How to Report Suspected Nursing Home Abuse During COVID-19 Shutdowns
Trusting a nursing home with the care of a beloved family member is one of the most difficult choices and transitions that families must endure. For many families, a nursing care facility is the only option to provide the long-term care their loved one needs. Unfortunately, working conditions and administrative failures in nursing homes promote abuse and neglect; some caregivers succumb to the pressure and take frustrations out on residents. In other cases, understaffed nursing homes put nursing assistants in impossible situations that make neglect imminent.
The arrival of COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines has isolated some residents, potentially causing emotional harm and further increasing the risk of neglect. The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) warns that nursing home abuse and neglect are likely on the rise because of the stresses and policies involved with COVID-19.
If you had suspicions of potential abuse prior to COVID-19 or you have current concerns of nursing home abuse and neglect because of conversations with a loved one, you need to report the abuse as soon as possible. Below you will find the outlets where you can report abuse for further investigation, as well as a discussion of the criminal and civil legal actions you have available to hold your loved one’s abusers accountable.
Resources for Reporting Wisconsin Nursing Home Abuse
Several state agencies and organizations take complaints about nursing home abuse and get the investigative process rolling. If your loved one is in immediate danger, you should call 911 so law enforcement can respond as quickly as possible. If you only suspect past abuse, or your loved one is not in immediate danger, you can file complaints with the following:
Wisconsin Long-term Care Ombudsman
The Wisconsin long-term care ombudsman responds to complaints concerning the care of nursing home residents. Representatives from the program work with state agencies, residents, and their families to investigate complaints and resolve issues. You can contact them by phone at 1-800-815-0015.
Adult Protective Services
Each Wisconsin county has an elder abuse agency that investigates reports of abuse and neglect. You can call your county’s helpline to report abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation. Find your county on this map to get the hotline number you need.
Division of Quality Assurance (DQA)
DQA is a watchdog state agency tasked with ensuring that healthcare providers in Wisconsin are not violating federal or state laws, such as the abuse or neglect of nursing home residents. You can file a complaint with DQA online or call 800-642-6552 to report nursing home abuse.
Criminal Action for Nursing Home Abuse in Wisconsin
The above agencies often share information with each other and with law enforcement when they find an abuse or neglect complaint is credible. This initiates a criminal investigation of the individual(s) responsible for harming your loved one. If the prosecutor chooses to charge someone, the criminal legal process begins. The accused will have to go to trial, and faces fines and jail time if convicted. Prosecutors typically listen to the wishes of the family and the resident when abuse occurs, but it’s ultimately the State’s decision whether to pursue criminal charges.
Civil Action for Wisconsin Nursing Home Abuse
The criminal side of a nursing home abuse case is only one avenue to seek justice after abuse or neglect, and the process and outcome are entirely separate from civil action. Nursing home abuse is a traumatic experience for residents that has physical, emotional, and financial impacts for victims. Wisconsin law permits abused nursing home residents, or someone on their behalf, to bring a personal injury suit against those responsible for the abuse to seek compensation for damages relating to injuries and losses incurred as a result of the abuse.
Liability in Nursing Home Abuse Lawsuits
In contrast to criminal proceedings, a civil lawsuit permits victims to name facilities as defendants, as well as any individuals responsible for the abuse or neglect. Nursing homes have a legal duty of care towards residents. When residents suffer injuries and illness, civil juries decide if nursing homes have breached their duty and if that breach led to the injury or illness of a resident. The ultimate decision for a civil jury is whether the defendant was negligent. Some reasons a court might hold a nursing home wholly or partially financially liable for damages from nursing home abuse include:
- Inadequate training of new caregivers and other employees
- Improper background screening on new nursing assistants
- Failure to take action after a resident complains of abuse or neglect
- Failure to provide access to dental or medical care
Actions that constitute nursing home abuse or neglect and open nurses, nursing assistants, and other caregivers up to liability include:
- Physical, emotional, and verbal abuse
- Not providing nutritious meals or adequate hydration for residents
- Not helping residents with daily hygiene needs or providing needed items such as soap, toothpaste, clean clothes, etc.
- Failure to supervise nursing home residents
- Allowing others to abuse or neglect residents without intervention or reporting
- Stealing money or other personal property from residents
Recovering Damages After Reporting Wisconsin Nursing Home Abuse
In the event you bring a lawsuit against your loved one’s abuser(s) and/or the nursing care facility, your loved one can recover damages related to the abuse. Exact damages vary from case to case, but some common examples of damages for which victims receive compensation include:
- Medical treatment costs including visits to the emergency room, hospital stay, radiology, lab tests, and medication
- Estimated future treatment costs when abuse leads to a permanent injury or condition requiring ongoing and indefinite treatment
- Rehabilitation costs such as physical therapy and occupational therapy
- Costs for mental health services to deal with the mental trauma of abuse or neglect
- Expenses related to transferring your loved one to another long-term nursing care facility
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional pain and suffering
- Reduced quality of life
If your loved one has fallen victim to nursing home abuse in Wisconsin, you need to contact an experienced personal injury attorney who can advise you on the best path towards justice for the elder you love.