Many problems or annoyances that arise with home health care can be resolved with open and honest communication between the patient or a representative and the provider — so attempting to resolve any dispute at that level is always the first step.
But if a problem is severe or persistent, or the provider refuses to act to right a wrong, the next step is to learn whether the conduct is legally prohibited. Review the home care patients’ legal rights outlined above. There are also legal guarantees in the contract signed with the provider and from strong protections against elder abuse.
Review Contractual Rights
Take a hard look at the contract entered with the home health care provider — including the fine print — and see whether there is a violation of a right or responsibility specified in it. If so, it will likely strengthen your claim and may also signal the need to take additional action to right the wrong.
Look for Potential Abuse
Sometimes, care or neglect amounts to a form of abuse. People of all ages who need home health care are generally vulnerable and often isolated — making them particularly easy targets for abuse. And older people who are inviting others into their homes, even as caregivers, may be especially at risk.
Patients age 65 and older are protected by a specific law in California, 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, or 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 suspect a home care provider has committed elder abuse, take one of these actions:
- Report it to the local office of California Adult Protective Services.
- Call the Office of the Attorney General, Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse at 800.722.0432.
- Consult an attorney experienced in elder abuse for help.