nursing home?

Often a person who is abused in care does not, or cannot, alert anyone to the abuse themselves. Some of the warning signs of mistreatment in a nursing home or assisted living facility are:

  • Physical: Bruises, scratches, burns, or other physical injuries, either as an isolated incident or recurring.
  • Neglect: Pressure sores, poor personal hygiene, dirty clothes, unclean living conditions, weight loss and malnutrition.
  • Emotional: Fear of certain carers or staff members, withdrawal from usual activities, anxiety, depression, or unease.
  • Sexual: Bruises or injury to the genital area which may present as difficulty moving or sitting.

Financial: Unusual changes to financial or estate planning arrangements, including wills and powers of attorney, uncharacteristic or large purchases, cash withdrawals or bank transfers, missing financial documents or credit cards.

4. What are the nursing home abuse reporting requirements?

All employees of Delaware nursing homes are required by law to report any incident in which they have reasonable cause to believe that a resident has been abused, mistreated, neglected, or financially exploited. The Delaware Department of Health and Social Services sets out detailed reporting guidelines for employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, which take into account the position of the people involved (staff, residents, or other persons) and the type of mistreatment.

Certain people also have an obligation under Delaware law to report suspected abuse of vulnerable adults. Healthcare professionals and financial institutions who have direct contact with a vulnerable adult, and have reasonable cause to believe that the vulnerable adult may be subject to past, current or attempted abuse, neglect or exploitation have a legal duty to report the alleged harm to Delaware Adult Protective Services.

5. How do I report suspected abuse in a nursing home?

If someone is in immediate danger of abuse in a nursing home, call 911 to alert the police and get medical assistance, if necessary. 

You should notify Adult Protective Services in your state. In Delaware, suspected abuse of a person in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home or assisted living facility, should be reported to the Delaware Division of Health Care Quality on the Complaint & Incident Reporting 24-Hour Toll-Free line at 1-877-453-0012 or via their online complaint form.

Finally, notify the nursing home administrator of the suspected abuse, and contact a Delaware nursing home neglect lawyer for advice on your rights under the law.

6. Who oversees nursing homes in Delaware?

The Delaware Division of Health Care Quality (DHCQ) within the Department of Health and Social Services oversees nursing homes in Delaware. DHCQ is divided into three sections, one of which deals specifically with long term care.

7. When do I report an assisted living facility to the state? 

You should report any suspected abuse, mistreatment, or neglect to the Delaware authorities so that it may be properly investigated. In some situations, you may be required by law to report your suspicions if you are an employee of an assisted living facility, a healthcare professional, an employee of a financial institution, or other mandated reporter. Specific reporting guidelines for employees of nursing homes and assisted living facilities are published by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.

8. What are some types of elder abuse?

Elder abuse is any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult. It can be physical, emotional, sexual, or even financial, and includes neglect. Some common examples of neglect or abuse in nursing homes are:

  • Falls and injuries when not properly supervised.
  • Pressure Sores or bedsores.
  • Malnutrition and dehydration.
  • Choking or suffocation.
  • Infections and illnesses resulting from lack of hygienic conditions or proper assistance with personal hygiene.
  • Wandering off or elopement.
  • Use of improper methods of restraint.
  • Medication errors, including incorrect medication and incorrect dosing.
  • Financial exploitation.
  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by careers.

9. What are the dangers of home healthcare for seniors?

Home healthcare for seniors presents different challenges and dangers than residential care. In-home care is provided outside the controlled environment of the health system, and so it can be difficult to ensure the safety and cleanliness of the physical space, and the training and competency of the care providers, both of which are tightly regulated in a residential healthcare setting. Home healthcare also lacks the coordinated systems for communication and care that are available in a healthcare setting, and can give a patient/resident better and more efficient access to care and services.

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement has identified specific challenges in home health care as fragmentation of care; household hazards; ill-prepared family caregivers; limited training and regulation of home care workers; inadequate communication among patients, caregivers, and providers; and misaligned payment incentives.

10. What are some quality issues in home healthcare?

Home healthcare is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.A, in part due to rising healthcare costs and an aging population. Due to the rapid growth of this industry, it is still less regulated than other areas of healthcare, sometimes allowing home healthcare providers to operate below the safety and quality levels imposed on more regulated providers. Staffing for home healthcare has also not caught up to its popularity. For patients, this can lead to poor quality carers, and a high turnover of different carers coming into their home.

Other quality issues that have been identified in home healthcare are a higher rate of medication errors, increased risk of infection, difficulties with the provision of appropriate medical equipment, and delays in care caused by the lack of immediate access to a coordinated healthcare system.

11. What is the statute of limitations for nursing home abuse?

Nursing home abuse cases are usually actions in medical malpractice or personal injury which in Delaware must be brought within 2 years of the date of the injury or the date the abuse was (or should have been) discovered. The time period will depend on the type of case and the individual facts so you should consult an attorney as early as possible to find out what deadline is applicable to you.

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