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When people consider elder abuse they often think of nameless strangers taking advantage of or physically harming or neglecting the elderly. However, it is becoming increasingly more common that the perpetrator of the abuse is a beloved family member of the abused.
The reasons for taking advantage of or neglecting an elderly relative are many, from wanting cash and preserving an inheritance to needing money for bills and expenses. However, it is not always those with nefarious motives that end up abusing or neglecting the elderly. Gwen Orlowski, director of the New Jersey Division of Elder Advocacy, notes that even relatives “with the best intentions” may end up “mistreating their loved ones unintentionally through frustration or exhaustion.”
Orlowski also noted that only a few cases are reported to New Jersey law enforcement because “many incidents don’t rise to the level of a crime.”
What can be done to protect the elderly from relatives who seek to take advantage of them or harm them? For one, New Jersey social service agencies can seek to have an offending relative’s power of attorney or guardianship rights removed.
In 2007, there were 2,249 cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation of the elderly. In 2008, the number climbed to 2,492. David Ricci, the coordinator of New Jersey Adult Protective Services, expects the number to grow even further when the total number of cases for 2009 is counted. While these numbers may include more than strictly abuse by a relative, elder abuse appears to be a growing issue in New Jersey.
Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Facilities
Elder abuse can take many forms and can generally be defined as doing or failing to do an act that results in the risk of harm or harm of an elderly person. Abuse can be sexual, emotional, physical, exploitation or neglect. While elder abuse and neglect happens at the hands of loved ones, abuse and neglect also occur in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
In New Jersey there is a difference between nursing homes and assisted living facilities. New Jersey provides nursing home residents with a Bill of Rights to protect their safety and prevent abuses. Assisted living facilities are bound by a separate set of regulations, which are similar yet distinct from the statutes governing nursing homes.
Along with the statutory/regulatory difference between nursing homes and assisted living facilities, there is a general, practical difference. Assisted living facilities generally provide less care than nursing homes. Thus, if a loved one is still independent and, for the most part, able to care for themselves, then an assisted living facility may be the appropriate setting. However, if a loved one is less independent and needs assistance on a more regular basis, a nursing home may be the best place for them.
Nursing Home Resident’s Bill of Rights
To help protect the elderly and prevent abuse in nursing homes, the state of New Jersey has established the Nursing Home Resident’s Bill of Rights.
According to the Resident’s Bill of Rights, nursing home residents have certain rights, including:
- Right to manage own financial affairs, unless a guardian authorizes (in writing) the nursing home administrator to do so
- Right to wear own clothing
- Right to retain and use personal property, unless it would be demonstrably unsafe to do so
- Right to receive unopened mail
- Right to a private telephone at own expense
- Right to privacy
- Right to a safe and decent living environment
- Right to reasonable opportunity for interaction with the opposite sex
According to the Resident’s Bill of Rights, nursing homes have certain responsibilities, including:
- Maintaining a complete record of all funds, personal property and possessions of residents
- Providing for the spiritual needs of residents by making arrangements, at resident’s expense, for attendance at religious services
- Admitting only the number of residents that the nursing home believes it can safely and adequately provide care for
- Ensuring that medications are not used for punishments or administered for the convenience of the staff
If a nursing home is found liable for violating a resident’s rights or failing to perform any affirmative duties, the resident is able to recover punitive and actual damages, attorney’s fees and costs.
Assisted Living Facilities
The rights of residents of assisted living facilities are established in the New Jersey Administrative Code. Though these rights are similar to those given in the Nursing Home Resident’s Bill of Rights, there are differences. Specifically, assisted living facilities are exempt from the recourse available under the nursing home statutes. However, those who suffer abuse while at an assisted living facility have recourse through a negligence action.
Generally, to bring a successful negligence action against an assisted living facility the following elements will need to be met:
- The assisted living facility had a duty of care
- The assisted living facility breached the duty of care
- The breach of the duty of care was the proximate cause of the injury
- The elderly individual suffered an injury
Possible Signs of Abuse or Neglect
If you suspect that an elderly relative is suffering abuse or neglect at the hands of a relative, nursing home or assisted living facility, there are warning signs that you can look for.
Possible warning signs of abuse include:
- Cuts, broken bones or bedsores
- Abrupt behavioral changes
- Missing possessions, including money from bank accounts
- Unexplained changes to a will
- Restricted or delayed visitation by the nursing home or assisted living facility
Possible warning signs of neglect include:
- Foul odors in bed or clothing
- Unclean hair or nails
- Unexplained weight loss
- Unexplained changes in behavior
Suspect Elderly Abuse? Contact an Attorney.
If a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse at the hands of a relative, a nursing home or an assisted living facility, call an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss possible legal actions.
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The initial consultation is always free at the law offices of Greenberg Minasian, LLC, and you never pay attorney fees unless we recover compensation for you. Contactour West Orange and Newark, New Jersey, personal injury lawyers to discuss a personal injury or an accidental death that took the life of your loved one.