Many problems or annoyances that may arise at an assisted living facility can be resolved with open and honest communication between the resident or a representative and the facility administrator — so attempting to resolve any dispute at that level is always the first step.
But if a problem is severe or persistent, or management refuses to right a wrong, the next step is to learn whether the behavior is legally prohibited. Review the resident rights outlined above, which are guaranteed by law. Residents have additional legal rights that come with the contract they sign with the care provider and from strong protections against elder abuse.
Review Contractual Rights
Take a close look at the assisted living facility’s contract — including the fine print — to find any violation of a specific right or responsibility. If so, this strengthens your position and may also signal the need to take action. The contract should clearly spell out residents’ rights while in the care of a nursing facility — along with procedures to document and correct violations.
Watch for Potential Abuse
While most people who choose assisted living are able to live independently with little help from others, many choose it because they fear their ages or stages indicate they will need more help in the future. And some people, due to cultural or social conditioning, are simply hesitant or unable to speak up and out for themselves — even when others’ actions are uncomfortable or harmful. If you are watching over an assisted living resident, it may take some prompting to get the resident to tell you about wrongful behavior. In some situations, you may opt to act on your own.
Some more serious actions or neglect by caregivers can even amount to illegal abuse. Residents age 18 and older are protected by the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, which prohibits many forms of mistreatment known broadly as “elder abuse,” including:
Physical abuse. This includes inflicting pain or injury, depriving of food and water, physically restraining, sexually assaulting, and beatings. Possible evidence of physical abuse includes cuts, puncture wounds, burns, welts, bruises, poor skin condition or hygiene, uncared-for injuries, missing patches of hair or hemorrhaging below the scalp, dehydration or malnourishment not caused by illness, and prolonged soiled bedding or clothing.
Financial abuse. This includes theft or misuse of money or property. Evidence may include unusual activity in bank accounts; checks signed when the resident cannot write; changes in legal documents such as a will or power of attorney when the resident is unable to make such decisions; unpaid bills; lack of amenities such as a television, proper clothing, or grooming items; missing valuables such as jewelry or art; and deliberate isolation from friends and family.
Psychological or emotional abuse. Actions that cause a person to suffer mentally may also amount to abuse. Examples are verbal assaults, threats, intimidation, humiliation, and isolation. Possible evidence of such abuse is a resident who seems fearful, depressed, helpless, disoriented, or unwilling to talk openly with others.
Neglect. Neglect is a lack of action by those who have care or custody of another person. It includes the failure to give proper care, such as assistance with personal hygiene, clothing, medical attention for physical and mental needs, and a safe environment. Evidence may include dirt, the smell of feces or urine in the facility, rashes, sores, lice, improper clothing, malnutrition, dehydration, and untreated medical conditions. Self-neglect that threatens an individual’s health and well-being — such as hoarding, improper nutrition, and poor hygiene — is also a form of elder abuse.
Abandonment. Abandonment is deserting a resident who needs care.
If you are unsure whether your concern rises to the level of a complaint requiring action and want to discuss the matter confidentially, contact:
- The California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform (CANHR) at 800.474.1116
- The California Long-Term Care Ombudsman at 800.231.4024