Nursing Home Abuse Statistics (2018 - 2023)
Every year, residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities suffer abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. Research shows elder abuse is a widespread problem, with 10% of seniors over 65 experiencing some type of mistreatment.
For families with elderly loved ones, recent nursing home abuse statistics indicate a worrying reality: your family member may be at risk of mistreatment by the facilities meant to care for them. Reviewing the latest facts and recognizing the most common signs of abuse can help you protect your elderly loved ones.
National Nursing Home Abuse Statistics
Nursing home abuse is a nationwide issue that affects thousands of families in California. Annually, around 5 million older Americans are abused in the U.S., with financial losses reaching $36.5 billion annually.
A 2021 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study looked at various elder abuse reports and found the following:
- Physical abuse. 29% of abuse complaints described physical abuse against residents. They involved incidents with staff members, such as caregivers, nurses, or other employees, and visiting family members. The physical abuse included pushing, slapping, striking, kicking, and rough handling of residents, resulting in intentional pain and injuries.
- Resident-on-resident abuse. 22% of the complaints covered cases of abuse between residents. These victims were verbally, physically, or sexually abused by other residents. This was often due to overcrowded facilities, insufficient staff, or improper supervision.
- Psychological abuse. The review found that 40% of staff in one study reported committing at least one instance of emotional or psychological abuse against residents. These ranged from insults and intimidation to acts of humiliation, isolating or excluding residents from others, or manipulation.
- Sexual abuse. The study found that 7% of nationwide nursing home abuse cases involved sexual abuse against residents. This involves unwanted contact, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
- Financial abuse. 7% of nursing home abuse reports in the United States resulted from financial abuse. The most common forms include theft of money and valuables, mismanagement or unauthorized use of a resident’s funds, and billing fraud.
California Nursing Home Abuse Statistics
In California, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is responsible for investigating elder and nursing home abuse. Over the past few years, the OAG has found:
- Number of residents and quality of care. Approximately 410,000 Californians receive assisted living in some form. 110,000 reside in one of the state’s 1,300 licensed nursing home facilities. Another 150,000 live in the 7,500 licensed residential care facilities. The remaining 150,000 receive care from unlicensed facilities, which may not provide adequate care.
- Prevalence of abuse. The OAG estimated that about 13% of all complaints filed to the California Department of Aging Long-Term Care Ombudsman involve abuse or neglect. This number is over twice the nationwide rate of 5%.
- Resident vulnerability. The OAG believes that many residents have dementia, making them more vulnerable to physical abuse such as improper restraining or over-medication. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 690,000 Californians aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease, the most common cause of dementia. These numbers suggest hundreds of thousands of nursing home residents are at risk of these forms of mistreatment.
Who are the Most Likely Victims of Nursing Home Abuse?
Although any nursing home resident may be the victim of abuse, some people are at a higher risk than others. If your family member is a resident in a nursing home or assisted living facility, they may be more likely to experience mistreatment if they fall under the following:
- Gender and race. An NIH study found that female residents have a higher risk of nursing home abuse. Elderly women are specifically more susceptible to sexual abuse than male residents. Minority populations may also be mistreated more frequently by staff.
- Past trauma. Nursing home residents who have experienced abusive or traumatic events in the past are more likely to become abuse victims.
- Socioeconomic factors. Residents with lower socioeconomic status tend to experience higher levels of mistreatment. These residents typically rely on Medicaid to receive nursing home care, which may restrict them to lower-quality facilities with higher abuse rates.
- Health conditions. Poor physical and mental health generally increases the risk of abuse, especially for those with comorbidities. Residents with dementia or other cognitive impairments are especially vulnerable due to lack of training and the high level of specialized care required.
How to Identify When Nursing Home Abuse or Neglect is Occurring
Although nursing home abuse is prevalent in California and nationwide, many cases go unnoticed. Only an estimated 5% of abuse cases are reported. Residents may feel afraid to speak out or may not realize they are being abused. This means it often falls on family members to recognize signs of abuse and take action.
- Signs of physical abuse. Unexplained bruises, scrapes, cuts, and broken bones or fractures can indicate your loved one has been hit, struck, or forcefully restrained. It may suggest mistreatment if they appear to startle easily or seem withdrawn from social activities.
- Signs of emotional abuse. While aging can introduce many normal changes in behavior, some of them are caused by elder abuse. Common signs include fear or concern of being left alone around specific individuals, refusing medication, not eating at regular times, and sudden social withdrawal.
- Signs of sexual abuse. Evidence of physical abuse around the buttocks, breasts, and genitals may indicate your loved one has been sexually abused. Other potential signs include unexplained sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or changes in behavior around specific people, such as a staff member or a resident.
- Signs of financial abuse. Signs of financial abuse in a care facility can include sudden changes in a resident’s financial situation, unexplained withdrawals from their bank accounts, or alterations in their wills or power of attorney. Residents may also show signs of stress or anxiety about money or report missing personal belongings or cash.
- Signs of gross neglect. Lack of proper care and attention are just as dangerous as more active forms of abuse. Signs of gross neglect include dehydration and malnutrition, improper hygiene, resident injuries due to falls, frequent infections, and pressure ulcers (bedsores), which can result in life-threatening conditions like sepsis.
What Types of Environmental Issues Lead to Abuse?
While nursing home abuse can happen in any facility, it is more likely to occur where abuse and neglect are encouraged or overlooked. The following characteristics can increase the likelihood of abuse for residents:
- Understaffing. Insufficient staffing leads to inadequate care and protection for residents. It can also increase stress among workers, potentially leading to burnout and escalating into abuse. The NIH identified high stress levels as a major risk factor for perpetrators of elder abuse.
- Poor training. Inadequate training can result in various care deficiencies. Staff may neglect crucial hygiene protocols, lack awareness of patients’ rights in California, and fail to use proper restraints or procedures when caring for residents.
- Flawed administrative policies. When management ignores complaints, fails to hold abusive staff accountable, or neglects to report abuse properly, it creates an environment where abuse is more likely to occur.
Who is Responsible for Abuse in California Nursing Facilities?
Nursing home abuse can result from the actions of many different people charged with the care of your elderly loved one. This can include:
- Facility caregivers. In a 2019 study, nearly 2 in 3 of caregiving staff in nursing homes admitted to abusing residents. Caregiver abuse most commonly occurs due to stress and burnout among staff, which includes nurses, aides, and other support personnel who provide direct care to residents.
- Other residents. Other residents may perpetrate abuse. This includes physical fights, verbal harassment, and sometimes sexual assault, often resulting from conflicts or cognitive issues among residents.
- Facility administrators. Although they are rarely direct perpetrators, nursing home administrators can be indirectly responsible for abuse. Examples include inaction regarding abuse reports, fraudulent billing practices, or policies creating an abusive environment.
How to Report Nursing Home Abuse in California
Is one of your family members or loved ones a victim of abuse in a California nursing home? Take the following steps to safeguard their well-being and hold the facility responsible:
- Contact a nursing home abuse lawyer. Seek legal guidance from a skilled nursing home abuse lawyer. They can provide legal advice, help you file a complaint, and represent you and your family in court if needed.
- Collect evidence of abuse. If you suspect abuse, collect as much evidence as possible. Take photographs of wounds or bruises and improper living conditions. Obtain relevant medical records and proof of treatment for the abuse. Ask your attorney to collect witness statements from other residents, visitors, or staff.
- Contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman office. Visit the California Department of Aging website to locate the Long-Term Care Ombudsman in your county. They can help you understand your loved one’s rights and investigate claims of abuse or neglect.
- File an official complaint. After speaking with the nursing home and your Ombudsman, you can file a complaint with the California DPH. You can complete the report online or mail or fax it to the closest district office. You should receive acknowledgment from the DPH within 10 days. They will investigate your complaint within 45. Depending on the outcome, they may issue sanctions or penalties against the facility.
- File a civil lawsuit. You may have the right to file a lawsuit against the party responsible for your loved one’s injuries for compensation. This can cover the cost of medical care, moving to a new facility, emotional distress, and other losses. Your attorney can review your case and help you take the next legal steps to protect your elderly relative.
Prevent Harm to Your Loved One in a California Nursing Home
The alarming nursing home abuse statistics underscore the need to protect the elderly in care facilities. Families should actively watch for abuse signs, understand risks like understaffing and poor training, and respond swiftly to suspected abuse. Knowing residents’ rights and seeking legal guidance can ensure you take the right measures to protect your loved one’s health and well-being.