What is Resident-to-Resident Abuse?
When most people hear the term “nursing home abuse,” they imagine mistreatment and neglect coming from nurses, staff, or other caretakers. While abuse from staff certainly occurs, another less-discussed but important issue surrounding health and safety in nursing homes is the rate of abuse that occurs between residents. When tens, if not hundreds, of elderly patients, are housed in a facility together, conflict and interpersonal disagreements are bound to occur. Patients may act out against one another in forms of verbal, physical, or sexual assault which can have lasting consequences on the physical and mental health of the victim.
It is the job of the nursing home or long-term care facility staff to mediate these disagreements and prevent resident-to-resident abuse. If residents are evaluated properly upon intake, supervised and watched for changes in behavior, and held responsible for their actions, resident-to-resident abuse should not occur, let alone develop into a pattern of abuse. Unfortunately, a 2014 study by Weill Cornell Medicine found that almost one in five nursing home residents evaluated had experienced a negative or aggressive encounter with another resident in the preceding four weeks. Another study published in 2016 in the Annals of Internal Medicine likewise found that about 20% of residents from a sample of ten nursing homes reported resident-to-resident abuse.
Examples of Resident-to-Resident Abuse
Like abuse from nursing home staff, resident-to-resident abuse comes in many forms. Because residents may spend periods of time alone together, especially if they are roommates, there are many opportunities for this kind of abuse to occur without the staff's knowledge. Resident-to-resident abuse may include
- Physical or verbal conflicts between roommates
- The periodic invasion of personal space and privacy, taking or using other residents personal property without explicit permission
- Verbal threats, intimidation, and harassment
- Unwanted or nonconsensual sexual behavior
- Destroying another resident's property
- Physical assault such as pushing, hitting, biting, or kicking
Screening Residents for Abusive Tendencies
Neurological complications, dementia, and degenerative mental diseases can contribute to a resident's tendency to abuse. Inhibitions can be lowered by such conditions, allowing an elderly individual to express anger, sexuality, and aggression without the normal ability to self-regulate their behavior. Because of this tendency, it is absolutely vital that nursing home staff provide thorough and periodic evaluations of a resident's psychological health. They should particularly be screened for their likelihood of abusing other patients. The nursing home should work with social services, the resident's primary physician, and the resident's family to get a clear picture of:
- Any physical or social maladaptive behavior.
- A person's physical capacity.
- What and when the last altercation may have occurred.
- The course of behavior and whether it has intensified or lessened.
- Determination if there are antecedents to what triggers this behavior.
- The resident's life history and temperament.
- Cognitive, decision-making and communication skills.
- Any sensory impairment.
After gathering this information, the nursing home should come up with strategies to manage any cognitive difficulties and warning signs of interpersonal conflict. If the home believes that the resident poses a risk to any of the other patients at this point, a psychiatric consult should be ordered and the recommendations by the psychiatrist should be followed by the facility.
If resident-to-resident abuse does occur, nursing homes are obligated to file an incident report and, in most cases, notify the family. Even more importantly, they should make sure that the resident has access to proper medical care and take concrete steps to prevent further altercations. Sometimes, facilities will try to cover up instances of resident-to-resident abuse by failing to report them, and, at times, residents may feel too afraid to come forward and speak out against their peers. Because of this, it is important to stay wary of possible signs of abuse that your loved one may be experiencing.
Warning Signs of Resident-to-Resident Abuse
If you suspect that your loved one may be receiving abuse from another resident in their living facility, you may want to speak with the nursing home and ask if they have noticed any interactions between the two residents. If they have, ask them what exact steps they have taken to address this problem and prevent it from recurring. In addition, you may choose to speak with your loved one about any symptoms you may have noticed and ask their opinion about the other individuals in the living facility, noting any particular reactions of fear or anxiety to individuals. Physical and behavioral signs of abuse in cases of resident-to-resident abuse are very similar to the signs and symptoms associated with physical, psychological, and sexual abuse by caretakers.
Litigating Resident-to-Resident Abuse in Baltimore
It can be difficult to decide when taking legal action is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of a loved one. When you feel that your loved one may be in danger from another resident who has their own mental and physical vulnerabilities, it can be even more emotional to decide to take steps against them. However, the nursing home should be held responsible for their inability to protect their residents. If the facility is allowing residents to physically, verbally, or sexually assault one another without taking proactive steps for prevention, they are neglecting the needs of their residents and should be made accountable.
If you believe that your loved one may be at risk for abuse or currently experiencing abuse at the hands of another resident in their living facility, it may be time to take legal action, seek financial compensation, and prevent other vulnerable residents from experiencing the same trauma. Trial attorneys Charles Gilman and Briggs Bedigian work with residents and their families to ensure that nursing homes are held responsible for their potential neglect of those in their care. For a free consultation on your case, call their offices today at 800.529.6162 or contact them online.